You won't be the meeting planner forever; what you can do to ensure future success
Turnover can be high in religious meeting planning. Many people — perhaps you — inherit the meeting-planning role as part of elected or appointed positions within religious organizations. Others of you came into staff positions with no previous meeting-planning experience. Planningis a difficult job — stepping into it with no experience makes it even more challenging.
You and your religious organization should think of succession planning as a sacred duty. The knowledge possessed by religious meeting planners is extremely valuable; organizations suffer if strategies aren't developed and implemented to capture that expertise.
You are serving well when you show the way for those who follow you.
Based in Silver Spring, Md., Sheri Clemmer is the General Conference associate meeting planner for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Clemmer's primary responsibility is the church's General Conference, held every five years with attendance of more than 50,000.
She came into her job in 2002, entirely new to meeting planning. How Clemmer, her predecessor, and the church's administration worked to make her transition into the position a success provides valuable lessons for meeting planners and their organizations.
Clemmer was new to meeting planning, but she was not new to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. She grew up in the faith, and she worked in another department of the church's administration prior to the meeting-planning job.
“It's very, very important to know the internal culture,” Clemmer says. “There were so many nuances that I already knew. I had been a Seventh-day Adventist all of my life, but it wouldn't have helped me coming into this job.
“Look from within. It's a big help,” she says.
Lesson one: Try to choose a successor who is familiar with the church organization's administration.
Clemmer was able to shadow her predecessor, Linda de Leon, for two years prior to de Leon's retirement.
“Wherever Linda went, I went. That was extremely helpful to see how she handled certain issues.”
Of course, the church organization had to pay two people for one job during those two years, but Clemmer believes the investment was worth it in this case because of de Leon's level of meeting-planning knowledge. (She had 15 years of experience.)
“Our treasury department has worked it into our budget.” Clemmer says. “They had it in place before we brought in someone else.”
As a good steward for your organization, you might have to work to make shadowing part of the budget. Create a cost/benefit analysis to help make your case. (For example, how much would a big room-block/mistake cost?)
Lesson two: Let the new person shadow the predecessor.
While Clemmer was shadowing, she also was given responsibilities that gave her hands-on experience. Two annual meetings were her responsibility from the start, and she was placed in charge of working with hotels. She added tasks as time passed.
“I didn't have to be responsible for everything at once,” she says. “Linda was a fallback.”
She also had full access to any information that she needed. “We both had unlimited access to all the files we were working with,” Clemmer says.
Lesson three: Let the new person learn the job gradually.
After the two-year training period was over, de Leon retired and was gone from the building, but she was retained as a consultant. She also has traveled on site visits with Clemmer and her staff. How important is that?
“It's huge! We have her brain to pick at any time,” Clemmer says.
Again, retaining someone as a consultant is worth the money if the outgoing person possesses a wealth of knowledge.
Clemmer says: “We feel that it has been extremely helpful.”
Lesson four: Retain knowledgeable predecessors as consultants.
Finally, the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference administration doesn't use third-party planners, but Clemmer believes that they might make sense in some circumstances.
“If you're a smaller organization or a new meeting planner, there's nothing wrong with finding and using a good one. I would not hesitate for a moment to do that,” says Clemmer, adding that the knowledge gained by developing a working relationship with third-party planners is valuable.
Sheri Clemmer recommends:
Create a timeline for all your meetings so that your successor can complete tasks on a timely basis.
Provide detailed descriptions of the boards and committees with which you work. Describe their protocol, responsibilities, and boundaries.
Designate a staff or board member who could step into your job temporarily, in case of an emergency. Let the key people in your organization know who that designated person is.
Final Tip: Build meeting timelines into an electronic calendar, such as Microsoft Outlook, so that your successor will be reminded automatically of important dates.
Ronald Kelly, general secretary of The Wesleyan Church, Indianapolis, and an RCMA board member, is a meeting planner who inherited the job from an 18-year veteran. Kelly says he learned the details of his job by reading the minutes of past meetings.
Kelly says: “I would suggest a guidebook/manual be developed for each meeting that the new person is going to be overseeing.”
Kelly developed such a document after his first major meeting so that whoever follows him will have a working guideline for putting the conference together.
Kelly's manuals include: