Is your department overwhelmed with meeting requests, dreading the next one to come in? Are your experienced planners saddled with too many small, less consequential meetings that are taking time away from major business meetings and incentive programs that really need their expertise?
As corporate meeting departments act as sourcing and execution experts and raise awareness of their services, there can be a downside: an avalanche of meeting requests. And right now, many companies are unwilling to add headcount, leaving planners scrambling to keep up with demand.
Even buried in work, meeting departments can be reluctant to invite change, especially if it involves outsourcing. After spending the time and effort to get control over the company’s meetings, letting go doesn’t seem like the natural choice. But there comes a point when long hours alone won’t solve the problem, and managers need to rethink the department’s organization and priorities. Here are three strategies used by one sizable corporate meeting department to relieve the pressure on its overworked staff:
#1 Help Clients Help Themselves
Free up experienced planners’ time by pushing more small meetings back to internal clients to organize on their own. Here’s how: Once an internal client registers a meeting, have the planning team assess it. If it’s a small meeting (say, a one or two-day meeting with fewer than 50 people, non executive-level), send the client an e-mail saying, “You’ve been approved to plan this meeting on your own.” The e-mail can include links to a variety of resources, including your list of preferred hotels, a standard contract, a list of standard concessions to look for, and a meeting timeline.
To make the program more effective, this company assigned a staffer to a client-liaison role, with responsibility for answering questions about clients’ self-planned meetings, reviewing contracts, and following up. After every client-owned meeting, the liaison learns where the meeting was held and how much was spent, and puts that data into the strategic meetings management system.
#2 Lean on Your TMC
If you’re wondering who will do the client-liaison work in the previous scenario, consider adding a planner to your travel-management company (TMC) staff. Even when you can’t add headcount to your department, you might be able to get approval for a new TMC staffer. It’s a less-expensive option than hiring a company employee because benefits are covered by the TMC. Even more important, the TMC is often a shared company expense, so the cost of the new staff person doesn’t go directly to the meeting department’s bottom line.
#3 Use a Sourcing Company when Necessary
Another resource that’s invisible to the bottom line: using a hotel sourcing company. Planners are often resistant to the idea—some enjoy the site-selection responsibilities of their job and many are worried about losing clout in the industry. But a sourcing service can be a significant time-saver, and it doesn’t have to be mandated. This company’s meeting department found a site-selection company representative that clicked with its culture, and asked planners to use the service when they were swamped. Use grew over time as the sourcing company helped with crunch times—without adding headcount. You might also want to consider making sourcing services available to the programs the department has turned back to their owners to plan.
Letting go of smaller meetings and outsourcing planning tasks might be uncomfortable at first, but think about the consequences if your department is not able handle your company’s meeting volume. Now, that’s uncomfortable.
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