Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) has gotten a lot of buzz the past few years and doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing down. What is SMM? In short, it’s an organization wide, long term strategic planning approach to your organization’s in person and blended meetings. That’s right, you too can now properly report your analytics back in alignment with that strategic plan that’s sitting on your shelf gathering dust. In today’s day and age of “we’re all experts”, SMM will also help offset the fact that everyone’s helped plan a wedding or a birthday party. Meetings mean business and the events and hospitality profession is taking a big step forward in getting event professionals recognized at the big kids table.
So what does this mean for you, the event planner or events team? You have an opportunity to really harness and gain more than the historic lateral authority that you have traditionally had to operate from. Which is GREAT news because it no longer means you’re just there to order the chicken or push papers for the committee that decides what happens at your event. You can now direct and impact the change you want to see (sorry folks, primary season began today and this girl is excited!)
Here are 10 great rules for driving your SMM program to success
1) Be a bridge between old and new
Strategy means big picture and you, my friend, are at the center of it all. Shifting (code word: change) to an enterprise-wide model of meetings where the meetings strategist takes control, even perceived control, away from Betty Sue, who always did that one thing that seemed so exotic because it was meeting related? Well, let’s just say you’ll need to ensure you’re not trying to do it Stalin hostile takeover style, because there’s enough tears when it’s done collaboratively.
Good strategic meetings management means all internal and external stakeholders gots to be brought along and included (think RASCI). You will get to develop or hone your facilitation skills, your negotiation tactics, your listening ears, your patient face, a tough hide, and might I suggest finding and stocking a plentiful candy dish. You’re not always going to make people happy, but you must try to make people feel like they were part of the change rather than out of the loop.
2) There has to be a formal, common understanding around what SMM is inside your organization and the WIIFM factor
The best and worst part of change management is that people only really care how it’s going to affect them (what’s in it for me?). So, most important rule of SMM? Thou shalt figure how your ideal SMM program will be thought of by everyone else in the organization (this includes both internal and external stakeholders).
YOU’RE the meetings expert, so you should set the understanding and help others “get” how it’s going to make a difference for the bottom line and the greater organizational mission. Take the initiative, get your research together (here’s a great white paper by GBTA and another great white paper from MPI on how to get started), write up a plan with your policies you recommend and then figure out how to position it to all those other people who give you the really helpful advice about what coffee costs in a pretend world.
And a side note: many meeting planners don’t feel empowered to make or advocate these kind of strategic changes, but then we all end up at the same bitching sessions at events complaining about how little control it sometimes feels like we have. This is your chance to outline the value of your job, with data AND pictures (I prefer the really awesome stick figures, but that’s me)
3) And you, your boss or the top decision-maker in your department has to evangelize that common understanding
At all times. Don’t be annoying, but do be consistent. Even when you think it feels like a small movement or that no one is listening. Like Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference“ author says: “That is the paradox of the epidemic: that in order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first.”
4) All stakeholders must agree on common definitions of long term and short term for your organization
I work on a five to ten year cycle for long term planning, and try not to deter too terribly much from it. Unless there’s a global ebola crisis, or a volcano erupts in Iceland, or perhaps an ice storm happens. Meetings and events are sensitive in a way that my board, working on a three year strategic planning cycle, is usually more insulated from. A global economic crisis will affect us all, but the bomb threat usually just messes with your department first. SMM helps you pad and adjust short and long term because you’ve got an enterprise approach rather than the financials from just one event.
To give people perspective around the big picture and influences outside economics can have on the meetings world short and long term, tie their big picture to yours. Usually an annual, quarterly, or monthly forecasted P&L and historical budget to actuals spreadsheet can show impact of increasing or diminishing returns for nearly any stakeholder you work with. I also like to use scary statistics of hotel coffee inflation or peak rates for room rates when I feel I want to make a point about costs and lack of planning.
4) AND then all stakeholders must use those definitions to clearly outline what success and failure is at each of the major short and long term milestones
Since you’re planning long term and enterprise wide: success and failure becomes more malleable. Now obviously, if one big meeting loses a tremendous amount of money or incurs a tremendous expense you’ll have to adjust overall, but be realistic about the big picture. Mostly, you can count forward movement, static movement, and backwards movement in relation to those goals look like over year by year, month by month, week by week milestone wise and estimate success and failure against your big key performance indicators.
5) AND then all stakeholders must agree to what it means when success or failure (or somewhere in between) happens
When you change things and it goes well, everyone wants credit. However, when you change things, and it goes poorly…well, then you better make sure you have extremely good notes for what success and failure was imagined to look like when you first start and get approval for your SMM journey.
You’re not always going to hit every milestone and/or goal out of the park, but the great thing about SMM, is that you should have forecasted trends and those should match up with actuals if you’ve done your research correctly. It also allows you to react more proactively if say the real estate bubble pops or economy takes a nosedive. Economic cycles cycle through just like anything else. Being strategic allows you to more accurately use data to predict and prepare people for the seven years of plenty and seven years of famine.
6) You must have succession planning and documentation
Your job looks like a lot of fun on the outside. Many people don’t see the ridiculous hours, the endless hotel rooms, and listen in on the crazy planning calls. They see your social media posts from that party where you’re out to dinner and drinks in a fancy locale, paid for by the people trying to get your business.
I say these things because if you decide to leave your job, many times your amazing SMM department progress can be abruptly disrupted if no one planned to continue to the lead the charge. Obey rule number 1, build a deep bench, and make sure you’re keeping excellent and up to date documentation so that your SMM department flows smoothly no matter the changes in the team.
8) Make data is your best friend
Quantitative data supports and sells the stories you need to tell. As a SMM evangelist, you must collect, analyze, and disseminate data. Use it when you’re evangelizing the SMM program, when you’re writing your board or department results, when you prepare your budgets, etc. The fact that you have statistics and can trace where and how dollars are being spent and seen in the overall organization scheme is priceless.
9) Practice collaboration, not consensus, strategic meetings management
Going enterprise wide means having big organization wide effects. There’s more money and reputation at stake. Additionally, meetings are seen as sexy, they’re fun, and they’re easily visible. Add these all up and you have catnip for big decision makers, high achievers or those that want to be seen as high achievers. And those types of people don’t tend to be without opinions. Which is both good and bad.
Many times you’re just going to have to agree to disagree and keep your eye on the ball. Make the decision that is best for your long term objectives and goals, keep those at the center of every discussion you have, and use the data you’ve curated to support what you’re doing. And if that fails, there’s always candy in your candy bowl, right?
10) Choose your hills to die on wisely
For your sanity and for the SMM success. Working big picture and strategic means while the details matter, it’s not necessarily the story that will further the organization’s overall strategic objectives. Create consistent results and pick the big precedents you want to set as the hills to die on, rather than tussling over something that is easy enough to give as a win for a future potential partner in scaling your SMM program to new heights.