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Is Your Meetings Policy Working Hard Enough? Q&A with SMM Expert Shimon Avish

Patty Meister |

Business people working in office having meetingDoes your meetings policy answer the needs of today’s market? There are new stakeholders to consider, new technologies and a new focus on simple meetings. Plus, let’s not forget the shift in priorities toward employee satisfaction as companies strive to retain top talent in a robust job market.

Shimon Avish, vice president of consulting at DigiTravel ConsultingWe spoke with Shimon Avish, vice president of consulting, DigiTravel Consulting, about the changing meetings landscape and its impact on policy.

Shimon is a 20-plus-year veteran of travel and meetings management consulting. Over the course of his career, he has led the development of industry-changing roadmaps to optimize savings and process efficiencies.

Shimon generously provided insights on creating (or updating) policy for today’s market. We’re delighted to share conversation highlights with our readers. Here is a list of the questions he addressed:

 

Aventri: Let’s start at the beginning. Why is having a policy so important?

Avish: A meetings policy should rest on three pillars:

  • Purchasing of goods and services
  • Compliance to regulations and duty of care
  • Compliance to the meetings program and its designated suppliers

An effective policy protects the event participants and hosting organization. In this world of ever-expanding regulations with respect to meetings, I believe this is crucial.

The most heavily regulated industries are, of course, financial services, pharmaceuticals and medical devices. However, other regulations apply to companies across all sectors.

For example, the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) covers interactions with government employees from other countries. Most people don’t realize that simply interacting with a customs official is interacting with a government official from another country.

Let’s say you work for a U.S. company, and you’re having problems with a customs official. If you try to compensate that person to make things easier, you’re violating the terms of the FCPA. Your actions could lead to heavy civil and criminal penalties for your company.

 

Aventri: What happens when a company doesn’t have a meetings policy?

Female event professional sitting at a desk with her laptopAvish: I can think of many examples. In one case, an administrative assistant to a senior vice president of marketing was tasked with finding a venue for a national sales meeting. The SVP provided his top pick for the city. So on a Friday afternoon, the assistant selected a venue, negotiated a deal for $1+ million and signed the contract.

Come Monday morning, the assistant told the SVP she had booked the venue. His response? “Oh, that’s a shame, because I decided I want a different city with a better golf resort.” When the assistant went back to the original venue, she learned the cancellation would cost her company a staggering fee, well above $500,000.

This example raises all sorts of questions. First, an administrative assistant in no world should have signed an agreement for $1+ million. Nor should she have negotiated that contract, since deals of this size require sourcing and negotiating expertise. Meeting and event professionals have the background to drive bigger concessions and better deals.

Another question: Did the SVP need to send the sales team off to a golf resort when the meeting purpose was to conduct business? Many meetings policies provide guidelines on acceptable venues.

As you can see, this company could have avoided a lot of problems if it had an effective meetings policy.

 

Aventri: What stakeholders should be involved in creating the policy?

Avish: Key stakeholders vary from company to company. In general, this group includes:

  • Meeting participants to the extent that you can get a representative sample
  • The meetings policy owner
  • Meetings or travel manager
  • Meeting planners for input on sourcing and planning processes that do/do not work for the organization
  • Compliance executives to provide input on regulatory components
  • Representatives from key departments, including: Finance, Legal, Procurement, Global Security and Human Resources

Companies today are shifting their thinking about policy, especially in conditions of near-full employment. Let’s take a look at how the strong job market and healthy hiring affect some of these stakeholders.

  • Employees – It’s no secret that travel and meeting policies matter to employees. They want to be able to shape the rules they’ll be expected to follow. Most employees want to do the right thing when it comes compliance. But they find a policy difficult to follow when it doesn’t work for them from a business perspective.
  • Human Resources – In a strong job market, HR is finding employee dissatisfaction with travel and meeting programs can create retention problems. And hiring and training employees is expensive.

 

Aventri: What factors go into deciding whether to have mandates versus recommended guidelines?

Thinking woman in glasses looking up with light idea bulb above head isolated on gray wall backgroundAvish: We’re seeing a shift in thinking about policy. There’s an attempt to let people do the right thing within certain parameters. But at the same time, organizations have to abide by certain regulatory requirements, and these must be laid out clearly in your policy.

