Taking Care: It’s Our Duty To Reduce Risk

Meeting professionals have a duty to our employers to protect them. One might call this a duty of care. While we provide the obvious — professional, seamless meetings and special events — there is so much more that we touch. A topic that is of utmost importance to my organization is that of Risk Management. It has become a popular and well-respected concept. In this article I share some high-profile risks for each of us to be aware of throughout our meeting planning process.

While each of us represent a variety of companies and clients, there is one constant. We need to protect the interests of our organizations. Specific areas to be mindful of include branding, finances, property loss, IT, and its overall reputation. Our clients and senior management look to meeting professionals to safeguard them. They expect our choice in venues, vendor partnerships, budget management, and use of brand to be seamless with respect to over-arching culture and reputation in the global communities that we serve. We act as the compliance officer, CFO, head of security, chief IT executive and head of parliamentary procedures, all wrapped up into one big professional package.

Ways to Mitigate Risk

With careful and thoughtful planning, we will avoid embarrassing and costly mistakes for our organizations. A misstep in our planning can result in an epic blunder that could shatter the financial security and image of our organizations. My advice is to slow down and methodically plan our approaches to both our strategic and tactical logistical planning. Listed below are my top ten RISK TIPS for today’s meeting professional:

1. Conduct audits and training. An audit provides an organization with the opportunity to see what it can be doing better. It uncovers process problems and reveals opportunities for improvement. People make mistakes and they are certainly most often not-purposeful.  We should never fear an audit. Rather we should embrace them and be open to enhancing our knowledge and on-going development. A savvy organization implements consistent training opportunities for their employees and contractor teams. Our industry is ever-changing and we must be up-to-speed on all areas of technology and services available to us.

2. Be careful of publicity. Being the topic of a news article is not always a good thing. Free publicity is great, but at what cost? Did the healthcare organization hold a lavish gathering at a resort? Were high-ranking executives photographed drinking too much alcohol at a charity event? Were expensive hotel rates published in a news article about an internal team meeting?

We must use caution in our choices and be mindful that information about our programs can leak out. We need to protect and secure our information. Our actions can help or hurt our organization’s reputation.

3. Control budgets and expenses. Accuracy is imperative. I learned early on that to be a successful meeting professional, we must have the ability to impeccably manage budgets. It’s one of our most fundamental must-have skills. When we produce a financial report it must be 100% accurate. Careful proofing for accuracy and errors is critical. Depending on your office and work structure, I highly advise having a “budget buddy”. When managing a budget submission, it is not a time to be proud or a martyr. I urge each of us to have others proof our work. A missed digit or “0” could be disastrous and an enormous embarrassment to our organization.

4. Guard Your Laptops. I have a confession: When I’m on-site at a hotel or conference center, I like looking at other meeting professionals’ events. From booths to menu presentations, I’m always checking out the fine work of others to spark ideas. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve walked by a vacant meeting room where laptops were left out in the open sitting on a table. Laptops contain volumes of sensitive information pertaining to those organizations. Data is a risk and must be protected 24/7. Meeting professionals must safeguard their organizations from possible data breaches. Policies should include that meeting rooms be locked and secured at all times when participants are not present. It’s so simple, yet so many do not manage this detail effectively.

5. Inaccurate data occurs because of human error and sloppy work. Proofing procedures should be built into our production timelines. Invitations, save-the-dates, maps and annual reports… errors in these communications pieces can damage an organization’s brand, resulting in lost trust.

With careful and thoughtful planning, we will avoid embarrassing and costly mistakes.

A misstep in our planning can result in an epic blunder that could shatter the financial
security and image of our organizations.

6. Manage alcohol consumption. Alcohol can be a horrendous risk for an organization. It must be managed and policies must be enforced. Professionals have destroyed their careers by consuming too much alcohol at a company function. Tragic deaths and injuries have occurred because someone was not managing risk opportunities at business gatherings. Meeting professionals need to create a policy and being it to senior leadership, the board and or human resources. You and I are ultimately responsible for managing risk at every one of our programs.

7. Ensure safety and security. The safety and security of attendees is a fundamental responsibility. In today’s changing world, security has never been more important. Budgets, staffing and site inspections should address security needs. Meeting professionals must make this a priority each and every day of our programs.

8. Signature authority. My organization has approved signing authorities for all contracts. Use caution when signing a contract for any service. Once you have signed, you are fully responsible.  If the meeting is cancelled, you are not in agreement. If a policy is not created for signature authorities, this would be an excellent time to make a recommendation. Contract and signing issues can create great financial and legal liability for an organization.

9. Design smart activities. We have to be mindful with activities that are smart and appropriate for our given industry.  My organization is a pharmaceutical manufacturer, so I am required to adhere to the Sunshine Act. Everything must be appropriate and modest, from hotel selections to meal values to no gifts. While each industry sets its own standards for appropriate activities, but I recommend remaining modest and low-key with your activity.

10. Sweep the room. At the conclusion of my meetings, we perform a sweep. After our attendees leave, we go over each and every inch of the meeting rooms. We gather name plates, name badges, note paper, binders, agendas, leftover handouts. All papers and materials are shredded … EVERYTHING! The smallest detail doodled on a sheet of paper could be disastrous if it got into the hands of competitive intelligence. Sweep that room!!

Risk is assumed when producing events and meetings. With careful planning and foresight, we can mitigate it and be assured that we are managing our employers, clients and participants to the best of our ability.

Thomas V. Smith, CMP