Need to Know BEFORE Starting a Strategic Meetings Program Ex-US

First we implemented a strategic meetings management program in the US.  Then, as part of our global implementation, we implemented the program in Europe.  The program in the US was a resounding success.  The program in Europe; not so much (at first).

 

In my former life I spent five years as the leader responsible for the global implementation of a strategic meetings management (SMM) program from the agency side.  I worked closely with the client to design and implement the SMM program, which was planned for over 60 countries in North America, Latin and Central America, Europe and the Middle East, and Asia and the Pacific Rim.  Overall the program was successful, accomplishing the client’s goals of consistent service, savings, and compliance.  But that is not to say that we didn’t have our challenges along the way.  In this article I address the obstacles we encountered in our European implementation, which can be generalized to other regions while implementing a strategic meetings management program.

 

The first paragraph of this article is very revealing.

 

  1. We tried to implement the same program in Europe that we implemented in the US, and
  2. Europe is not a monolithic bloc.  It has lots of countries, each with its own unique culture, business norms, regulations, preferred national carriers, etc.  And heaven help the person who forgets it!

 

The only thing that truly persuaded local stakeholders to adopt the program in the end was the one-on-one persuasion of key individuals.  And, in retrospect, we would have been better off trying that approach before we rolled out the strategic meetings management program, rather than after.

 

What They Say and What They Mean

Uniformly we heard six common refrains as we rolled out the program in Europe.  What they said and what they meant is shown in the following table:

“What They Said….”

“What They Meant….”

  1. “We are the frontline, and we know what we need to be successful better than you do.”
  • A program designed at HQ cannot meet the needs of those in the field who have the day-to-day contact with the customers
  1. “Our current process works, so please don’t change it.”
  • We like planning meetings event-by-event, so please don’t try to implement a consolidated strategic meetings management program here
  • We already have a process – just replicate it
  • Our processes are unique to our business/culture, and your program doesn’t take our unique needs into consideration
  1. “The program you are proposing will require a lot of customization to work for us.”
  • We need a customized (1) Meeting Request Form, or (2) processes, so don’t try to fit us into your one-size-fits-all program
  • We already have (1) an approval process and (2) a way to find venues that work for us.  We don’t need new processes
  • We need the meetings technology to be in Swahili
  1. “You are making our jobs harder.”
  • Our sole objective is to provide high quality events for our customers, and you are making this harder for us with your data collection requirements and new rules
  1. “Our job is planning meetings, or winning business, so don’t ask us to enter data in your new meetings technology system.”
  • Our job is planning meetings, not entering data
  • We don’t want to register our meetings – it takes too long
  1. “Our current suppliers are great.  Why should we change?”
  • We have longstanding relationships with suppliers that work
  • We don’t want to use a supplier from ‘that’ country.  Local suppliers understand our needs
  • Hubs won’t work – we need local providers
  • You global program is more expensive than our current suppliers

 

 

The difficulty with this perspective is that stakeholders tend to look at the transition to a strategic meetings management program only from the perspective of their individual responsibilities to the organization, which is what they are trained and incented to do.  They tend not to look at it from the enterprise perspective, which is what they need to do if the organization is to accomplish its objectives of reducing regulatory and duty of care risks, reducing costs and providing consistent service.

 

Persuade and/or Pilot

Regardless of whether the strategic meetings management program is mandated or not, there are only two ways that I have seen to gain key stakeholder buy-in and adoption of an SMM program:  (1) persuasion, and (2) evidentiary proof that the program’s benefits outweigh its required changes.

 

Persuasion works by overcoming local stakeholder objections to the new program by explaining the enterprise-level goals of the program (increased compliance, duty-of-care oversight, and cost reduction), and reminding them that in addition to the responsibilities of their individual position, they also have enterprise-level responsibilities as key stakeholders in the larger organization.  This enterprise-level explanation of program goals plus the reminder of their responsibilities to the larger organization, combined with an explanation of the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me), is usually enough to convince responsible stakeholders to comply with the program.

 

Providing evidence that the new program can work is another very effective strategy.  This strategy, which consists of having the new supplier provide venue sourcing and meeting planning services, works best when the primary challenge from the stakeholder concerns the use of a new supplier.  In this scenario the key stakeholder is asked to identify a meeting, or series of meetings that can be operated by the new supplier.  Assuming the new supplier provides excellent service, it goes a long way to convincing the stakeholder that the new supplier is be able to meet their service delivery requirements.  A secondary benefit of the pilot approach is to present cost reduction evidence to the stakeholder resulting from the increased leverage of a consolidated SMM program and the negotiation tactics brought to bear by professional sourcing staff.

 

In summary, assuming that a US-based strategic meetings management program can be adopted and transplanted to another region is asking for trouble.  Identifying key stakeholders and gaining their buy-in prior to implementation is recommended.  The strategies for gaining buy-in include demonstration programs and explaining the enterprise-level objectives to the stakeholders to remind them of their larger responsibilities to the enterprise.

 

Please let me and your fellow readers know your thoughts on transplanting US-based strategic meetings management programs to other regions.  Have you tried to transplant a program, and did it work.  What other problems have you run into when trying to implement your program globally?  You can add your thoughts in the comments box directly below.

 

If you are a travel director or manager needing assistance with the assessment, design, or implementation of your meeting program, please contact me at 609.466.0100 or email me at shimon@smmconsulting.com.  I will be happy to discuss your program with you, and if appropriate, to provide you with a complimentary risk assessment of your current state meetings program.

 

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