Your SMM implementation needs a clearly articulated rollout plan to maximize success. That includes getting the right people involved, setting a clear and achievable timeline, beta testing, and training — and lots of effective communications. This blog goes into detail about the elements of a successful rollout. Remember that SMM programs can benefit companies of any and all sizes. This blog offers general guidelines. The elements your organization needs depend upon its size and culture.
Identifying the Right People
You can’t build a winning team without naming the right team captain. Identifying the system administrator is one of the first key steps of the rollout. This is the person who will be at the helm of the SMM program when it’s up and running, and in many cases, the same person serves as the lead of the implementation project.
Beyond the system administrator, your rollout needs input and assistance from a variety of key stakeholders. You might think of this group as an advisory council or task force. Those joining the group should include meeting planners — if your organization has formal planners, put them on the list, but also others who plan meetings as part of their job, such as administrative assistants. If your organization has a meeting department, the department head is a good candidate.
Other likely choices include those who currently (or will) handle procurement and sourcing, someone from IT, a travel manager, and people who can lend their expertise related to communications and training. It’s good to choose people from a variety of departments and divisions to ensure that you’re meeting everyone’s needs.
As you plan for the rollout, include a responsibility matrix or RACI chart specifying who’s responsible for what, who’s accountable, who gets consulted, and who needs to be informed. This may include existing roles as well as new or revised roles. If need be, create new job descriptions.
Outlining Key Steps
There are potentially lots of moving parts in an SMM implementation, but simplicity is a virtue you’ll want to embrace. Consider charting your rollout and technology implementation in phases, with a plan for increasing adoption over time. For simplicity’s sake, the rollout can be boiled down to just a few key steps:
- Planning for the automation of approval processes
- Creating, and then getting, all players to use a portal for meeting registration
- Building a central meeting calendar that gives visibility into all event activity
- Centralizing your strategic hotel sourcing
Those are the basics. There are certainly more specific steps to follow, as you can see in the timeline discussion that’s right on the other side of the next headline.
Creating a Timeline
A smooth launch of SMM depends on the creation of a realistic timeline. Key points in the timeline include the kickoff meeting and the actual launch of technology. Keep in mind that there’s a lot of work to do before you ever get to the kickoff meeting.
Here are some more details about the key stages and the work that should be happening along the way, outlined in the sample timeline. Use this information to draw up your own detailed timeline for SMM implementation. The specifics of your program will depend on whether your organization is small or large, your employee count, and the scope of the implementation. As the sample suggests, some milestones and action items are likely to happen simultaneously.
Identifying the implementation team
This section outlines some tasks to tackle in the one to three months prior to the kickoff meeting. Keep in mind that the roles mentioned here will vary from one company to another. In smaller organizations, one person may fill a number of these roles. That may also be true if you’re planning a smaller-scale implementation within a larger organization. These are the steps to take in this part of your project:
- Identify the executive sponsor and/or the executive stakeholder.
- Make a presentation to the meetings department (if your organization has one) to establish support and champion the program.
- Connect with procurement to seek support and outline the desired ROI.
- Include travel managers to obtain their help in establishing and contributing to measurements of success.
- Engage the organization’s legal counsel to ensure that your program will foster compliance with government and industry regulations as well as corporate policies.
- Collaborate with the finance department on data collection, payments, and reconciliation.
- Identify key vendors and suppliers that your organization currently uses for meetings.
Developing policy and a communication plan
Here are some steps that should be happening in the six to eight weeks prior to the kickoff meeting. This phase includes creation of the meetings policy and development of the rollout communications plan:
- Solicit feedback from internal planners, formal planners or otherwise, as you create the meetings policy. You’ll need their support throughout the process, and they’ll be called upon to validate benefits with their teams.
- As you develop the meetings policy, get on the calendar with key meeting vendors, hotels, and venues. Introduce them to the process and explain how the changes will affect them.
- In building the rollout communications plan, identify who within the organization needs to know about the program.
