NBTA Paper Eyes Stakeholders
Critical steps in the implementation of a strategic meetings management program are identifying direct and indirect stakeholders, defining their roles and optimizing their contributions, according to the groups and meetings committee of the National Business Travel Association in a paper expected to be released at the association's annual convention this week.
The paper, the fourth in a series for travel managers on implementing a corporate meetings management program, guides companies through a step-by-step process of change management techniques by treating stakeholders as customers.
"This is a critical stage for all travel managers, or whoever it may be within the organization that's implementing the strategic meetings management program," said committee co-chair Madlyn Caliri. "A lot of times there's pressure to get the process into place and this step is somewhat overlooked."
Without due diligence on internal stakeholders, companies may lose time and money redesigning the program to include stakeholders that were missed, said Caliri, who also is global procurement manager of hotel, meetings and events for AT&T Corp.
As in corporate travel programs, strategic meetings management programs have customers on the event or trip level—attendees, sponsors and planners—and contract review through the legal department. Meetings programs also have key stakeholders in management, according to the paper, including corporate meeting managers, procurement directors, technology departments and finance departments.
"We want to move beyond just inclusion of those who have an 'interest or share in the outcome of our project' and truly include these individuals and groups as voices in the design of each solution," the groups and meetings committee said in the paper.
When implementing a meetings program, travel managers can use standard methodologies to measure the expectations of these internal customer groups. These methodologies measure customer requirements for services rather than products, or when expectations are subjective rather than objective, according to the committee.
There are risks and challenges in the methodology that must be addressed prior to implementation, including: lack of industry knowledge outside of the core group, subjective opinions, the variable nature of meetings, legacy planning behavior of stakeholders that have previously been responsible for meetings, company silos, perceptions of homogenization and a lack of meaningful and accurate data.
Because of these challenges, the committee recommended a customized approach by meeting type, taking into consideration key meeting variables such as size, focus, attendee type and total spend. The committee used a grid system to chart meetings according to their complexity.
After key stakeholders are identified and their roles are defined, travel managers should take five steps to designing solutions and optimize the company's investment in meetings management, according to the paper.
The first step, "engage," is to obtain buy-in at the highest level possible to quiet pushback throughout the company. Once all stakeholders are engaged, their roles and responsibilities should be defined and documented to act as guidelines in a time of change and even chaos. The committee recommended including stakeholders in the process of defining their roles to ease fears of change.
The second step is to "exchange" skills and knowledge among all stakeholders to optimize the company's internal resources. Throughout that process, stakeholders also will invest themselves in the success of the program, according to the committee. The third step, "emulate," is to learn from the success of other corporate programs. The paper recommended industry benchmarking, process and policy synergy within the company and to "beg, borrow and steal the best ideas" from other corporations.
"Educate," the fourth step, is key when dealing with a broad-based group of stakeholders. Meeting planners, organizers and owners may need to better understand business practices. On the other hand, procurement, finance, technology and even travel management departments may not understand the nature of meeting and event management, according to the paper.
The final step, "excel," is to articulate and reinforce the overall objectives throughout the process: cost efficiencies, quality gains and resource reemployment. By tying the success of the meetings program to the overall success of the company, internal stakeholders are given a personal chance to contribute to their corporation. Travel managers should expect that most employees have the best interests of the company at heart, according to the paper.
"You've got to approach this from a strategic and an intelligent and a well-thought-out perspective because of some of the internal pushback you could receive," said committee co-chair Kari Knoll Kesler, who also is global manager of meetings and events for Honeywell Inc. "It's typically been done meeting by meeting, and now we're saying to look at it as one big bucket. Not only is the industry not necessarily ready for that, but companies haven't been prepared to do that as well."