Meetings management: tactical or strategic?

22 January 2014 | Alan Newton

Alan Newton is director at ARNi International

Much has been written about the discipline of strategic meetings management (SMM) in the last decade, from books to research papers and numerous features and articles.

However, the understanding and application of the discipline remains relatively misunderstood and immature within the corporate environment. It is a phrase cast around in the industry with increasing frequency, yet there is little evidence of inherent knowledge, and that appears to be the same whether the terms is being discussed in EMEA, North America – credited as being where the term apparently originated – or APAC.

Applying theory to the real world can often prove challenging, particularly in disciplines that are still relatively new to business. This also provides challenges in terms of recognising the necessity for deploying such expertise, and in identifying the requisite mix of skills to deliver solutions that will increase SMM's maturity and performance.

My belief is that much of what has been referred to as SMM, over the last 10 years, is in fact tactical meetings management (TMM). Both tactics and strategy need to operate in tandem to achieve organisational goals, yet I believe it’s rare to see TMM working across an organisation with the purpose of supporting an SMM solution. 

Tactics are characterised as encompassing a set of sub-goals, which are often short-term and utilise a subset of domain experts to provide experience, best practice and clear deliverables and outputs. Such tactics feed into a broader set of stable long-term goals, which apply experience, research, analysis, dissemination and communication for the overall health and benefit of an organisation (strategy), and can be measured through a breadth of key performance indicators.

It is my assertion that SMM has barely scratched the surface as a discipline that can add value to an organisation, and has largely remained at a tactical level. One reason for this is due to its infancy as a discipline and its relatively low number of experts and practitioners compared with other business disciplines. But difficulty in attaining C-level sponsorship and finding practitioners with the ability to take the necessary holistic approach will also impact upon SMM maturity and performance.

TMM may typically be characterised by planning, logistics and data management, whereas SMM is not a singular process and must operate at a holistic level to include disciplines such as procurement, marketing, communications, supply chain management, information systems, operations, legal, finance and human resources. Building and maintaining relationships is critical to the success of SMM, as is the ability to develop TMM as a short-term process for flexing with market conditions, achieving sub-goals, and managing peaks and troughs in resource with the aim of achieving broader goals. 

When I first became involved with the discipline of meetings management in 2001, I worked with a global professional services firm to consolidate their UK training programme. While the approach undertaken was not a firm-wide solution in terms of all meetings and events activity, it was a UK firm-wide approach to training and evolved from what was initially a tactical approach in 2001 to a strategic solution in 2003. We worked together to move beyond simply consolidating spend to a number of other areas, such as identifying how we could improve the operational processes for organising firm-wide training, reducing spend in ancillary areas related to training, and improving the trainer and delegate experiences, which created longevity benefits for HR, customer service and sales benefits, not to mention positive impacts for brand and marketing.

SMM is an intelligent business solution that uses various tactical solutions and approaches within a firm-wide strategic plan, holistically supporting the goals and objectives of all stakeholders. SMM should be seen as a long-term maturation process, whereby the business value and savings increase over time.

Alan Newton is director at ARNi


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