An Engagement Approach for Strategic Meetings Management Programs

Employee engagement is a hot topic in the Meetings industry, but we usually apply it to engaging meeting attendees during the events they attend.  Ask any executive however and the ultimate goal of employee engagement is to improve employees’ contributions to a company in driving business outcomes. This is an opportunity for meeting management programs to consider their impact on overall employee engagement to really be strategic in the business.


Employees Are Not Engaged, but Want to Be

A recent survey of nearly 5,000 workers worldwide by Christa Degnan Manning, Senior Vice President, Global Workforce and Talent Research at HfS Research in Boston, shows that employees are generally disengaged from the companies they work for, and the performance of those companies suffers.  She captured details of workers’ opinions on many factors and their correlation to employee engagement, including participating in conferences and events.

Quoted in a recent Business Travel News article on this topic, Manning noted that “engagement is highly correlated to flexibility and autonomy.”  I would argue that the culture of compliance we have built in the Meetings space runs counter to the flexibility and autonomy that employees wish to have in order to be engaged in their roles and thus needs to be reexamined.


Is Lack of Engagement Linked to Low SMM Adoption?

But the discussions regarding engagement got me thinking, and I wondered whether these same engagement dynamics are also playing themselves out in the meeting stakeholder community.  And then I wondered if the resistance we are seeing in the Meetings space to developing strategic meetings management (SMM) programs, or writing corporate meetings policies, has something to do with employee engagement.  And the answer is – of course it does!  Strategic meetings management programs are all about control in order to drive savings and reduce the risks associated with corporate meetings and events.  But employees don’t want more control – they want more flexibility and autonomy.  After all, one of the explanations we often hear for why SMM programs are not being adopted is employee resistance.


Have We Been Approaching SMM in the Wrong Way?

Many writers, myself included, have historically taken a compliance approach to strategic meetings management.  This is because meetings and events embody inherent risks that companies must mitigate, or face considerable potential impacts, such as brand damage, attendee safety and security issues, and financial and legal risks.  So the question is – How can companies increase employee engagement while simultaneously protecting themselves from these risks?  Does it have to be all company protection at the expense of low engagement, or high engagement at the expense of low protection?  How can we get the square peg of compliance to fit into the round hole of engagement?


How to Engage Employees in MeetingsEngagement Wheel

There are numerous ways to engage employees in the process, but the question is – Which parts of the planning process do employees care about?  The graphic at right shows the various components of the meeting planning process, scored from High to Low by the likelihood that employees will want to be involved.  Note that employees want to be engaged in almost all aspects of the planning process including venue selection, but have little desire to be involved in the day-to-day activities required to source the venue, negotiate the contract, and pay the venue.


This is fortuitous, and begins to show a way to square the circle.  As it turns out, the greatest areas of risk for meetings are incurred during the sourcing process.  These risks are as follows:

  • Duty of Care Risks – such as brand exposure and safety and security dangers for attendees
  • Regulatory Violations – for (1) industry-specific (2) anti-bribery and (3) duty-of-care regulations
  • Fiduciary Breaches – including insufficient savings, inefficient processes, and fraud
  • Cancellation & Attrition Penalties – are a high probability event with the likelihood of a high impact
  • Signature Authority Breaches – when unauthorized signatories contractually obligate their companies

So maybe it is possible to engage employees in the areas of planning meetings and events that interest them, while simultaneously providing risk mitigation during the sourcing phase.


Squaring the Circle

As noted, the risks to companies are significant, and can result in brand damage, attendee safety and security concerns, and financial and legal risks.  So how do we square the circle?

In all cases, employees should be able to drive the following activities:

  • Final venue selection
  • Setting the event agenda
  • Selecting Food & Beverage
  • Planning décor
  • Selecting activities
  • Planning breakouts


With respect to the sourcing process, following are the options available to companies, from most hands-off to most intrusive, and from most risky to least risky:

  • Employees drive the sourcing process, without the support of professional sourcing specialists
  • Company provides a Guidance document and Handbook, which together educates employees on the risk issues faced in the sourcing process, and how to mitigate them
  • Company has internal staff to support employees during the sourcing process
  • Company engages a professional third-party sourcing team to conduct the sourcing process
  • Use of third-party sourcing team is mandated for all meetings and events with a hotel contract

One thing I am certain of, and that is that most employees want to do the right thing.  And from this I conclude that depending on your corporate culture, risk profile (i.e. is your industry highly regulated?), appetite for risk, and growth profile of your company, some of the riskier options might be right for you.


Final Thoughts

So here’s my take on how to keep employees engaged in the meeting sourcing and planning process.  Allow them a high degree of control over the aspects of meeting planning that mean a lot to them, such as venue selection, agenda setting, food & beverage, activities, and breakouts.  With respect to sourcing, if your industry is not heavily regulated, provide employees with a sourcing tool that will allow them to issue competitive eRFPs, and provide them with a Guidance document and Handbook explaining the risks, and strategies to avoid them.  If your industry is regulated, such as in the pharmaceutical, medical devices, and financial services sectors, I believe that the risks are too great to allow the sourcing process to be managed by nonprofessionals.  So I recommend engaging a third-party company to manage the sourcing process.  Employees will still be engaged in venue selection, but most of the risks associated with corporate meetings and events will be mitigated in this manner.


Please let me and your fellow readers know your thoughts on this topic.  Do you think employees should be heavily involved in the meeting planning process?  Do you think this will help sustain their engagement?  You can add your thoughts in the comments box directly below.


If you are a travel or meetings 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  I will be happy to discuss your program with you.


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