Some components don’t need to be as tightly managed as others. You can omit them from policy or issue them as a guidance. Examples here include guidance on bringing companions on business trips unless they’re invited by the company.

Another important consideration: guidelines or policies on whether employees should combine business and personal travel, also known as “bleisure travel.” Just the fact that we’ve coined this phrase indicates a change in thinking. Much of this comes back to employee satisfaction and retention in today’s economy.

 

Aventri: What are the core components to an effective policy?

Avish: A meetings policy has a few key components, which are based on a company’s business goals and the regulatory environment in which it operates.

When I evaluate a meetings policy, I look at 18 different components, which fall under the three pillars mentioned earlier: purchasing of goods and services, compliance to regulations and duty of care, and compliance to the meetings program itself.

Regulatory compliance is one vital component. Organizations must shape policy to comply with numerous regulations. Financial services, medical device and pharma companies each has their own regulations and guidelines. What’s more, as mentioned earlier, U.S. companies must comply with the FCPA. Policies need to take into account these regulations as well as many more from other countries and the EU.

Another vital component relates to achieving the business purposes the company sets for itself. Historically, SMM has focused mainly on generating savings for organizations. Unfortunately, those savings mechanisms can interfere with the business reasons for hosting an event in the first place. And the business objective is often to generate revenue.

Bottom line: If you do things that reduce the ability to deliver on that revenue, then you’re interfering with a core company objective.

We’re finding the need to balance the restrictions of the meetings policy with the desires of employees and objectives of the business. This is a juggling act that differs from company to company and industry to industry.

It’s important to carefully consider the company’s workforce and revenue goals, while also complying with regulatory requirements.

 

Aventri: Can you expand on what a policy might include under the pillar of “purchasing of goods and services”?

A group of business professional sitting at conference table having a meetingAvish: A policy should document high-level procedures for sourcing and planning events. For example, the policy might stipulate that the meeting owner must go to a certain website to connect with the planning team. Then, the policy could specify the system the planner will use to source the event and negotiate the deal.

Many considerations fall under the category of purchasing goods and services. Here are just a few of the questions the meetings policy might answer. By the way, these questions are all based on situations that have actually happened:

  • What are your rules around site inspections? Should you go on a site inspection and stay three days at one property? Probably not.
  • What rules address familiarization trips?
  • Are fam trips allowed?
    • How long can they last?
    • What kinds of destinations can you visit?
    • What documentation must you provide when you return, so others benefit from the trip?
  • How do you handle loyalty programs?
    • Are you going to consolidate points and donate them to charity?
    • Or, will you let meeting planners win new flat-screen TVs from suppliers?
  • Do you allow companion and “bleisure” travel?
  • What are your policies/guidelines on social responsibility and green meetings? How you protect the environment and give back to the hosting destination says something about you as a company.
    • Do you throw out the excess or partner with local nonprofits to reduce food waste?
    • When do you use virtual meetings instead of traveling to meet face-to-face?

Recommended Resources: Learn how to optimize the attendee journey with the latest event tech.
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Aventri: How do meetings policies drive efficiencies?

Avish: A good policy boosts efficiency all sorts of ways. Let’s look at automation, for example.

Historically, we’ve done things manually. Then, we started using technology platforms. The move from manual to digital drove significant efficiencies.

Today, the ground has shifted again, and much of this change has to do with simple meetings.

These are the smaller, easily replicable gatherings with straightforward requirements.

A 2018 survey by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) found simple meetings comprise roughly half of corporate meetings globally. But fewer than half of simple meetings are booked through managed channels.

The problem is, when meetings are booked outside the event management platform, data goes missing. That means lost opportunities in terms of negotiated cost savings, duty-of-care responsibilities and more.

This is where new digital solutions come into play. Depending on the provider, these disruptive technologies:

  • Streamline simple meetings management
  • Track communications
  • Leverage preferred supplier agreements
  • Finalize contracts in days, even hours, versus weeks
  • Produce data-driven reporting in minutes
  • And more

The result is a quicker, easier, more satisfying process from sourcing to booking and reporting.

This trend toward new technologies is quickly gaining traction in the meeting and travel industries. In fact, during the past several years, $2 Billion (with a B) was invested to build new solutions that are changing the way we do meetings and events.

