PCMA CEO survey points out gap between perception and reality

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I just had an interesting chat with Gregg Talley, chairman of the Professional Convention Management Association, about PCMA's recently released CEO Survey.

I'm having a hard time getting my mind around what looks to me like a glaring lack of strategic planning on the CEO's part: They "get" the importance of meetings to their organizations--96.7 percent said meetings/events were either important or very important to their mission and bottom line--but they don't seem get that it takes strategic planning to make them happen in a way that moves the organization toward its goals. They also recognize meeting planning as a key function of the association, but don't seem to think planners can function on the strategic level.

As Gregg said, "It goes back to the mindset that [meeting planning] is the logistical role of implementation, as opposed to being part of the strategic planning of where you want the organization to go on a strategic level. That's the connection we have an opportunity to make."

But, I countered, this is just what the CEOs perceive, not necessarily the reality. "If there's a perceived weakness--and to the degree that perception becomes the reality--they're not going to let you play at the big table because they perceive you're not good at it." Aargh!

Then again, maybe some of the fault lies with planners (sorry guys!). While the CEOs said they most valued leadership and budgeting/financial management--two definite big-picture skills--in their meeting planners, along with contracting/negotiation and meeting logistics/coordination, their satisfaction levels lagged 10 to 20 percentage points behind the level of importance they put on these skills.

And it is different, as Talley says, to sit in on a strategic planning meeting than it is to lead a discussion of meeting details with staffers. It's a whole different way of thinking, and communicating; one that requires planners to stifle their detail-orientation and get pie in the sky. We had a great session on how to work with senior management at our Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum, the details of which I will share as soon as I get some time to write it up.

But it also comes down to learning more about the financial end of things. Talley said, "You can't talk about strategic planning on where you want to go without knowing what resources you have and need to get you there. You can't participate in strategic planning unless your financial skills are rock solid." He's right.

A challenge for the brave among us: Take the survey results to your CEO and ask how you stack up against the list of attributes CEOs say they're looking for. Or, if you're really honest with yourself, rate your own skills in the areas they consider important. Do you make the cut? If not, it's time to learn what you need to know to get that seat at the table. (And if anyone knows of such a survey among business magazine execs, please don't tell me! I'm way too big a chicken to take the challenge I'm asking you to take.)

My other big, unanswered question: How do logistics fit into the big strategy picture? You can't have one without the other, yet all people talk about is the "s" word, like logistics have nothing to do with it.

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