What is in this article?:
Liberty Mutual's Mary Keough-Anderson turned her traditional meeting planning team members into a strategic partners with meeting owners—and a model for the future of event management.
Getting the Planning Team On Board
Every year, Keough-Anderson holds a planning meeting with her team, where they discuss and set objectives for the coming year. After the benchmarking process, the 2012 event was devoted to painstakingly reviewing all the tasks the team performs in order to refine the process.
Though Keough-Anderson usually runs the meeting, this time she brought in a representative from George P. Johnson to facilitate. “It allowed me to participate, and it was an objective person to keep us on track and focused, and to drive the conversation,” she says.
The entire team of 13 was asked to list all of the tasks they perform when planning a meeting. Everything was posted on stickie notes on the wall. Then the group put each task into a category (launch, database management, production, security, due diligence, and many others).
“We asked everyone to get up and look at all stickies and then we had a conversation as a group, where we asked, ‘Is there duplication of effort? Could we eliminate this step?’ At the end of the meeting we all decided what needed to be fixed and created a project leader for each task.”
For example, the planners’ client proposals all were slightly different, so one team member was assigned to create a PowerPoint template that everyone would use. “We want everything that leaves the department to look the same,” Keough-Anderson says. Another team member was assigned to update the department’s client evaluation survey, which is sent to meeting sponsors and asks for feedback on the overall performance of the meeting planner and the outcome of the event.
The team also added a step to the process—the project brief, which kicks off the planning phase of a program and reviews an event’s theme, objectives, and budget in broad terms.
The off-site team meeting relates to the key piece of advice that Keough-Anderson would give to other department heads looking to add strategy to their processes. “Get buy-in from your team before you start,” she says. “Explain the value and the possibilities. You want them to participate. Communicate early and often. Keep them engaged throughout the process with what you’re discovering. And keep it positive.”
She also advises finding whatever reserves of patience you have: “The benchmarking process required a lot of patience: Scheduling the interviews, especially with senior management, was a big challenge—getting an hour of their time, and potentially asking them for second interviews. I knew it was going to take time but I knew it would be worth it.”
For her, the whole project “has been a blast,” she says. “It’s the one thing I wanted to do before I retired.” There is ground yet to cover, particularly in measurement. The team did strengthen its existing measurement process by customizing and reworking surveys to attendees and to clients. But getting to comprehensivemeasurement involves getting access to more data. “It’s almost a full-time job,” she says. And though she won’t be there to oversee that piece, she knows the department is well positioned to keep moving forward.
Not that she is leaving the industry—her future plans include mentoring, guest lecturing, and consulting. (At press time, her replacement at Liberty Mutual had not yet been hired.)
“We’ve brought the department up to the next level,” she says. “Based on the outcome of the benchmarking and the feedback we get from agents, brokers, and customers, who attend a lot of other events, we are the best in the industry. Nobody does it like Liberty. And that’s our ultimate goal.”