When the Global Business Travel Association’s Groups & Meetings Committee published its pioneering strategic meetings management whitepaper in 2004, it was for the domestic operations of U.S. companies. When the committee gathered to revise the paper in 2008, corporate America had gone global—and the committee took “a more global perspective” to SMMPs the second time around. The critical challenges for global programs involve adoption and compliance.

“Each country’s unique cultural requirements—language, currency, customs, and business etiquette—must be recognized in order to overcome the preference of stakeholders to work with local resources and to encourage global program adoption,” the paper advises. But how? One strategy is to get local stakeholders on your side as part of a “global SMMP advisory council,” the paper suggests.

Engage Local Leaders

One executive with a lot of experience going global is Kevin Iwamoto, vice president, enterprise strategy, for StarCite, who previously handled global supplier contracts in his procurement role with Hewlett-Packard. He points out that with a global SMMP implementation, the folks on the ground sometimes trump the folks in the C-suite.

“Most category leads assume that since their CFO, CPO, or other corporate senior executive endorses their category program, compliance will follow that support globally,” he says. “From my own experience, the folks you want compliance from really only listen to the local leaders. In the Asia-Pacific region, if you also underestimate the power of the executive administrative assistants, you will probably not succeed in your deployment ambitions. It is very wise to seek and gain local executive support in addition to any corporate executive support to get a better percentage of success in deploying your category program globally.”

We spoke to other executives who have been there, and got their advice for managing specific global challenges.

Challenge 1: Spreading the Word Worldwide

Sandra Schall

Global Category Manager Hotels & MICE Global Procurement

Nokia Siemens Networks

Sandra Schall singlehandedly gathered the troops from procurement, finance, marketing, and travel to launch a strategic meetings management program for her company, Finland–based Nokia Siemens Networks. As one of the largest telecommunications hardware, software, and professional services companies in the world, with more than 75,000 employees in 150 countries, Schall’s program had to go global from the start. (In April, NSN acquired the assets of Motorola Solutions’ Networks, adding 6.900 employees in 52 countries.)

Once she drafted the Global Meetings & Events Purchasing Policy, she asked 50 key meetings and events requestors to review it and offer feedback. She then sent the final document to three members of the Nokia Siemens Networks Executive Board—the COO, CFO, and CMO—who are most involved in meetings, incentives, conferences, and events (MICE) decision-making and cost control.

Schall rolled out the policy to Germany, Finland, the United Kingdom, and Italy in first half of 2011, and is in the midst of pulling in three other countries with the goal of a full global rollout by the end of next year.

“One key challenge is the communication of the SMMP to the employees,” Schall says. “We tried to use as many internal communication methods as possible, always supported by our professional communications people from global or from the individual countries.” She offers seven steps for spreading the word:

1. Create a plan.

Schall created a global communication plan for reaching employees in all countries in a 2.5-year timeframe. She shared the plan with Nokia Siemens Networks global communications department and got their approval.

2. Create a global intranet page.

Include frequently asked questions and links to the company’s preferred hotels for MICE. As you add countries, keep the intranet site up to date.

3. Get published.

Take advantage of company publications to promote your SMMP. Schall got a piece announcing the implementation of the global SMMP in the company’s monthly global company newsletter, and pre-announced the implementation in the monthly line manager newsletter.

4. Show up at staff meetings.

Get on the agenda of staff meetings within individual countries. As part of bringing a new country on board, Schall presents the project during a Country Management monthly team meeting, and gets approval for the implementation at that meeting.

5. Work with the locals.

In collaboration with country-specific communication staff, draft an e-mail message to all employees of the respective country. This e-mail, which should be in English as well as the language of the country, will represent the actual implementation of the SMMP in the country. Schall has completed this phase in Finland, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. She expects to have more than 20 countries in the fold by the end of 2012.

6. Follow through with training.

After each country implementation, Schall offers at least two virtual training sessions. In Finland and Germany, the two largest implementations, she also held several face-to-face training sessions.

7. Keep communicating.

Schall has set up an e-mail account specifically for incoming questions about the SMMP, and also published the phone numbers of the company’s MICE sourcing contacts. She explains that there is one team per region who use StarCite for MICE sourcing and reporting, and all meeting requestors are asked to involve these teams for sourcing. In Europe, for example, the team is based in the Czech Republic, and in June Schall installed the newest team—based in India and serving India, the Middle East, and Africa.

