by Thomas Sladko*
Sorry to tell you, but in Protocol exists no second chance. In Protocol we cannot say to the Guest of Honor: “Please come back next week and we will try to serve you better”. We are unable to influence the weather and cancel a huge open air event due to some raindrops. When drivers do not find addresses or the right entrance we can blame them for their insufficient preparation but we have to solve their mistake anyway right away.
Everything has to work out at the planned moment and if not, hopefully in a way that nobody addressed or the public recognizes something went different. This is quite a bitter truth and neither for experienced Protocol officers nor for “greenhorns” in this profession really pleasing. Even with the best professional planning sometimes things do not work out, as planned.
This does not necessarily mean that a mistake happened. Sometimes we only have to switch from plan A to plan B. Our profession demands from us a certain kind of flexibility to switch between situations that – and this is real flexibility – were planned. Flexibility does not mean total improvisation. Total improvisation is a no-go in Protocol. A mistake in my understanding is a lack of planning and for sure some mistakes could be avoided by a clear communication plan and precise competences within the organization team. Many tense or confusing situations in Protocol arise because people do not work accurately or are not willing to take decisions.
Back to our current “no second chance” topic. One argument is for sure on our side: A certain “mistake” happens only once – the next time we would for sure consider even this specific aspect. That is one of the reasons why experience in Protocol work is a very essential asset. If you went through a couple of situations which you never expected they could happen you become every time more experienced and professional. If you share within your team your experiences and pay attention to the stories and the do´s and don’ts from “old school Protocol professionals” you develop the capacity which is essential in Protocol: quickly approach alternative solutions.
*About the author
Thomas Sladko is the Deputy Chief of Protocol at the Federal Chancellery of Austria and ISPD lecturer.