“Managing Meeting Pros, Part 2”
By Bob Andelman
Corporate Meetings & Incentives
How can meeting department managers keep their independent, world-traveling, Type A planners challenged and motivated? Last issue, five readers shared their secrets to maintaining everyone’s sanity in a pressure-cooker environment. This month, we explore how they find the best talent, as well as how they evaluate and compensate their staffs.
Are Planners A Tough crew to manage?
You bet. For starters, they need to be offered different incentives than their co-workers. Let’s face it. When you’re working weekends and nights, what you crave most is time off and a little stress relief.
In the end, what planners are looking for is recognition for a job with demands that exceed the boundaries of most office positions, the opportunity to call some of the shots, and the chance for training and growth within their companies.
On our panel:
JULIE JOHNSON, CMP, CMM, DIRECTOR, EVENTS AND INCENTIVES, LENNOX INTERNATIONAL WORLDWIDE HEATING & COOLING, Richardson, Texas — Her staff of four manages 150 meetings a year;
PAMELA WYNNE, CMP, CMM, MANAGER OF CORPORATE MEETING PLANNING, EDUCATIONAL TESTING SERVICE, Princeton, N.J. — Wynne oversees strategic sourcing, contract negotiations, cost analysis, billing and reconciliation, and tracking of expenses for about 800 meetings per year with six full-time planners;
MICHELLE BERRIOS, CMP, SENIOR MEETING PLANNER, KAISER PERMANENTE NATIONAL CORPORATE MEETING SERVICES, Oakland, Calif. — The majority of her company’s 600 — 800 meetings each year are handled by the National Corporate Meeting Services staff of six. (Michelle left her position as this article was going to press.);
DEBBIE RICCIARDELLI, CMP, MANAGER, SALES OPERATIONS, ESPRIT PHARMA INC., East Brunswick, N.J. — Although she recently moved to Esprit and now is the sole planner, in her previous positions with Odyssey Pharmaceuticals and Watson Pharmaceuticals, she ran 15 to 25 meetings per year, ranging from five-person meetings to semi-annual meetings for 300 people, usually handled by herself, an additional full-time planner, and two or three ad hoc planners.
CMI: How do you know when a person is not going to be right for the job?
PAMELA WYNNE: During the interview process, I focus on certain key skills: negotiating, the ability to multitask, organizational skills, risk management, and customer service. I ask questions based on specific work experiences and their ability to problem-solve. I look for people who show the greatest skill in analyzing a problem, looking at solutions, and not being afraid to take risks.
Once a person is hired, it becomes apparent that maybe he or she is good with certain meetings or clients over others. If you can make shifts to have people doing the jobs they are best suited for, the entire team will excel.
DEBBIE RICCIARDELLI: You can tell by the person’s demeanor in the office as well: One person who didn’t work out used to slam her fists on the desk and get totally frustrated when things weren’t going her way. That was very childish behavior.
CMI: What are some signs of trouble to watch out for with meeting planners?
JULIE JOHNSON: Whininess. Lack of attention to detail. Procrastination.
RICCIARDELLI: Two important things, I think: their ethics (how they handle amenities and offers); and when logistics are not coordinated well (i.e., when someone’s flight is changed and the planner never notifies the ground transportation company, things like that).
WYNNE: If they get sidetracked when dealing with clients who are asking for more or are difficult to handle, it’s a sign of trouble. It’s also up to the manager to make sure planners stay on track and to help with any issues that might cause them to lose focus.
CMI: Tell us about your annual review process for meeting planners.
JOHNSON: Our company has a specific process I must follow. Salary planning is done in the fall. We set an increase date then for the following year. Planners are evaluated on the quality of their programs, customer and peer reviews, and input from VPs with whom they work closely. And, primarily: Did they stay within budgetary constraints and still deliver quality programs?
RICCIARDELLI: Part of the review is also subliminal: how their personality traits match with the job. Is my contract negotiator assertive enough to get the best deal for the company? Is the meet-and-greet employee enough of a people person?
WYNNE: We evaluate the person’s financial contribution to the company through cost savings and cost avoidance, improvements to processes, and customer service ratings. Objectives are reviewed quarterly, and then we conduct an annual performance review.
MICHELLE BERRIOS: We ask each employee to propose goals for the year, which are then approved by our director. At the end of the year, the director will review the personal goals and client feedback with each person on the team.