While the 2005 Association CEO Survey, released earlier this month by the Professional Convention Management Association, found that 96.7 percent of the CEOs surveyed ranked meetings and events as important or very important to their mission and bottom line, only 67.8 percent said strategic planning was an important or very important skill for their meeting planners to have.
For planners who are looking to become players at the strategic level in their organizations, this is an important finding to note, says PCMA chairman Gregg Talley, CAE, who also is president and CEO of Talley Management Group Inc.
"The value of the meeting speaks for itself. This is about the value of the position and the profession," he says. "A lot of this comes down to perception. But if the CEOs perceive a weakness in planners' abilities to think strategically, they won't let you play at the big table. The question is how to reverse that perception."
While it might be a little intimidating, Talley suggests using the survey results to open a dialogue. "This gives planners the opportunity to show the data to their leadership and ask how they stack up against the results." Planners also can use the results to look for growth opportunities in the areas the CEOs highlight as most important to them, namely leadership, strategic planning, and budgeting, says Talley.
But to take advantage of those opportunities, planners may have to change their approach, he says. "It’s a different skill set than we use during the rest of our days, which is focusing on the details, cold, hard facts, and numbers. Strategic planning is more about ‘let’s get all fuzzy’ pie-in-the-skyish discussion—it calls for a very different way of participating than it would be if you were talking with your staff about the details of a meeting."
While PCMA is still digesting the results, one upshot of the survey may be new leadership training opportunities--"how do you present yourself and your arguments, and how do you lead your team? If you can demonstrate your leadership skills apart from taking part in the strategic discussions, you still can earn a place at the table," Talley says. Budgeting and financial management also could be on the agenda: "You can’t talk about getting to a strategic goal without talking about the resources you need to get there. You can’t participate in strategic planning unless your financial skills are rock solid."
PCMA plans to further slice and dice the data by breaking out results by size and type of association. "I think there will be differences between trade and professional organizations, and associations of different sizes," says Talley. Another piece of the plan is to match the CEO survey results with PCMA’s ongoing member needs assessment work to see how they line up, then design education based on the results. "We’ll have some exciting information, hopefully that we can make public in June, about our educational structure and what we’ll be doing moving forward," he says. "This gives us a launching pad for a number of different ideas."