Case Studies

Memo to Your CEO

By Mary Boone
March 12, 2007

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Meeting professionals are often looking to capture executive attention or involvement. The following imaginary memo might spark some ideas about how to approach your own CEO or other top executives.

To: CEO of your choice
From: You, the meeting professional
Re: ROM (Return on Meetings)

You recently mentioned you are looking to improve top-line growth and execution at our company. Meetings provide unprecedented opportunities for delivering on these and many other business goals. Meetings can spark innovation, ignite change, and harness intellectual capital. For example, at one meeting involving a financial services company's top 3,000 leaders, the proper design and use of technology resulted in the collection of over 1,000 suggestions on how to improve cross-selling efforts. The 1,000 solutions were distilled into a manageable list, and the three top solutions were determined by a real-time vote. Over 1,300 of the 3,000 meeting participants immediately volunteered to work on "Cross-selling Solutions Teams" assigned to the top three initiatives. Teams were randomly selected from the list of volunteers at the end of the session. Everyone left the room recognizing that work on the top three solutions would begin immediately. This action- oriented approach was a powerful way to both initiate innovative cross-selling efforts and send a message about cross-selling to the rest of the organization. The immediacy of results also underscored the CEO's desire to encourage a more proactive sense of urgency in the culture of the company.

Meetings can only achieve these types of results when they're properly conceived, crafted, and executed. To ensure a better Return on Meetings (ROM), and in turn to improve the bottom line at our company, there are four key areas to be addressed: Responsibility, size, philosophy, and approaches.

Who has responsibility for meetings? The most important responsibility rests with the top executives who are calling together the participants. Ironically, top business leaders often try to delegate responsibility too early in the process. For a meeting to be truly strategic, it must be carefully designed to deliver on core business objectives. One of the biggest challenges to delivering strategic value from a meeting is lack of top-level leader involvement in the early planning stages. Often, business leaders think they can provide a few basic ideas and guidelines, and then the meeting will magically happen. This approach is sufficient if the objective is simply to entertain. However, for a large meeting to have significant impact, meeting professionals need to engage on a more strategic level with the sponsoring business leaders to discuss key business imperatives prior to the meeting. Then, meeting objectives can be derived from, and aligned with, those business imperatives. Meetings with high impact may also require input from communicators, IT, human resources/organizational development, other key business functions, or other departments.

Size and Type
Different sizes of meetings call for different approaches. Certainly, large meetings usually have bigger budgets and offer significant change management opportunities. However, in any significant change management or execution effort, meetings of all sizes can serve as key leverage points. We have developed both in-house and external expertise on how to design and execute meetings of all sizes and types.

We also provide expertise in virtual meetings, which require just as much forethought and design as face-to-face meetings in order to have bottom-line impact. All too often online meetings and conference calls have poor attendance or problems in execution, because people do not know how to design them well. It's not enough to simply know how the technology works; it's also necessary to understand how to design the human interaction that will take place through the technology.

Most meetings are broadcast in nature. In other words, we often bring people together to tell them something. Instead of just "broadcasting" a speech or performance from the stage, it is critical to fully connect, inform, and engage meeting participants. Creating ways for participants to interact meaningfully with each other and with the presenters is at the heart of making meetings more productive and profitable. In interactive meetings new ideas are generated and best practices are shared. You and your executive team can use meetings to build ownership for ideas rather than just creating "buy-in." Participants can learn from one another as well as from the experts. When there's a wealth of intellectual capital in one room at one time, it's essential to harness it and make it work for the whole organization.

Of course, when you ask for interaction, you'll need to actually act on the results. A well-designed meeting can spark significant organizational initiative, but it is follow-through that really counts.

Whether a meeting is large or small, different interactive methods and technologies will be appropriate to making it work. In considering different approaches, it's important to remember that the boundaries of the meeting can be extended beyond the actual meeting dates. By interweaving online interaction with face-to-face interaction, we can create highly strategic meetings. For example, in the aforementioned financial services meeting, over 4,000 additional ideas about cross-selling were generated in an online pre-meeting survey. A team of people worked together to cull the gems from these ideas prior to the face-to-face meeting.

Mary Boone ( designs meetings and training programs that emphasize business strategy, spark creative participant engagement, and deliver measurable results. She works with many Fortune 500 companies and is the author of several books. This page is protected by Copyright laws. Do Not Copy


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