PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT Company Coaches Build Better Teams Athletes have coaches to help them maximize their performance, so why not employees? More companies, including IBM and Ernst & Young, are recognizing the benefits of hiring in-house coaches--not only to motivate employees but to make them better team players.

A 1999 International Coach Federation survey of more than 4,000 corporations showed that most companies see coaching as a way to "facilitate shifts within the context of the organization's culture to achieve extraordinary results." The survey also shows that most companies prefer internal coaches because they are more cost-effective. The downside of internal coaches? Less confidentiality, according to surveyed companies that prefer to outsource coaching.

"Basically, coaches help people discover who they are," says Sandy Vilas, president of Coach U, one of the largest coach-training and -services providers in the world. "Coaches are partners, champions, advocates, champions, and cheerleaders. You bring in consultants to show you the 'whate' and the 'how.' You bring in a coach to show you the 'who.'

"Having this commitment to coaches makes people happier, easier to work with, more productive, and less stressed out," Vilas adds.

That's the case with Susie Sumner, marketing executive at Home Director, an IBM spinoff based in the Research Triangle region of North Carolina. Sumner says her coach has improved her productivity and helped her to set goals. "We talk about developing strategies, and about succeeding at what you try to do," Sumner says. "I view coaching as a definite perk." --Bill Gillette

TECH TRENDS Online Saves Time, Especially for Occasional Meeting Planners When Hewlett-Packard recognized that 70 percent to 80 percent of its meetings are planned by secretaries and administrative assistants and that 40 percent to 60 percent of its travel and entertainment budget was spent on meetings, it realized how much money it could save by getting a handle on costs. Now, HP employees regularly log on to www.allmeetings.com when they have a meeting to plan. "It's a quantum leap in terms of efficiency," reports Rich Del Colle, global hotel program and meetings manager for HP.

More part-time planners are turning to such sites, most of which can quickly bring up information on flights, hotels, room rates, and associated costs. Some, like www.eventsource.com and www.starcite.com, let users within a company track meeting data and costs companywide. Home Depot has mandated that all its planners use StarCite site for meetings.

"Imagine if you could log on to a program that could not only track meetings expenses, but forecast what they'll be," says Ed Tromczynski, president of PlanSoft (www.plansoft.com). "That's essentially what we have here." Unlike StarCite, PlanSoft does not mandate its usage throughout a company, but Tomszynski doesn't rule out that possibility for the future. --Bill Gillette

Meetings with a Water View Picture a fish house (those outhouse-sized shacks built on frozen lakes from which hearty Midwesterners fish in the dead of winter). Now picture a large fish house equipped with satellite Internet link, cellphone and fax, microwave oven and conference table, and ... welcome to the Offshore Conference Center.

The unique and admittedly odd meeting place is the brainchild of Russell & Herder, an ad agency based in Brainerd, Minn. "It all started as a joke," says Brian Herder, a principal in the firm. "We were sitting around our office talking about how technology had changed everything so much. Someone kiddingly said that you could probably hold a meeting in a fish house as long as you had a fax, cellphone, and Internet access."

This past winter was the second for the conference center, and it got plenty of use. Russell & Herder holds meetings with clients and potential clients in the portable, 128-square-foot facility (it accommodates eight people), and loans it out to local boards and nonprofit organizations.

When winter sets in, the firm sets up the insulated pine-log building on a lake two hours north of Minneapolis; toward winter's end, it's taken down.

--Bill Gillette

AIME 2000 Australian Trade Show Triples in Size The 8th AsiaPacific Incentives and Meetings Expo-held at the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre in Melbourne, Australia, in February--was nearly triple the size of the original event, which was held in 1993. The first AIME had 200 exhibitors representing eight countries and Australia, while this year's show included 575 exhibitors from 42 destinations in 20 countries and 2,400 attendees.

Some highlights from the show: *"The corporate meetings market is the biggest meetings market in the world, and we have not yet tapped into it," said Jon Hutchison, managing director of the Sydney Convention & Visitors Bureau, at the event. Team Australia--the Australian Tourist Commission plus the country's CVBs--will build on the publicity generated by this year's Summer Olympics in Sydney to persuade corporations that Australia is a good destination for meetings and incentives because it's a good place to do business. Hutchison says the country's stable economy grew more than 8 percent during the Asian crisis.

* Best Cities, a strategic alliance of five convention and visitors bureaus--Boston, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Melbournez, and Vancouver--was announced. The cities want to improve the level and consistency of CVB services by developing service standards with the aid of a client advisory board. They'll do joint promotions and will also--with client permission--share data about groups they host so that other members of the alliance can target them for future meetings. More details at www.BestCities.net.