Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Strategic Planning: "Cancelled Meetings are Actually Costing the Economy Millions!"

In response to congressional scrutiny of lavish travel perks for top executives, many in the travel industry are pointing out that meetings and incentive travel are an important part of the economy.

Yes - and no. Yes, meetings are still the most effective way for people to network, communicate and learn, because face-to-face meeting will always have higher bandwidth than any other form of meeting (or at least for the forseeable future). Yes, incentive travel is a very efficient way to motivate employees who are performing well.

No, because, at the most outrageous level, some incentive travel is going to people who need very little in the way of incentives. I'd be happy to be in the executive suite of one of the nation's top banks - and AT THAT LEVEL I wouldn't expect any incentives unless the bank was doing well. At the C-level, incentives should go up and down with the company's stock - and a company getting massive government bailout money shouldn't hand out incentives at the C-level until that money is paid back in full. An executive in a troubled company who accepts this kind of perk - with a cost that exceeds the income of some employees - should be completely prepared to have a PR nightmare on his or her hands.

This is DEFINITELY NOT THE CASE when you go to lower levels of any organization. A manager who is delivering top performance in a business unit, and increasing bottom-line performance for his or her company, should obviously be well-rewarded for that effort - especially now. So I'm particularly concerned to see Wells Fargo adopt an across-the-board elimination of incentive travel, since that is obviously a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. What is the likely effect of this kind of misguided reaction? Loss of Wells Fargo's best performers to competing banks who will (appropriately) continue to reward their employees who are performing well. Let's put this another way: a hard-working mortgage producer who meets measurable goals this year and makes the bank a million dollars more absolutely deserves a trip to Hawaii - and I would applaud this move, as a shareholder.

Obviously, Wells Fargo and similar organizations don't face this issue at the top level where the most egregious over-incenting was taking place. No one will cry if the executives responsible for the bank's current position jump ship - and it's unlikely another bank would want them right now. Perhaps the most difficult part of being responsible for incentive travel is looking employees - even executive level employees - in the eye, and telling them why it doesn't make economic sense for them to go to meetings, when others are going. A true test of a great manager is his or her courage to do exactly this - and I hope the folks at Wells Fargo will show that kind of courage instead of the one-size-fits-all easy way out they have taken.

Meetings and incentive travel are, in fact, a critical part of the economy. Shutting them down will have a long-term negative effect on productivity growth. Let's not hamper economic recovery just because the ROI is too difficult to measure.

1 comment:

thecpo said...

Great points Robert!
What really has me a bit perplexed is that the new Administration that is sharply criticizing these companies for holding incentive and educational meetings, just threw a $140 million dollar "party". Now the media is on a mission to "catch" companies either holding or attending conferences at nice resorts.
This is so counterproductive to our recovery and yet, I have only had one client (albeit a large one) cancel or postpone a planned 2009 meeting, so maybe it's not as bad as the media wants us to think.
Companies that want to thrive are still developing strong leadership and sales teams...that's why we stay busy.