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Why Are Corporations Doing It?

July 30, 2007

By Alan Ranzer

“Corporate Social Responsibility”, the idea that corporations have an obligation to consider the interests of customers, employees, shareholders, and communities, became quite popular in the 1980s and has only increased since. Today, an incredible amount of corporations have not only put corporate social responsibility (CSR) to work at their company, but they have integrated its tenets into the central cultures of their companies.

Here are some thoughts on why corporations care, and are giving back:

**Increased Sales. Here are some interesting facts: 1) A recent study showed that a majority of Americans (79% polled) consider corporate citizenship when making investment and purchasing decisions. 2) A Deloitte & Touche survey found that 87% of Americans believe it is important for companies to offer volunteer opportunities to their employees. When the consumer talks, corporations listen!

**Customer Loyalty. Another recent study said that 80% of Americans have a more positive image of companies who support a cause they care about. In a time in which many negative images have been driving customer decisions and opinions, smart companies are keeping in mind the fact that it’s important to maintain/promote a positive image to consumers. Community service is one such way to do so.

**Employee Morale and Retention. Think about the last volunteer activity you took part in. Can you recall some of the feelings you experienced that day? Imagine if you could have those same feelings of pride, satisfaction, respect, understanding, warmth, etc. in an opportunity you didn’t have to seek out yourself. In an opportunity that your company offered you, on company time no less! How do you think that would make you feel about your company? Yet another study statistic for you: nearly 9 out of 10 (87%) employees polled at companies with programs that give back feel a strong sense of loyalty to their employers. A teambuilding event that gives back to the community makes participants feel good about themselves and the work they accomplish. Feelings of company loyalty and pride grow when working for a company that cares and wants to make a difference.

Corporations have taken steps away from simply taking out the checkbook. Now, corporations are integrating the needs of communities into their meeting and special events agendas.

Dependently Independent-Part III

July 27, 2007

By James Montague

I’m sure we could sit and debate what relationships are most important to keep you independent.  I have suggested two but to be sure there are many, many others that would take hours to explore.  So what is really the most important thing to remember when wanting to remain independent?  (Oh, and happy.)

One very simple concept; put it all together!  Sure it’s great if you have a knowledgeable attorney, a shrewd accountant, and an investment person on speed dial but are they working against each other?  How can each know what the other is suggesting and how to best represent you in a holistic manner if they aren’t on the same page?  It seems like an odd concept in these hectic times but I promise you it will be time well spent. 

Sit’em down!  Yes all of them together and in one room!  And then you spend as much time as it takes telling them all, at the same time, what it is that you want from them and what your goals are.  The end result is going to be a team of people working together in unison to help you achieve your goals.  Instead of unknowingly sabotaging each other because they don’t have the full picture, YOUR full picture.

Which brings me to my last piece of advice; do YOU even know what your goals are?  I mean have you really sat down in a quiet place and written down your goals for you and your business?  It’s going to be impossible to have any unified direction among your team if you yourself don’t know the direction.  Seriously, write it down!  Putting it down on paper makes it much harder to ignore and gives it the actual weight of being a “plan of action.”  Certainly its going to change over time, any good plan does, so allow yourself to be flexible.  Just write it down and keep it up to date. 

Its pretty straight-forward really; how do you know you’ve arrived if you had no idea where you were going?

Dependently Independent-cont’d

July 25, 2007

By James Montague

On Monday we discussed the importance of the money guy, our accountant.  Sure they are kind of dry at the Christmas party but you won’t find a bigger asset to your independence!  That being said, this next group of people are as important in my mind as the money guys; the attorneys. Ok hold the lawyer jokes at least for a little while, (or better yet post a few of them here for some laughs) while we discuss the attorney’s role in your business. 

Reason one: contracts.  Unfortunately in the world today there are plenty of people looking to get rich the “new fashioned way” - sue someone!  Everyday in our businesses we are either signing legal documents or asking someone to sign ours.  And if we are all completely honest with ourselves how much do we really know about all that language beyond “This contract is between….”?  I fancy myself somewhat of a closet lawyer as probably most of us do but think about it, we are signing contractual obligations each and every day with no REAL understanding what repercussions are!  Sure, hopefully we will never have to deal with the uglier side of tort law but is it worth the gamble?  Find an attorney that understands your business and train them on your needs.  Honestly there are many times that a quick phone call can resolve issues before they ever even arise.  (And some of the time your attorney won’t even charge you for the advice!  Shhhhhh!)

