Interview Part I
A Discussion between Mary Boone and Liz Guthridge


element managementAs a strategic meeting designer, Mary Boone breathes life into meetings. She talks with The LEAN Communicator about the elements of successful meetings.

Liz, The LEAN Communicator: Why are meetings so important these days?

Mary: We’re dealing with a lot of complexity at work these days. Any time leaders are dealing with complex contexts they need to adopt a leadership style that relies on input from large numbers of people. Meetings are one of the most efficient and effective ways of handling complexity.

(For more about complexity theory and leadership, read the article Mary co-wrote with David Snowden, "A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making," Harvard Business Review, November, 2007.)

Liz: Yet meetings get a bad rap for being time-consuming, expensive and ineffectual. How do you counter that?

Mary: Yes, the meetings industry is currently in recovery mode after suffering through the AIG scandal, TARP legislation, and an economic downturn. When this crisis first unfolded, I saw it as a huge opportunity. If there was ever a time that people would be ready to really think about meetings and events in terms of strategic value, now was the time. So I wrote the paper, "The Case for Meetings: Four Elements of Strategic Value" and donated it to the MPI (Meeting Professionals International) Foundation. MPI has sponsored numerous events around it.

Liz: What are the four elements?

Mary: Portfolio Management, Meeting Design, Measurement, and Advanced Logistics.
1. Portfolio Management is focused on looking at meetings in the aggregate -- i.e. your whole portfolio of meetings in a company.
2. Meeting Design is focused on how to make individual meetings more effective and efficient.
3. Measurement addresses how to determine the ROI from a meeting.
4. Advanced logistics has to do with the high level aspects of delivering on a meeting design.

Liz: Do you have any tips on building a business case for portfolio management?

Mary: My expertise is not in the area of portfolio management; I focus on meeting design. The partners I work with in the portfolio management area tell me that when they present to a senior executive even a rough estimate of what their meetings are costing the company, the leader’s interest increases. It's even better if you have measured the impact of some key meetings and can show the value added by holding these meetings and tapping into the collective wisdom of the room.

Liz: Should LEAN Communicators care about portfolio management?

Mary: Yes. An interesting battle is going on right now in the meetings field related to this concept of portfolio management. Many of the people who are proponents of the "efficiency- only" meeting model believe that meetings should report to procurement.

I personally adhere to the combined model of efficiency and effectiveness and I see meetings as an investment, not just a cost. Therefore, I believe the people responsible for meetings and meetings department should be reporting to communications. Certainly, procurement needs to be involved because of contracting and other efficiency issues, but I think the reporting relationship should be with communications.

If we don't take the initiative now in this arena, we could lose a lot of control over a very critical component of communication and leadership going forward.

Liz: Thanks for getting us started on this subject, Mary. We look forward to hearing from you about the other three elements in upcoming issues.

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Mary's Work in the Media:

NewYorkTimesLogo large                  npr          msnbcLogo  
HBR industryWeek cnbc financial times


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