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So You Want to Be Strategic??

Posted on May 11, 2006

By Mark Jordan, This Week's Expert

Hey...did you know that a lot of people are discussing a hot issue impacting the future of meeting management and its career possibilities?  Well, before you can jump on the bandwagon, make sure you know what the word "strategic" really means.  I've tied a nice little resource I found into the word here so you can get a quick primer on the definitions that can apply.

"Strategic Meeting Management" should fundamentally meet one of two tests.  If you have a strategic meetings focus in your organization, it should be on a plan with tactics that, if successful, contribute to the bigger goals of the company beyond the boundaries of your department.  Or, it should be on a plan that focuses on achieving a specific stated goal of the organization. 

IF, and I say IF here with great emphasis, a primary stated goal of your company is to cut costs, rather than to grow, diversify, find new customers or develop new products and services, then you should listen closely to the buzz in the industry.  Somebody convinced somebody that there is glory in slashing meeting budgets and exposing rampant waste and fraud.  Has it occurred to anyone lately that if the primary focus is truly on cutting costs out of meetings, at some point, staffing costs have to be looked at?  Is it your highest goal in life to become an expert at whittling away your area until it can no longer support your cost?  Probably not, but that doesn't mean there aren't others within the organization who are thinking that way.

If you want an example of the locusts effect that a pure cost-cutting mentality has on behavior, take a look at your travel departments.  They ran out of things to cut, so now they're looking at your areas.  And what's our industry response?  We better learn to do this to ourselves before they do it to us!

There's a fundamental disconnect here that I just don't get.  If you want to be strategic, then the first thing you do is look closely at how your group and what you do, impacts the organization.  Once you understand that, the next step is to think about how your group and what you do could further impact the company.  What are the primary purposes of meetings?  To motivate, educate and recognize and celebrate achievement.  To enhance customer relationships.  To make a splash for a new product.  The extension of cost cutting is to say you will motivate less frequently to probably less people.  You will pass on educating employees, distributors and customers, or you'll do it in a way that ends up being less effective.  Probably you'll have less achievement to recognize and celebrate, but if not, then you'll mute the celebrations, make them less special, and hope nobody notices.  You'll probably have fewer customer relationships to enhance, but if not, then you'll put fewer resources into it, and the message sent will be of a less positive nature.  You may have fewer products to make a splash over, but who'll really care?

I'm sorry, and I don't mean this unkindly because it is a very simplistic analogy - but you could teach monkeys or bears to cut costs.  Just show them how to hit the little red "NO" button once every three times when a request for a meeting comes in.  What is much more difficult to do, but if you REALLY want to be strategic you should learn how, through your meetings knowledge and skill, to make more money for the company.  Get customers to buy more.  Get new customers.  Examine how your area can improve the impact of education at meetings.  Build morale.  Create brainstorming groups.  Here are three things you could start working on today that might help you jump-start your effort to become more strategic:

1) Think about all the data that comes through your meetings.  Is there an overall plan for how that data is stored, what kind of data is kept on a customer, how is it used - could there be ways to streamline the data flow so that fewer mistakes are made which can contribute to a negative customer impression?  Are there ways you could group that data, and think about different incentives or methods of getting more of certain groups to attend your events?  And so on.

2) Are there ways you can alter the structure of some of your events to make them more customer - centric, or create more opportunities for business to be conducted?  Could you add one-on-one face time with senior management for the very top levels of customers?  Could you find some creative ways to hook up some of your customers together where it might make sense, to create a little magic that might ultimately bloom into more revenue for your organization.

3) Could you research three different styles of group learning and recommend testing each one at a couple of future training meetings.  Are there a couple of approachable colleagues in other departments that you could brainstorm with to come up with some new ideas.  Could you come up with a couple of different kinds of surveys to measure the impact of your meeting.  Not like "How was the hotel" or "How were the meeting rooms" but, "What were two ideas that stuck with you from this event," or "Name something that really helped you focus on the speakers," or "Was there anything that distracted you from the Keynote presentation?"  There are endless combinations, you know, and you could still ask the other questions which admittedly are good to knows....

Did you even think about how you could cut money during the past 5 minutes?  No?  Good for you!!

I think everyone agrees that fiscal prudence in conducting your job is always a desired outcome, and there are times in a company's life-cycle where dramatically reducing expenses is necessary, although those are usually during times of company crisis.  The true strategist avoids those crises as often as possible by directing focus on growth, new markets, new customers and new products.

If you really want to be strategic, don't think about cutting thousands of dollars - think about how you can help make millions of dollars.  Or, put in layman's terms, if you want to be a better, more interesting person, would you make your primary focus losing weight?  Or would it be on learning a new skill, a new hobby, going back to school, learning a language, traveling more, joining a church, writing a novel, becoming a mentor, etc., etc.?

You want to be strategic? Come up with a plan that will grow your company, not slow it down.


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Bob Cherny


As I read your latest opus, I stood ready to tear you apart. That is until I got to your last paragraph. You pulled it out in the last paragraph, but I really feel that your article should have focused more on the growth side than you did.

Growing the revenue side of a company is much better than shrinking the expense side. The net result, increased profitability, is the same.

What can planners do to increase profitablity? Here are three starters. First, make people want to come to the meetings! Encourge and influence the creation of programs people want to participate in. Ensure that the meeting content meets the needs of the company and the delegates. Second, chose a site that is convenient and interesting for the delgates where the service is appropriate to the demands of the delegates. Third, motivate your creative people to develop a program your delegates will remember.

In today's competitive environment, cutting costs is not the answer. Growing revenue is. You can help grow your organization's revenue by planning effective meetings. That is, after all, what they pay you for.

Bob Cherny



Those are really great thoughts...at least all but the apparent contemplation of eviscerating me...whew...close call....

I guess I've watched our industry for twenty years move from one cause to another, and seldom one of its own creation. Usually it's in response to something another group is doing. In fact, it seems as though Travel Management has driven the strategic direction of our industry for awhile - and I guess I thought I had to spend some time shining a light on the myopic focus that exists today on Strategic Meetings Management as just a fancy title for good old cost control. Been there..done that.

In my younger days (I did have them...) when we were first developing the software that would one day become the heart of StarCite, a colleague of mine and I used to challenge the salespeople who complained that the software wasn't good enough to make the sale.

We basically told them, "With a spreadsheet and two hours to present to Senior Management, we could do just as well with consolidating and managing cost control, and at much lower expense than software, time-consuming training and process dis-engineering, I mean re-engineering, could do. The point being that cost control is more a mind-set than anything else, and if you know what to do, you don't need big fancy gizmos to do it.

So you have to wave the red flag in front of the bull to get it to turn. Right now that bull is focused and being led by Travel and the tech companies who have poured, collectively, well over $100 million into creating gizmos aimed at cost control. At some point, don't they have to make that money back? And if they do, and we all pay for it, how much cost did we really control?

Grow the company - what a novel idea. As Professor Higgins said in 'My Fair Lady', "By George, I think you've got it!!"

Tanisha Sanson

It's good that you're focused on a much higher goal. Making meetings strategic is one thing, but do you think it's a challenge to make meetings follow the "KISS" rule (Keep It Short and Simple) to make them more productive?

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