- Spell out the distribution channels you will use to communicate next steps and updates on the program. Will you communicate through email, a website, in-person meetings, or other channels?
- Determine the cadence for keeping everyone up-to-date regarding the program rollout. Your aim is to inform people as well as get them excited about the program, to enhance buy-in.
Meeting to kick off the program
You’ve reached the exciting point in the process known as the kickoff meeting. You’ve started to build interest and enthusiasm among key stakeholders as you’ve made preparations, and now you’re ready to grab their attention. Note that the kickoff meeting is not the actual rollout of the technology, but it’s a major step along the way. Here are some of the tasks and aims of the kickoff meeting:
- Review the objectives, goals, and processes of the new meetings management program.
- Spell out the timeline and cadence for how this will affect various stakeholders. Are you implementing across a small organization? Are you rolling out in specific regions or departments of a midsized-to-large company? Your timeline will depend on your company size and objectives.
- Agree upon an implementation plan to make the most of your time and ensure that there’s alignment throughout the process.
Preparing for the technology implementation
After completing the kickoff meeting, the rollout of the technology implementation picks up steam. Here are some of the key tasks that should be on your agenda:
- Coordinate activities with your technology vendor.
- Identify and create custom event fields in your technology solution.
- Determine the users, roles, and groups that will be involved.
- Develop the meeting request form (or forms, depending on your SMM implementation plan).
- Create the website or portal for requesting meetings.
Testing the Plan
Regardless of your industry, you’re no doubt familiar with the general idea of beta testing. Software companies test their products before full public launch, pharmaceutical companies go through clinical trials before they market the next wonder drug, and carmakers strap crash-test dummies into the driver’s seat and slam their vehicles into the wall to see how they hold up.
You should do something like that, too, before the SMM rollout hits the masses in your organization. It’s critical that all systems and processes are working as designed, right from the start. Pick a small group of key meeting owners, let them take the system out for a spin, see what works and where any issues become apparent, and make adjustments as needed.
Developing a Training Plan
Your technology is designed to be as simple as possible to use, and that is, indeed, one of its benefits. That doesn’t mean you can expect your team to simply sit down at the keyboard, grab the mouse, and be instantly up to speed. Training is vital to ensure that users feel comfortable with your system and know what they’re doing.
That training can start small and then spread broadly among all of the various players. First in line is the core meeting planning team, both the power planners and those occasional planners in areas that will adopt the program initially. Those in the approval process need training of their own, as will your suppliers.
Training on the front lines of meeting planning should begin just as soon as the technology is up and running. Work with your educational resource to make a plan for prompt training for all users, either in-person or virtual. Your training may take different forms, depending on the audience — external suppliers, for example, are likely to have different training needs from your power planners.
Preparing to Communicate
What’s going on? That’s what everyone always wants to know, and when they don’t get the information they’re craving, people tend to fill in the gaps with hearsay, misinformation, or even fear.
That’s why the communications plan is a super-important part of an SMM implementation, as it is with any significant change in an organization. A successful project has effective communications from the beginning, and onward throughout the life of the program. Typically, communications will be heaviest in the early stages, but it’s helpful to provide ongoing updates.
Your communication efforts have multiple aims. First of all, you’re trying to gain buy-in and support from both internal and external stakeholders. Everyone needs to be informed of the project’s benefits and objectives, and your communications should have a keen eye for “what’s in it for me” as much as possible. People need to know the milestones and critical success factors.
Here are some of the key points when communications will be important. Your plan, of course, will be tailored to your own organization, your existing communications channels, and your unique organizational culture. The company’s project lead is often the sender of these communications, though you know best whose voice is most appropriate within your organization. How formal your communications are may depend on whether you’re in a small company or a large one, and the culture will play a role, too. Consider these points:
- Project introduction to senior-level management: The aim is to let senior managers know what’s up and gain their support. Target the communication at executive sponsors or the project’s steering committee, as well as controllers who will be affected. Email is a common vehicle for this, and it may be sent two to four weeks before rollout.