Challenge 2: Finding the Global Meetings Data

Before you can communicate a global meetings policy to the professional and ad-hoc planners in other countries, you need to find them—and their meetings. It’s hard enough to do nationwide. Worldwide, you’ve got bigger challenges. Here are some tips from the head of procurement at a Fortune 100 company for gathering global data:

1. Set realistic goals. “You’re not going to get great detail in most countries, but even small wins are good,” she points out. Recognize that your program will evolve and improve over time, especially once you get processes and technology in place.

2. Build local relationships. Find local employees who are “in the know and have access to good data,” she advises. “Finance or procurement are a good start, as they have similar goals to you: transparency, spend management, reporting, and policy compliance. You need people who understand your end objectives, but who also know enough about the local market to understand how costs may be coded differently.”

3. Tread lightly. “Be careful not to upset people who ‘own’ meetings,” she says. “Including these folks in the data-gathering by explaining how you intend to use the data to help them is sometimes easier to deal with than apologizing for upsetting people afterwards.”

4. Find the suppliers. “Once you have the accounts-payable data and know who you are spending money with, reach out to some of the larger suppliers and do some market research,” she says. “Suppliers are a great source of information.”

Challenge 3 : Getting Full Policy Compliance

Heide Rowan

Global and North American Brand Director

DuPont Corporate Marketing

DuPont, Wilmington, Del.

Heide Rowan’s overall SMMP began when DuPont sourcing leadership identified an opportunity to use Six Sigma to improve the meetings and events process. Opportunities to increase efficiency were identified, and it was Rowan’s task to create a meeting policy that would capture that efficiency, as well as reduce corporate risk, cut costs, boost consistency, and improve reporting.

She rolled out that meeting policy in the U.S. first, in September 2007. After a year of working out the kinks, Rowan extended the policy to Canada. And as of January 2010, she has ventured even farther afield—rolling it out throughout Europe, and ultimately to the entire Europe/Middle East/Africa region. So far it’s 17 countries down and four to go.

She readily acknowledges that it has been a process. “For those who have been doing things their way, a change in behavior takes continual reminders and reinforcement,” she says. “It’ll be a gradual shift toward 100 percent compliance.”

She has done a number of things to boost her odds of reaching full compliance, starting before the policy was even created. Here’s her advice.

1. Get input and feedback.

When creating the global meeting policy, Rowan followed Six Sigma principles to convene a team of subject matter experts and stakeholders. The 10 members of the team came from sourcing, credit-card operations, marketing and sales, meetings and events, and BCD Meetings & Incentives, DuPont’s meeting planning partner.

“By getting experts in each area engaged from the beginning, we could ensure that the new policy would be adhered to based on existing processes,” Rowan explains. “We needed to get alignment across all areas of expertise. Were there bumps in the road? Of course.” But those bumps were mitigated, she points out, when she presented each section of the policy to the team and asked, “Is there anything in the structure that is contrary to process? Are there any roadblocks?” Those could be dealt with before the rollout.

2. Don’t rush it.

The team of subject matter experts held a three-day meeting to hammer out the new system, process, and auditing procedures. But it was still a year from that meeting to the rollout date.

3. Identify local managers and turn them into policy champions. The process of identifying key contacts takes on more weight when working internationally. Rowan reached out to local human resources managers and line managers before sending the policy to all employees. “They know how best to manage the communication to employees,” she notes. “You need to get their agreement and understanding, and ask them to be champions.”

4. Manage translation

Implementing a meeting policy is more difficult with multiple countries, especially when working with currencies outside the European Union and with countries where AmEx is not used, Rowan says. DuPont’s technology partner's software is set up to handle multiple languages and multiple currencies. In fact, the technology partner translated the necessary how-to pages, so that international users could link from the landing page to pages in their own language that showed them how to register a meeting, create a meeting Web site, etc.

5. Be responsive.

Respond to concerns or differences as they come up and address them immediately.

