As a protocol professional, what is the most significant challenge you faced related to COVID-19?
COVID-19 certainly has changed the way we are used to operating as field protocol officers. For years, we all knew how face-to-face engagements serve to foster rapport and deepen relationships, and as protocol officers, we worked hard to build this strong significant bridge for our principals to ensure positive meaningful engagements. COVID-19 disrupted this greatly as the world went into lock-downs, which we refer to as a “circuit breaker” (CB) phase in Singapore. Protocol professionals had to learn new ways to support continued “engagements,” new infrastructures had to be created, and principals needed to be briefed on new engagement norms and protocols.
Of course today, more than a year since we entered the circuit breaker phase, everyone is somewhat comfortable with embracing technologies and in running online engagements that may include virtual ceremonies, symposiums, etc. As we reflect back, at the beginning of the pandemic all of these were very new and uncommon.
For example, when the circuit breaker phase was enforced, I was given four days to learn the higher institution’s security policies and explore new online modalities that support online engagement and learning. I also had to develop new capabilities to ensure training continued and conduct online webinars to teach trainers from my training institution how to run their classes online. Amidst the many uncertainties, I provided guidance to the office of the Chief of Navy regarding infrastructure set-up and trained the protocol officers to be able to facilitate online Face-to-Face engagements with overseas counterparts.
If you had to define a protocol officer in one word, what would it be and why?
Adaptive - I feel the key success factor in responding to COVID-19 is the willingness to embrace change, and of course a protocol officer’s years of “training” in working in Volatile, Unconditional, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA) environments.
What is your most valuable protocol tool or resource?
Strong networking – A successful protocol officer knows he is not alone, he must remain well connected to a range of people and services, and works very hard to harness these relationships, knowing that one day, he may need their support at short notice, even under unreasonable circumstances. Only then would he be able to respond to the VUCA environment that he operates in.
What piece of advice would you share with a new protocol professional, or someone who wants to take their career in protocol to the next level?
Contingency Planning. Always develop them as part of your process.
How do you celebrate National Protocol Officer Week?
While it is not customarily observed in Singapore, I have written a reflective social media post to share with my fellow protocol officers in Singapore. You can read it here: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/janiel-toh-95056494_nationalprotocolofficerweek-activity-6779720163089641472-YsV2.