Reason two-business entity structure.  I’m going to take an informal poll; everyone that has their company set up as a sole proprietor raise your hands.  Just an educated guess on my part but more than half of you raised your hands.  And most of the time that structure is going to be fine.  But on the other hand let’s say you did sign something like we discussed above and now someone is knocking on your door saying you are “at fault” for something!  Are you safe?  Can they get your personal assets?  Your savings, your car, your house?  Certainly these are all questions for an attorney but there are many business entity structures that can give you some firewall safety between your business and your personal assets.  Have you had that conversation?

I’ve covered what I consider two of the biggest legal issues facing small business and certainly both can jeopardize your independence.  Maybe you guys can post some other needs that an attorney can address for small businesses; I’d love to hear your feedback.

Dependently Independent

July 23, 2007

By James Montague

Independent.  What does it mean to be independent?  Is it truly the absence of dependence?  I would offer that anyone who calls himself or herself an “independent meeting planner” understands the dichotomy of the word. 

“No man is an island”, someone much wiser than me said some time ago.  And its true to be an independent meeting planner at the top of your game means having to manage a complex maze of relationships.  Accountants, lawyers, bankers, hotel contacts, family, marketers, vendors, etc; not to mention finding time to do the work itself!  So what do you really need to be “independent”?

In this post and those to follow this week we’ll explore the foundational relationships you’ll need to be “dependently independent”.

Arguably the most important, continuing relationship a self employed independent can have is with an accountant.  Without a good accountant April 15th each year can be especially hair-raising!  What makes a good accounting relationship?  For starters one that speaks YOUR language and I mean that in several different ways.  YOUR language means YOUR business!  Does your accountant take the time so sit down and get to know your business?  Every business has its own cycle does he know yours?  Do you feel like he applies a “one size fits all” approach to your business?  Do they offer suggestions on how to make your financial books look better?  Offer short cuts and more importantly suggestions on how to achieve your financial goals?

If you were hiring someone to work for your business you would spend lots of time interviewing, fact finding, reference checking and soul searching.  Yet many of us don’t take the same time and care when looking for our advisors.  Make no mistake about it your accountant is working for you so you should take the same care, if not more, when deciding on which one to entrust with your financial well being.  Spend a LOT of time on this part because you want this relationship to last for years.  The longer you work with an accountant obviously the more they get to know you and your business.  And when you find the right match it’s a beautiful thing!

Unfortunately the other side is also just as important.  When you know the match just isn’t right, don’t delay, make the change quickly.  Sure you’ve gotten to know them and breaking up is hard to do but your independence is just too important to leave to inaction.  Again you have to be the one to manage the expectations of the relationship.  Although we aren’t talking about brain surgery here you do want to treat this as you would your health; get a second opinion.  If something doesn’t feel right or sound right get a second opinion; its just too important to your future to leave to chance. 

Wednesday we’ll take a look at some of the other important relationships, the people we depend on to keep us independent.  And we’ll wrap up the week with how you put all these relationships together to work for YOU!

I Practice What I Preach

July 20, 2007

By David Wood

Just so you know that I practice what I preach, here’s how I have blown up my own personal comfort zone over the years. It’s always a tad scary, but afterwards I’m happy I tried something different. Fours years ago I realized that I was bored with my life and unsure where I was headed. I now know I have a 10 year attention span. I had certainly never taken the normal path through the forest.

At twenty-two, I had dropped out of law school to move to Los Angeles and become a stand-up comedian. As I sure you can probably guess, my parents were thrilled! My gamble paid off over time as I was on The David Letterman Show a number of times. On one of those appearances, Dian Ross saw me and asked me to open for her at Caesars Palace. I was never a big star, but made a nice living and had got to do cool stuff. Then, I got bored.

Seeking change, in 1993 I moved to Seattle where I’d performed over the years and had grown to love the Pacific Northwest during those visits. Tired of telling jokes in night clubs, I started Right Brain Business Training there – an award winning company that made corporate training videos which are now sold worldwide. The company was successful, but after 10 years, boredom reared its ugly head once again. It was time for something new.

Seeking more change, I sold everything I owned in 2004 and traveled around-the-world for a year from the worlds southernmost to northernmost golf courses – Ushuaia, Argentina to Tromso, Norway. Over the course of 11 months, tens of thousands of miles, I traveled and golfed in every continent except Antarctica en route. 