With numbers like these, it’s easy to see automation plays a vital role in successful meetings and travel programs.

 

Aventri: What are some examples of how a meetings policy helps drive savings?

Coins stacked up in front of a clock

Avish: I do a consulting engagement with companies to help them deliver on 13 different types of savings opportunities.

These include easy things like moving from some plated breakfasts to continental breakfasts or buffets. Many companies can also improve savings by shortening internal sales meetings, for example.

Other savings opportunities involve consolidating meetings. For example, instead of having a separate sales meeting in every state, why not host four regional meetings annually? They’ll be repeat events, so why not book the same venue and negotiate a five-year contract to leverage volume?

Each of these measures chips away at costs and could appear in a meetings policy.

 

Aventri: How does a meetings policy help with duty of care?

Avish: Duty of care has much broader implications than just the safety and security of meeting attendees. It includes fiduciary responsibility to the company as well. In other words, have you done your best to realize the most cost-effective way of conducting a meeting?

Duty of care also applies to protection of intellectual property.

Live events are exposed to all sorts of cybercrimes. For instance, cybercriminals can put up a portable cell tower at an event and capture voice and text communications off phones. They can also intercept Bluetooth interactions, such as strokes on a keyboard.

What’s more, cybercriminals can set up fake web pages and intercept organizational intellectual property and personal information. So you can see, duty of care, as it relates to intellectual property, is critically important.

 

Aventri: How do you recommend getting buy-in for the policy from other departments?

A group of business professionals sitting in a circle having a meetingAvish: I recommend a strategy of broad inclusion. Let’s take the Marketing Department as an example.

Traditionally, Procurement has led initiatives to create SMM programs, often to the exclusion of Marketing. As a result, marketing teams have largely rejected meetings management programs.

This was a failure on the part of our industry to recognize that ultimately the policy you design cannot prevent revenue generation.

As an industry, we build programs that are very good at savings and compliance. However, this is too narrow a perspective.

Meetings policy must also support the company in its goals to generate revenue and improve customer relations.

 

Aventri: So you’ve developed a comprehensive policy. How do you make sure employees know about the policy and where to find it?

Avish: I’m a big fan of change management. By change management, I mean involving key stakeholders from the beginning in policy decisions that will affect them.

For instance, in many organizations, key stakeholders include occasional planners, such as administrative assistants. When you involve them in policy-making, you accomplish several things.

First, you get their perspective, so you create a more effective policy. Second, you help create buy-in because assistants feel valued. Third, you build a base of employees likely to support the policy they helped create. They’ll be out there telling coworkers, “We have a new meetings policy that makes a lot of sense. I helped develop it, so it takes our needs into consideration.”

An essential part of successful change management is the communications program. Best practices here include:

  • Identifying your target audiences
  • Communicating upcoming changes frequently on their preferred platforms
  • Sharing program benefits and success stories regularly

For instance, many organizations have an email distribution list for administrative assistants. Get permission to use that list to announce the new policy. Share highlights, updates and success stories in emails along with information on where to find the policy online.

In many companies, roadshows are another important part of the communications plan. Getting out there and meeting with occasional planners is an excellent way to build support.

Aventri: It’s clear the benefits of a meetings policy are far-reaching. With a well-conceived policy, organizations can realize improvements in savings, efficiency, compliance, meeting quality, duty-of-care management, and employee satisfaction.

Thank you so much for sharing your insights, Shimon. They are incredibly useful to professionals throughout our industry.

BIO
Shimon Avish is Vice President, Consulting, for
DigiTravel Consulting, a consultancy dedicated to simplifying Travel, Expense, and Meetings Management programs to enable digital and direct supplier connections between corporations and travel suppliers. He is a 20+ year veteran of travel and meetings management consulting. Shimon has served as a member and vice-chair of the GBTA Meetings Committee, where he led the Thought Leadership Initiative. Named one of 22 Changemakers by MeetingsNet in 2019, Shimon is an industry thought leader, frequent contributor to industry publications and presenter at conferences.

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This Post was Written by Patty Meister

Patty is the Senior Hospitality Marketing Manager at Aventri. Her focus is on developing the go to market strategy for Aventri venue sourcing solutions. Additionally, she manages the marketing efforts for the company's partner channel. Patty has...

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