You know your arguments—in this case, your industry’s arguments—are beginning to take when they pop up in unexpected places.
So it was a nice antidote to some of the scarier news bites pervading the industry when two different colleagues pointed me to Don’t Cancel That Meeting, a blog post by leadership consultant John Baldoni that appeared January 5 on the Harvard Business Publishing website.
While it makes sense to scale meetings back in tough economic times, he said, it’s a mistake to cancel them.
“Now more than ever, senior leaders need to be seen and especially heard by the people who are counting on them for direction and focus,” Baldoni wrote. “Independent businesspeople who represent a corporation’s products and services need to hear how the company is planning for the coming year. Salespeople and other employees need to know what they should be doing to buttress the company for the short term. Both constituencies need to take the measure of their leaders and to discover for themselves if those at the top have the right stuff to lead.”
He described meetings as an essential opportunity for senior leadership to show that they’re prepared for the challenges ahead, tell stories that emphasize their organizations’ success and resilience, renew trust, and organize panels and breakout sessions where participants can share insights and best practices.
“Meetings are far more than a collection of speeches or talking points,” Baldoni wrote. “They are an opportunity for people of similar interests to come together and share their stories about how they are coping, as well as what they are doing to increase business. Customers need to mingle with executives and employees, and vice versa. People need to hear each other out.”
It’s great that a columnist for a highly respected, client-side website is so thoroughly sold on the strategic value of face-to-face meetings. But Baldoni’s comments open up a nagging question: If we woke up tomorrow morning to find that corporate, association, and government executives across North America had read his post and decided to make better use of their meeting programs, how well would our industry respond?
To be sure, there are pockets of brilliance where meeting planners, educators, facilitators, and designers work diligently to map their programs back to their clients’ needs and objectives. They’ll recommend design features that are tailored to a specific task or challenge, then evaluate the results of each meeting against the organizational goals that brought the group onsite.
But although those pockets are expanding fast, they’re still in the minority. When I hear about meetings that have been cancelled, or cut back far more deeply than Baldoni would probably recommend, I wonder how effectively we’ve positioned meetings as an essential service, rather than an optional extra that can be sacrificed when the going gets rough.