Getting out of my comfort zone led to amazing stories and experiences. In addition to meeting scores of wonderful people worldwide, I also got lost, stranded, had food poisoning, altitude sickness, and was kicked out of the Ukraine at midnight in route to Russia. I got caught in the middle of a civil war in Nepal, trapped in violent uprisings by the peasants of Bolivia and accidentally met the notorious Carlos Menhem, the former President of Argentina, after a round of golf in Buenos Aries. It’s funny, but my travails hold a fonder spot in my memories my adventure. Adversity leads to growth (if you let it).

Upon return, I wrote my first book on that adventure and Around the World in 80 Rounds will be released by St. Martin’s Press in March of 2008. I now back to getting in front of audiences as I now give a keynote on my trip to business groups and association on getting out of comfort zones and challenging their inner adventurer. I’m sure I’ll keep going down this road for a time. But as I now know, boredom will set in and then I’ll try….who knows what.

5 Steps to Challenge Your “Inner Adventurer”

July 18, 2007

By David Wood

When we sometimes reach those points in life where ennui takes hold of our thoughts and actions, remember that this is probably something you’ve done to yourself. And the good news is that you can do something about it. Change can only happen when you allow yourself room to grow. Venture out of your comfort zones into unfamiliar territory with small brave steps by challenging your “Inner Adventurer.” Here are 5 ideas to start the process:

1. Get off the hamster wheel – We wake up at the same time, eat the same breakfast, drive the same route to work, talk about the same things upon arrival to the same people. Get off that hamster wheel and vary your life. Mix it up.  Take the bold initiative of trying something you’ve never done before. It doesn’t matter how big or small the change is. The important thing is to break your routine. The more often you try the easier it becomes. Soon you’ll be challenging yourself with something bold that fosters career or personal growth.

2. Face the fears that hold you back – Usually we don’t take the steps we need for personal growth because of those pesky nagging fears in the back of our minds. We certainly give that voice a tremendous amount of power over us. “I’m too old to learn something new.” “I don’t have time to take that yoga class.” “I’d love to try for that promotion, but what if I don’t get it?” Well, what if you do! Change the “I can’t” or “I shouldn’t” or “I’m too scared” to “I’m going to” and keep that promise to yourself. Most fears are paper tigers easily defeated when confronted head-on.

3. Embrace change – Change is inevitable, expect from vending machine as the saying goes.  It’s the only constant in life. As you know by now, life is rarely going to turn out the way you planned so learn to move with the tide. That great philosopher Yogi Berra said it best: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” His unintended wisdom is relevant.  Again, successful people know change occurs no matter how much we might wish otherwise. When it’s time to face the winds of change they go with it. By getting out your comfort zone on your own accord you’ll be more able to confront the unexpected when it comes along (as it surely will).

4. Accept help from teammates – The great thing about getting out of our comfort zones and seeking personal change is that we don’t have to go it alone. Take advantage of mentors, teachers, speakers, co-workers, and gurus to assist you in your new goals. People respond to those wanting to better themselves. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just challenge yourself a bit. Accept that there are people you might know more in the areas in which you’re uncertain and use their experience, encouragement, and wisdom to your benefit.

5. Do your homework – Short cuts are short-term solutions. As we all know from our school days, the walk to school in the morning is more pleasant when we did our homework the night before. Do your homework. Take all the necessary steps not just the easiest ones. This road takes a little longer, but the views are usually better and you won’t have to retrace your steps.

Get moving immediately and challenge your Inner Adventurer. The attainment of your goals is closer than you think.

Is Your “Comfort Zone” Holding You Back?

July 16, 2007

By David Wood

Let’s face it. We’re all creatures of habit – especially in the areas of career and personal growth. No matter the profession, we all get used to certain procedures, routines, expectations, and, for the most part, quietly go along with the status quo even if boredom starts to wrap its tentacles around our lives. Why rock the boat? Not wanting to risk our current lot in life, we get a little scared to take a new step in an unknown direction. Like lemmings, we go with the flow as days turn into years and suddenly one day we find ourselves on the short side of important goals we’d hoped to one day accomplish.

It’s not too late. Take the plunge with one little step in ANY new direction. Just get the ball rolling. Challenge yourself immediately with new input from books, magazines, and speakers. Try new foods. Exercise at a new time (or start exercising!). Take the scenic route to work or better yet try public transportation if that’s not your norm. Listen to the radio in the evening rather than watching television. While attending a conference, take a break small break and go to a museum for an hour. Learn Spanish in your spare time. The key is to try something…anything… new and different. Start blowing up your comfort zone. Get rid of it! Chances are it isn’t serving you as well as think (and it’ll take you back with open arms if you come crawling home).

