Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Four Elements of Strategic Value

MPI hosted a great webinar today by Mary Boone, Jack Phillips and Susan Radojevic on the strategic value of meetings. I filled up the marker board in the office with notes. Thought I'd share them here since this information is critical to what we're doing with Illumination Galleries.

Their argument in a nutshell, if I dare summarize. First, the financial crisis and negative press about meetings has put a lot of pressure on the meetings industry, but this pressure should be seen as an opportunity to transform ourselves from a cost center to a source of strategic value for businesses and associations.

Susan Radojevic introduced the concept of Portfolio Management. Companies organize a ton of meetings of all sizes. We generally measure them in terms of efficiency -- how much do they cost this year vs. last year? We should ALSO be measuring them in terms of effectiveness -- how are they impacting our strategic and business goals? Susan proposed a process called Alignment to identify the strategic goals of the company, to identify all of the meetings that are currently held by the company, and to develop and manage a strategic plan to prioritize the meetings that deliver the most business value. This changes the role of meeting planners from procurement experts to strategic players in the marketing function of an organization.

Mary Boone then explored the concept of Meeting Design - "the purposeful shaping of both form and content." First, the meeting designer works with the owners of the meeting to understand both the meeting objectives AND the business objectives behind the meeting. Then the designer culls through a wide range of tools, technologies and collaborative methodologies to craft a program that achieves both the meeting and the business objectives. "Connect. Inform. Engage!" (You will see the same themes all over the Illumination Galleries website as well, by the way.) Not every meeting planners needs to become a Meeting Designer, but planners DO need to learn to work with a much wider range of experts to pull off well-designed meetings, including meeting designers, "creatives", instructional designers, planning experts, social scientists, and interaction designers. We need to shift our 21st century meetings out of the 18th century "broadcast" mode, where "experts" merely talk at an audience. We need to create interactive experiences that get real work done!
Next, Jack Phillips talked about measuring the ROI on meetings. (Thanks SJSmith for the link!) He presented six different levels of measurement, from ___ to actual ROI (comparing the quantitative value of a meeting to the cost of delivery), and argued that only a few meetings require the highest levels of measurement. It is important to really quantify the value of these meetings, however, to improve future events, to engage senior executives better, and to get a seat at the table when strategic decisions are being made about your meetings.

Finally, the panelists gave a brief talk on Advanced Meeting Logistics. Logistics are critical to the success of a meeting. They define the constraints of the event, and they also enable everything that takes place in a meeting. Being flexible with logistics is critical when taking a meeting-design approach, because the form of the meeting may need to change as the needs of the participants change or become more clear. One of the webinar attendees then presented a great case study about the importance of logistics -- holding their first sea-faring event with 300 top executives aboard a cruise ship. "When life hands you limes, we at Baccardi make mojitos!" Love it.

Enjoy the illustrations!

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Friday, April 17, 2009

"Greed, Fear and the Brain"

We make decisions differently when we're under stress. I don't think many people would disagree with that. I "visualized" a great talk by Richard Peterson about just how much fear influences our decisions. As we are flooded with dire predictions and heart-rendingly depressing stories, it's important to keep in mind that the decisions that we're making might not be entirely rational.

Peterson explains the science of how our brains work, and which parts of the brain are involved in making decisions. It's not quite as simple as "emotion" vs. "reason". Anxiety and fear live in our limbic system, which is below the level of consciousness. Greed or, really, the anticipation of pleasure, lives in our pleasure centers. What's remarkable is that most of our fear AND our pleasure is about the anticipation of outcomes, not the outcomes themselves. Our pleasure centers go wild while we are making a bet, for example, but they are almost silent when the results of the bet are revealed -- even if we win!

The same is true on the negative side -- our fear is all driven by the anticipation of negative outcomes. Another interesting insight is that normally our fear of loss is much greater than our positive anticipation of gain. Imagine putting a bet on a coin toss. The odds are 50-50, right? Most people have to be offered twice the amount in winnings as they would lose with a negative outcome before they will make a significant wager on a coin toss. So they might turn down a bet where they would win $150, but risk losing $100. Mathematically, it is a great bet to take. Emotionally, the risk of losing the $100 is too much.

So, as you make decisions in this economy, step back to really understand what is driving your decision. Do you have a decision-making process that you use in good times and bad? How do you measure your process? Disciplined decision-making will see you through times of panic and times of exuberance. Understanding how your brain works isn't such a bad idea either.