"Building Business Acumen"

by Jennifer W. Brown CMP, SMMC
as seen in PCMA Convene Magazine - March, 2011

As a consultant who works with corporations, associations, and suppliers on strategic development, Tom McDonald, Ph.D., has seen firsthand the gap between executives' expectations for business results and planning teams' focus on meeting execution and logistics.

"Companies now expect their meetings and events to deliver business results," said McDonald, who is president of Del Mar, Calif.–based Tom McDonald & Associates. "Planning teams now have the tools and resources to make this happen. Those who do not embrace this critical shift will see their futures in jeopardy."

While SMMP has matured as a model, changes at many organizations have not kept pace. Many planners continue to struggle to make the shift in thinking from logistics to strategy. That gap widens the more decentralized the meeting planning environment. Too seldom do planners effectively communicate meeting quality, spend, and value-based outcomes to management. Also absent are meaningful metrics to define and measure success.

It often comes down to a lack of business acumen. For meeting professionals, business acumen is a combination of two things: first, gaining an indepth understanding of how their organization works, and second, how meetings and events play a major role in achieving management and stakeholder goals and objectives. While this requires significant homework and collaboration with senior managers, the payoff is well worth the time invested.

This business-plan approach includes understanding:

  • How your organization is structured the business challenges and issues of the day
  • The products and/or services your organization produces
  • How these products/services are delivered to primary and secondary markets
  • Who the key industry competitors are
  • What drives profitability across the enterprise
  • Brand standards and core values
  • The role of key departments and managers and their contributions to meeting and event management — financial, personnel, content, etc.

What's required to make an impact at the top?

First, it's moving beyond meeting agendas, budgets, problem-solving, and logistics and understanding senior management's big-picture vision for meetings and events. Where does the management team place their focus every day?

Here are some key areas:

  • Business Strategy
  • Sales & Marketing
  • Branding
  • Company Values
  • Customer Service
  • Training Professional Development
  • Technology Infrastructure
  • Financial Profitability
  • ROI
  • Strategy Partnerships
  • Research & Development
  • Mergers/Acquisitions
  • Industry Competitors
  • Risk Mitigation/Legal Oversight
  • Crisis Management
  • Corporate & Social Responsibility
  • Global Economy

When you speak with senior managers regarding the planning of meetings, do your conversations include some of the above components? Or is your collaboration with managers too focused on logistical and operational matters? In other words, are you speaking to managers "where they live"? Are you offering ideas and strategies that drive real business solutions? "Business executives now see meetings as essentialtotheircompany'ssuccess,"McDonaldsaid."The opportunity is there for meeting planners to now become strategic partners in the process." .

Building Business Acumen Planners have long been under fire to demonstrate the value of events as well as their own professional worth. A wider acceptence of the Strategic Meetings Management Program (SMMP) has set the bar even higher.

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