Successful people seem to follow this procedure innately. Back in 2006, I heard the wildly successful movie producer Brain Grazer on NPR discussing his belief in disrupting his personal comfort zone every day and on purpose. I loved his idea of trying anything just as long as it’s out of his normal routine. As Ron Howard’s longtime partner in Imagine Entertainment and with box office hits like A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13 to their credit, Mr. Grazer can certainly afford to coast from day-to-day, yet he doesn’t. He took up surfing – complete with the angry looks and snickers of younger wave riders – ¬ at 45 years old. He continually seeks out audiences with experts in subjects well out of his comfort zone like forensics and anthropology and even nuclear weapons. He talked of his meeting with Edward Teller – the father of hydrogen bomb – who had never heard of him and ridiculed him as just a silly show biz type during their terse meeting. Was Grazer defeated? Hardly. He’d taken a chance and that’s what keeps him going. I love his quote: “Disrupting my comfort zone, bombarding myself with challenging people and situations, this is the best way I know to keep growing. And, if you’re not growing you’re dying.”

Put yourself in a position to grow. Once out of your old comfort zone you’ll realize the only thing that was holding you back was yourself.  Dreams matter.

The Devil’s in the Details

July 10, 2007

By Kelly Rush

From Dictionary.com Unabridged (v1.1)
The performance of duties or the duties performed as or by a waiter or servant; occupation or employment as a waiter or servant

From American Heritage Dictionary
The serving of food or the manner in which it is served.

As I reread my last post, I realized that, perhaps, it may be unclear as to why I’d like to focus on service this week.  Primarily, it’s because in a variety of industry publications—Successful Meetings, MeetingNews, M&C, etc.—over the last two years I’ve seen many surveys about why planners choose the properties that they do; many of the responses place service at the property as one of the top three deciding factors.  Yet the concept of “good service” versus “bad service” seems to be entirely subjective.  Think about restaurant reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor and you’ll see that, in most cases, the reviews vary widely.  Now, I’m sure part of this is circumstance—differences in servers, whether the restaurant was fully staffed or not, as well as the expectations of the guests themselves about what constitutes good service.

Patty Shock and John Stefanelli write in their text Hotel Catering: A Handbook for Sales and Operations that with a site visit the catering manager “can control the presentation [of the property] and eliminate the interruptions.  While there [the client] can be treated to lunch….” (68)  I encourage each of you to take back control.  If service is so important it is one of the top three factors determining your choice of facility, make your feelings known: express your need to eat banquet fare, not restaurant, and experience banquet service.

That being said, it becomes very difficult to separate “service” in the technical sense from the cumulative experience that we tend to generally call “service.”  Today is about explaining service from a technical point of view and how we, as operations professionals, evaluate the skills and performance of our staff.  In order to do so, I’ve compiled a short, composite list of banquet server duties from banquet position descriptions for the Taj Hotel in Boston to The Red Lion Hotel Yakima Center, Washington; DoubleTree Coconut Grove, Miami; and the Atlanta Marriott Northwest in Atlanta.  In the interests of creating a checklist for evaluation, let’s take these one by one and list hard, concrete questions to ask during your next site visit:

• Must at all times present a favorable image of the hotel to the public.
o Is there a staff member meeting guests at the door?
o Does staff make eye contact and smile within 10 feet of the guest?
o Does staff offer a warm “Welcome” when the guest is within 5 feet?
o Is the staff member neatly groomed?
o Are staff uniforms crisp and clean, with a visible nametag?
o Is wait staff posture straight?

• Maintain the cleanliness of function areas
o Is the reception area filled with empty glasses, cocktail napkins and old hors d’oeuvres plates?
o Are bathrooms clean and free of odor?
o Are back hallways clean?
o Are kitchen surfaces clean?
o If using tray stands, are dishes neatly stacked? 
o Is there an unsightly pile of food on clearing trays, or have the staff covered trash with a napkin to obscure?

• Knowledge of appropriate table settings and service ware
o Are linens crisp and flat, or wrinkled?
o Do bottom linens reach to the floor?
o Do top linens have their primary crease facing the main entrance?
o Are linens clean and free of stains, ragged edges, or stray threads?
o Are chairs mirrored (for tables with even number of guests) with the chairs across or evenly spaced {for tables with an odd number of guests)?
o Are table settings appropriate for menu?
o Is flatware mirrored with the place setting across the table?
o Is flatware placed 1” from the edge of the place setting (for round tables) or from the edge of the table {for square or rectangular tables}?
o Are napkins clean and crisp?

