It's not enough to have preferred suppliers, you must be able to monitor their performance so that it continually improves, and therefore, your meeting outcomes improve. This may seem counterintuitive, especially if you feel you have already selected best-in-class suppliers. But the bottom line is that we should all strive to take performance to the next level, and a thoughtful Continuous Improvement (CI) process helps us get there.

In order to set up improvement targets, you need to have specified expectations with your suppliers. One very clear way to do that is by working out service-level agreements. These SLAs must be relevant, realistic, and easily measurable. I have seen some complex SLAs that are very comprehensive and look good on paper, yet they are never followed through on because the measurement is far too cumbersome and time-consuming.

This is a case where less is more: Develop a limited number of activities to measure with relevant and straightforward metrics. How do you determine what these service levels should be? Review the business requirements for each category of supplier and determine the success criteria. What activities are critical to the success of your meetings and events? Answering that question will help you quickly determine what SLAs should be developed.

Another way to determine areas for improvement is by holding supplier review sessions once or twice a year. They take a good amount of time to prepare for, both for you and the supplier, so again, less is more. In order to get ready for a review session (in addition to compiling the SLA metrics), conduct a 360-degree review of the supplier by asking your team, clients, and even other suppliers to provide feedback. This gives you a broad-based perspective and lets your clients know that you are concerned about quality and the service being provided to them by your suppliers.

I have discussed the power of data in previous articles, and it holds true for SLAs as well. Not only is it important to have metrics to measure, but it is equally important to ensure that the data is accurate — a review is not the time to be disagreeing on the validity of the data.

CI should not be a once- or twice-a-year activity. You should actively engage your suppliers on a monthly or even weekly basis, depending on the volume of work they do for you. A worst-case scenario is for either of you to hear about a big issue for the first time in a supplier review session, rather than when it first came up.

Agree on areas for improvement, revise targets, develop action plans for improvement, and provide executive summaries to your stakeholders. Doing so will reinforce your position as an invaluable member of your organization.

Betsy Bondurant, CMP, CMM, is president of Bondurant Consulting, Coronado, Calif. Contact her by e-mail at betsy@bondurantconsulting.com.