How to Successfully Implement a Global Strategic Meetings Management Program

Part One of a Multi-Part Series on Globalization

If I learned one thing from my most recent four-year foray into designing and building a global strategic meetings management (SMM) program it’s that NOBODY WANTS TO BE TOLD WHAT TO DO BY CENTRAL, whether central is HQ telling the field, or the United States telling another country. And from this simple (but infinitely complex) idea flows everything else. Below I will share some stories from the trenches, and then I will share a number of high level lessons I have learned. Follow up pieces in this series will go into more depth on the key components of a global program, the challenges encountered along the way, and the mitigation strategies to address them.

But first I’m going to share the secret sauce. First and foremost, the key to any successful global SMM program is to:

 

  • Learn and consider the needs of each country before designing the program
  • Develop a program that contains key elements that must be standardized regardless of country (typically for data collection or regulatory compliance purposes), but otherwise allows customization
  • Gain buy-in for the program from local stakeholders prior to implementation

My stories below show what will happen during the implementation of any global program, whether mandated or not. Any team intending to implement a global SMM should internalize these three lessons before they begin.

 

Stories from the Trenches

Let’s face it; meeting planning is already happening in every place in the world where you will be implementing your shiny new SMM program. Those processes and procedures were built organically as your internal customers and their existing suppliers hammered out the details to arrive at a way of doing things that is mutually agreeable to both parties. After all that work, do you really think they want to discard it for your “new and improved, one size fits all,” and might I add, “untried” approach? From the customer’s perspective, “Why mess with success?” From the incumbent supplier’s perspective, “Why make me change the way I do things? Or even worse, “Why take away my business?”

 

They will find endless reasons why change shouldn’t happen, which at the very least slows down your implementation, or at worst, derails it completely – even though your organization has excellent reasons for implementing an SMM program, including compliance to regulations, duty of care, standardized quality of service, supplier rationalization, and savings. And so you dance; with you leading to the right, and the tag team of internal customer and incumbent supplier leading to the left, in a constant whirl of dancing that would be humorous, if it weren’t ultimately so frustrating.

 

Now for some stories…

 

“Customized Data Fields and Workflow by Country”

The global program I co-led with my client was initially developed in the US, by a team that believed it followed best practices for data collection and workflow when it configured the meetings technology. Upon implementing our first overseas market we were inundated with requests to add and delete data collection fields in the meeting request form that the customer completes to request meeting sourcing and planning support – and this happened in every country we implemented. Having different forms in different countries leads to data collection nightmares, as the database collecting the information is supposed to be global, so as to facilitate global reporting. Ultimately we had to gather representatives from each country and go through field-by-field and agree on whether it was to be included or not, and what its label would be.

 

“Customized Meeting Planning Solutions by Country”

In preparation for launching the SMM program in Latin America, my client and I travelled to Mexico City to meet with the LAC project lead. Our plan was to provide an overview of the SMM program, including the rationale for the program, and its key components, and then gather the few unique requirements we anticipated during an open discussion. Our audience of stakeholders sat quietly during our presentation, and when we were finished the LAC project lead said “Thank you,” and then asked, “When do you plan on visiting to gather requirements, since each country will need a custom solution?” After further discussions it became clear that the way things were currently working in each country was fine, and they really didn’t want to change anything.

 

“No New Technology”

One refrain we heard quite often was “No new technology.” At root this is always about changing processes, and refers back to the organic manner in which existing meeting sourcing and planning services were established. Imagine, after investing time and effort into developing mutually agreed upon procedures and processes, along you come saying, “HQ wants us to implement a standardized methodology for sourcing and planning meetings, which requires that you all use this spanking new technology platform. Oh, and by-the-way, unfortunately you will have to adapt your processes to the workflow of the meetings technology, or the whole thing won’t work.” Your internal customers won’t want to change processes, because they co-developed them with the supplier – and they work. And the suppliers won’t want to change the technology platform, because they are using their own technology that feeds into their internal tracking and billing systems.

 

I hope these three stories highlighted for you some of the thematic challenges you will face during your implementation.

 

Lessons Learned

The secret sauce I shared above is an outtake from the lessons that follow. These are hard-learned lessons, and I will go into more detail about them as I delve deeper into this topic. But for now here they are as we learned them:

 

  1. Imposing a program does not work!
  2. Always think about it from your internal customer’s perspective
  3. Executive level support is critical as a prerequisite to the success of the program
  4. Executive leadership should identify and clearly communicate the rationale for the program, along with the key objectives
  5. Key objectives should include high quality service, duty of care, compliance to regulation, and spend control
  6. The program owner(s) should solicit design input from global partners early in the process to ensure buy-in later
  7. A core program should be created that is the same from country to country
  8. The core program should include the invariable aspects of the program that support the key objectives, such as policy, sourcing processes, and technology configuration
  9. The program owner(s) must pre-sell the program to every stakeholder level that can block its successful implementation, and gain their buy-in. This is true even for mandated programs
  10. Every benefit of the program must be framed in terms that resonate with the business needs of the stakeholders
  11. Allow and encourage flexibility in noncore elements of the program, such as event planning

 

Join me next time when I dive deeper into this topic, including the three ‘must haves’ for a successful global SMM program.

 

I encourage you to share your thoughts on today’s topic in the comments area below, and let me know if you think I’ve missed anything.

 

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Thanks for joining me!

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  1. […] multi-part series on successfully globalizing a strategic meetings management program (see part one here).  Identifying constituencies affected by change, their reasons for resistance to change, and […]

  2. […] multi-part series on successfully globalizing a strategic meetings management program (see part one here). Identifying constituencies affected by change, their reasons for resistance to change, and […]