• Serve meals to patrons according to established ruled of etiquette
o Are guests being served courses from the left, with the left hand?
o Are guest being served clockwise around the table?
o Are females being served first, according to age, then the men?
o When carrying food items, is the staff carrying three entrees at a time, on level with no fingers in the dish?
o Are beverages being served from the right, with the right hand?
o Are dishes being cleared from the right with the right hand?
o Are water glasses empty?  (They should never get below half-full.)
o Does the server use a cocktail tray to clear beverages from the right?
o Is appropriate flatware removed prior to serving the next course?
o When (re)placing flatware, does the server use a “marking plate” to bring silver to the table, or do they carry by hand? (The latter is incorrect.)
o When opening a bottle of wine table-side, is the label facing the guest at all times? 
o Is salt & pepper replaced with sweetener and cream prior to coffee service?

• Observe Guests to fulfill any additional requests
o In down time during the function, are wait staff at post along the wall observing tables?
o In down time during the function, are wait staff chatting with each other, paying no attention to the event floor?
o Are servers knowledgeable about group’s meeting schedule and locations for activities?
o Is the server knowledgeable about other departments, locations of restrooms, etc?
o Do servers escort guests when directions are asked?

• Must be knowledgeable of event menu items and their contents, and the correct preparation and garnishing methods
o Does the server have a firm, concise grasp of the menu, or do they answer menu questions with “beef or chicken entrees tonight”?
o Is the first course hold or cold?  How beef roasted, grilled, braised?
o What temperature is it served at?
o When offering wine, does the server ask by varietal or color (e.g., “Fume Blanc” vs. “White”)?
o Can the server cite vintage?

Dedication to proper, technical service shows professional dedication, and the answers to these questions can help you evaluate that dedication.  In my experience, if these technical questions are answered in the affirmative, you can be assured that the experience of service will be outstanding…think of it as the serving equivalent of the CMP or CSEP!

(Re)Defining “Service”

July 09, 2007

By Kelly Rush

From Dictionary.com Unabridged (v1.1)
1.  an act of helpful activity; help; aid
6.  the performance of duties or the duties performed as or by a waiter or servant; occupation or employment as a waiter or servant
13. Often, services. the performance of any duties or work for another; helpful or professional activity
From American Heritage Dictionary
1f. An act or a variety of work done for others, especially for pay
1k. The serving of food or the manner in which it is served.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I cringe when I hear my fellow meeting industry professionals mention instances of bad service, partially because the term “service” holds different meanings for each individual and, thus, tend to leave us appraising service from a purely subjective point of view.  The excerpts above seem to be the most relevant definitions to our industry, but they maintain an air ambiguity, particularly as they relate to what a meeting planner requires as “service.”

While doing research, I tried to find documentation on how to evaluate a property’s service during the site visit, oftentimes the planner’s first, tangible introduction to a property’s staff (outside of the sales team) and service capabilities.  To my surprise, no source—from Corbin Ball’s website to common event and hospitality management texts—includes any guidelines on establishing metrics for service.  The ultimate goal of this week, then, will be two-fold: 1) to (re)define and refine the term “service” and 2) to establish more objective framework(s) for planners to better compare “apples to apples” when it comes to hotel service.

To start the week let’s (re)define and refine the terms we’ll be using this week.

1. Technical Service – Taking the definitions above, let’s block definitions 6 from Dictionary.com and 1K from the American Heritage Dictionary under this heading for the week.  Meeting professionals use the CMP and CSEP designations to indicate a dedication to learning the meetings industry—to learning the core competencies of the industry; in much the same way, tomorrow you will acquire a checklist to be implemented during your site visit to evaluate the dedication of banquet management and their staff.
2. Service – Again, taking the definitions above, let’s block definitions 1 & 13 from Dictionary.com, as well as 1F from the American Heritage Dictionary, under this heading.  Understanding that this is a broader, more abstract concept to begin with, we’ll develop a checklist which will assist in evaluating the potential for satisfactory service from hotel operations (banquet and culinary staff), and the conference services manager. 

This week, I’ll be asking you to don the hat of a hotel operations professional in order to more accurately predict the end experience for your attendees.  Since many planners rate hotel service as one of their top three priorities when evaluating properties, my hope is that by understanding how we evaluate service from an operations standpoint, you will be empowered to create a more successful end product for your stakeholders.

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