6. Send reminders, updates, and links.

Once your policy is rolled out, there’s still the challenge of encouraging compliance. Regular communication is key. Lorie Ryan-Spellen, director, global meetings and events, DuPont Meetings & Events, sends a monthly newsletter to all employees reminding them of the advantages they will realize when they register their meetings and of the benefits to the company of managing meeting spending. These types of reminders also include links to the meeting registration landing page, where employees can get questions answered, and phone numbers of meeting and events team members, who are available to answer questions as well.

7. Train and train again.

Hold live training sessions and WebEx seminars, have training videos available on demand, and send quarterly e-mails to new employees.

8. Find the non-compliers.

All meeting card data is reviewed to ensure employees are in compliance with the meeting policy. When someone is not, a notice is sent to that employee and to the employee’s manager reminding them of the policy requirements. “When there is a new process there are bugs,” Rowan says. “Sometimes people get impatient, and wonder ‘Why should I register my meeting? It takes longer.’ But of course in the end it is more efficient and more productive.” Not to mention saving money, ensuring corporate compliance, reducing risk, and enabling detailed reporting.

Challenge 4: Getting Global Suppliers in Place

Terry Miller

Manager, Travel and Meeting Services

Eli Lilly & Co.

Terry Miller is in the midst of going global with both the travel and meetings management programs for Eli Lilly & Co. The travel program is up and running in 38 countries already. The meetings program? Eight so far. Travel is straightforward, “so acceptance is better,” Miller says. A global meetings program, on the other hand, takes a lot more selling up front. “If you just go in and say, ‘We now have a consolidated program,’ you’re setting yourself up to fail. You need to create a business case.

The business case will be financially driven but will include intangibles as well. For example, he says, “We have a strong focus on duty of care, where we track travelers and meeting attendees to ensure their safe return home encase of an emergency anywhere around the globe.” There is also the benefit that comes from capturing global meetings data, he points out. But even when another country is fully on board with the SMM concept, it’s still “a long transition” from the way the locals currently manage meetings to learning and implementing a whole new process with a new, global meetings management supplier.

Finding that global supplier was job one for Miller. Here’s what he learned.

1. Manage globally, execute locally.

To take its SMMP global, Lilly sent out an RFP looking for global suppliers in four areas: travel management, meetings management, sourcing (negotiating and contracting with hotels), and meeting planning logistics. “When we sent the RFP to suppliers, they selected which of those four areas to bid on,” Miller explains, noting that only four companies had the capability to bid on all areas. In the end, Lilly decided to go with a single supplier for the first three areas, but to hire multiple companies to provide meeting planning logistics.

“After thinking of how best to support out offices around the globe, we awarded the meeting planning logistics to multiple companies,” Miller explains. “We worked with local affiliates in each country and let them pick one meeting planning company.” Lilly also chooses a regional meeting planning company to be available to all affiliates, who then have the choice of working with the local or the regional meeting planning company.

At this point there is a company in the U.S. as well as a regional company for North America, and two regional companies for Europe (“there is enough business and breadth in Europe for two,” Miller notes, and that business is expanding). Next up are China, other European affiliates, and possibly South America.

2. Use the wheel.

Lilly’s global SMMP is based on the GBTA Groups & Meetings Committee’s wheel diagram. The company named one global meeting supplier to handle 5 of 7 sections of the wheel: meeting registration, approval, sourcing and procurement, reconciliation and payment, and data collection and reporting. A global technology supplier provides the wheel’s technology centerpiece. And the local and regional meeting planning companies complete the circle with the planning/execution piece.

3. Be flexible.

Of course, when you’re working worldwide, there may be situations where the pieces fall into place differently. When Miller introduced the program to his Lilly colleagues in Japan, he told them that a global meeting supplier would be selected, and that the program would move forward once that decision was made. But the Japanese affiliates were up against a deadline for renewing a contract with their own supplier, so they took the ball and ran with it, and established a successful program. When Lilly had identified its global supplier, Miller saw that the Japanese already were using the best local supplier and were doing their SMMP by the book. So in this case, the local supplier will work the wheel instead of the global supplier.

An important note, however: Collecting data is one area where Miller advises not being flexible, and the challenge of getting all of the relevant data from the Japanese affiliate into the global database is now being worked out. “It's extremely important to collect data globally so the entire global program may be managed with data,” he says. “With data you may focus on the right things and identify improvement opportunities.”

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