Standardization is a term that is often associated with technical or highly-regulated industries – not necessarily something applied to event and meeting management. But if we think of standardization as a way to attain repeatable and reliable results, then few professions appear more suited to a standards push than event planning; a world where control, organization, and perfection are terms of art. Just a few steps to fine-tune event-related tools and processes will not only reduce your stress level, but can result in improved efficiency for your team, greater strategic focus of your time, and reduced risk to your organization.
For corporate, association, and independent meeting or event planners, suggesting that we need to change the way we do things is nothing new. In fact, Meeting Professionals International (MPI) and The Events Industry Council (EIC) have spent considerable effort in recent years on development of Strategic Meetings Management (SMM) and Accepted Practice Exchange (APEX) initiatives, respectively. Those two standardization programs are constructed around the identified need to share planning best practices, build processes around them, and promote innovation that facilitates their execution.
Unfortunately, SMM, APEX, and the like seem to have fallen into what Carl Cargill calls the “fourth mode of standardization failure” where a standard is finished and the market (largely) ignores it. As long time meetings industry expert Shimon Avish presents in The Stuck State of Strategic Meetings Management, there are some compelling reasons why standardization efforts are not enthusiastically embraced by the planners they’re designed to help. We wouldn’t argue that event and meeting planners have some culpability in not adopting practices or products that can directly benefit them, but we believe that most are deterred more by environmental factors in the organizations where they work than their own reluctance.
So, if planners are actually on board the standardization bandwagon, why have their visions failed to gain traction? Below are three possible answers and suggestions to address them.
1. Nobody is looking at the problem from a planner’s point-of-view.
Though the meetings and events that you produce support almost every other functional area of your business, few of your colleagues really know or care about what takes place behind the scenes. Telling your manager, whose view of your programs may extend only to periodic status updates and a post-event report, that you need to allocate resources to a standardization program, and tools to enable it, is not likely to get you very far.
Instead, ask for support of your upgrades by demonstrating a more holistic view of event performance than just attendee engagement. Help others see the connection between operational efficiencies, better use of your salaried time, and fewer inaccuracies to an ability to deliver more qualified leads, train more employees, or raise more in donations and you’ll get the buy-in you need.
2. It’s too big.
When we talk about standardization for event organizers, we’re talking about purpose-built tools instead of spreadsheets, a single communication platform for all event stakeholders, and consistency in performance reporting. But put a term like SMM or APEX in front of a manager who you’ve just gotten to see things from your perspective and it may seem like something much bigger than what they feel events deserve. Even worse, it may bring back visions of a two-year-long CRM implementation that nobody wants to repeat.
It doesn’t have to be everything all at once, either—innovation can be implemented in pieces.
Whether you intend to implement one of the industry-defined standardization programs we’ve been referring to or create your own, you’d be well served to follow the advice of Ernie Smith of Associations Now who recommends implementing innovation in pieces. Innovate your tools and processes to address a particular issue for immediate high-value return. Once you’ve had success, move on to the next challenge until there are no more to move on to.
3. Your heart may not be in it.
OK… so maybe there’s still something to the idea that planners themselves don’t want to do this. As much as you’d like to make your own job easier, is there a nagging feeling that standardization may limit your ability to be creative? Or that adopting new technology would make you too easy to replace?
We’d argue that you become more valuable to the organization when you fix the things that have been consuming too much of your time. If you could get those parts of your job done as well as you do today in just a fraction of the time, what would you be able to do instead – both for yourself and your company? Or as Valerie Keller and Caroline Webb put it in a recent Harvard Business Review article,
“if I get this task done well, what bigger aspiration or value of mine will it support?”
To summarize, standardizing your event management best practices is an effort that can simplify a very complex process. By focusing on the interests of all event stakeholders, and demonstrating how you intend to ensure repeatable success for them, you can maximize the buy-in you’ll receive.