It’s Adam Gordon’s turn to share GoldSpring Consulting’s insights. In this From The Field guidepost, the senior consultant delves into measuring the value of strategic meetings programs. While savings is the metric that gets the most attention, Gordon contends that it’s not nearly enough for understanding the benefits to an organization. SMM should address the needs of all stakeholders, and those include developing products and brand awareness, generating revenue and cultivating talent. To achieve those goals, Gordon encourages program managers to look more holistically at organizational culture, technology and process design.

For any successful Strategic Meetings Management framework, it’s essential to define scope, policy, process, technology, data capture and reporting. Without these fundamentals, it is not possible to fully measure value. Even with the basics covered, value largely has been about measuring and reporting on savings realized through negotiations. Yes, we can add to the mix the recognizable benefits of process efficiency, regulatory compliance, risk mitigation and attendee satisfaction and experience. But managers will need to become more strategic if they are to support the value of their programs and ensure that their roles are still relevant into the future.

The risk of not doing so is commoditization. Hotel meeting commission reductions are in the news and the shift in the program funding paradigm is likely to continue. Add in ever-evolving technology, and the need to define or redefine value is pressingly important.

Even the savings metric is flawed for a few reasons. First, the basis of those savings is often calculated using debatable methodologies. Second, the achieved savings have limited stakeholder benefit.

Adam Gordon, GoldSpring Consulting - meetings management
Adam Gordon, senior consultant at GoldSpring Consulting

So for starters, we need to define strategic value in terms of what meetings and events can accomplish for the broader organization and business goals.

As an industry we’ve come to rely upon the accepted definition of a strategic program. As per the Global Business Travel Association, SMM is “a disciplined approach to the organization of enterprise-wide meeting and event-related processes, activities, metrics, standards and supplier strategies, to achieve business objectives, to save costs in qualitative scope, to reduce risks and to offer the optimal service level.”

How many strategic program managers can align the goals of their organization with those of their programs? Even for those who can define those aligned goals, how many have then documented and communicated the strategic goals of their program to their stakeholders and gained acceptance of those objectives?

How do we start to build meetings value that’s based on desired, strategic outcomes? Here are four areas of focus.

Consider Culture

Because each company is different, assessing the company culture is key. That means defining aspects of it and understanding how it plays into the ability to begin building a platform for strategic alignment.

Are meetings and events seen as integral to the successful operation of the company? How is that articulated? Does the culture support an instructive versus guiding approach? How does the organization view process-supported activities in general, and how should this influence program managers when they review or design their programs?

Establishing a cultural baseline is critical for achieving full compliance, adoption and ultimately acceptance for a strategic meetings management program built around strategic alignment and value to stakeholders.

Consider All Stakeholders

Although we have seen a broadening of stakeholder engagement, the procurement function often is the de facto stakeholder group. Again, that’s because of the primary focus on supplier consolidation and achievable savings.

The danger in not clarifying and addressing the entire stakeholder community is ignoring their strategic objectives. Those vary and rarely are predicated on achievable savings.

For example, sales and marketing teams tend to focus on enablement, brand awareness and revenue growth. Research and development teams focus on product development and compliance. Human resources teams look at talent acquisition and retention.

Understanding stakeholder roles and their measures of success helps to define the strategic outcomes of specific events and the overall program.

Consider Process Design

Based on organizational culture and stakeholder input, it is important to capture and report on strategic objectives.

Program managers should construct a user process that clarifies those objectives and focuses both the event activity design and content on the desired outcomes. Is there engagement with stakeholders from the outset so the program manager has a role in the event and content design? Can event registration technology capture outcome objectives? Can that bake into the approval process?

One of the key challenges for program owners is change management. Managers must dedicate enough time and resources to a suitable plan and involve key stakeholders and change agents for socialization, communication and training.

Consider Technology Holistically

Most strategic programs today use a central meetings and events core technology. It is increasingly important that technology supports program outcomes rather than only the process and the reporting of hard spend or volume metrics.

Is current technology integrated and adequately supporting all levels of meetings? How are meetings and events tied to customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning systems? How do program managers address small or simple meetings that aren’t well-served by current core technologies?

We tend to view technologies in isolation. The better approach is to define holistic requirements and align the relevant technologies to support the required processes and value measurements.

Conclusion: Avoiding Commoditization

The services provided by the supply chain to support strategic meetings management programs have, in many cases, become commoditized. It is harder to showcase differentiation. Price has become all-important.

If the primary value measurements continue to be based on savings rather than strategic, stakeholder-aligned outcomes, the very roles that manage the programs will, in time, also become commoditized.

That will not be a good outcome for anyone. If organizations can quantify value measurements on outcomes and impact, they will want to do more, in turn elevating the role of the program manager.

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