- Project announcement: This announcement goes to just about everyone, including contract employees if you have any. It unveils the program and provides any necessary instructions and calls to action. It, too, may be sent by email, anywhere from a week to three weeks before rollout.
- Indirect stakeholder announcement: Particularly if your organization is bigger, you may need a message targeted at specific internal audiences who are at least indirectly affected by the program. That may include people in procurement, travel, finance, IT, and internal meeting “customers.” The message explains the value of the technology in terms that will resonate with the stakeholders (you may need to tweak different versions for different subgroups of stakeholders). This goes out before rollout, though you will likely need to follow up with this group with later communications.
- Direct stakeholder and professional planner announcement: This goes to the organization’s meeting planners, whether they’re professional or non-professional. It explains the value that the SMM technology will bring to their work and informs them of the need to get training. It should go out before the launch of training, and follow-ups likely will be needed to ensure this group is up to speed quickly.
- Rollout today: This announcement is sent on go-live day, to all employees, reminding them of the new processes and policies. Email is the most likely channel. » Announcement to preferred hotels and vendors: This explains the reasoning behind the program and the benefits it will bring to suppliers. It outlines any new responsibilities and expectations. This announcement should go at project rollout, with updates to this group thereafter as needed.This can use whatever channel works best for reaching this audience — maybe email, or maybe letters in the mail.
- Post-launch reminders: Plan to send follow-up messages to the general employee population every month following go-live, at least for the first three months. These email messages remind team members of the new policy and help build buy-in.
- Project training and introduction decks: Plan to produce one or more PowerPoint presentations that educate users and affected stakeholders about the new technology, policies, and processes. It may be used at meetings, training sessions, or wherever the groups have gathered. It also can live online on the company intranet, if your organization has one.
- Project-related FAQs: As with any launch of an initiative, there will be lots of questions about the technology, the policies, and the new processes. Do your best to anticipate questions and create answers to frequently asked questions. Create a mechanism for people to ask questions that aren’t covered in your FAQs (and update the document periodically in response to new questions).
Rolling Out the Technology, Reinforcing, and Evaluating
This is the point in the timeline where the technology goes live! It’s time to get your teams trained and using the system, and working with vendors and suppliers in the new ways spelled out in your SMM program. You can find additional details about training in the next section, but here are some key steps that start happening with the technology launch:
- Schedule virtual or in-person training sessions with the initial group of planners who will be involved in the implementation.
- Hold a kickoff call with key vendors and suppliers to provide them with more details about the program.
- Develop an ongoing calendar of training for key users.
In the two or three months following the initial technology launch, you’ll be monitoring and reinforcing the program. Here are some items to think about during that part of the timeline:
- Create a schedule for evaluating the program against key performance indicators and the goals that you established at the outset.
- Identify noncompliant meetings promptly so that issues can be corrected as quickly as possible.
- Every quarter following the technology launch, conduct a quarterly review of the program. Examine the results of the review and make refinements to the program as needed. This is an ongoing step from this point forward.
With any kind of change management, adoption is the holy grail. The best SMM system in the world is worthless if it doesn’t get used much, or doesn’t get used correctly. How can you encourage strong adoption?
You can always send down a mandate from on high. But simply making everything mandatory doesn’t mean your system will be enthusiastically embraced.
Mandatory or not, communication and persuasion lie at the heart of adoption success. All users need to know the project benefits, objectives, milestones, and critical success factors. They need to know WIIFM, or “what’s in it for me.” All of your communications need to be part information, part sales pitch. That’s what brings enthusiastic buy-in.
Once you’re up and running, ongoing communication can share success stories, which further strengthen buy-in. One major company with a non-mandated culture boosted adoption through an awards program, with trophies and gift certificates for those who strongly embraced the new system.
Excerpted from Strategic Meetings Management for Dummies © 2019 a custom published product produced with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.