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A people perspective on MICE events

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How can HR leaders help with the planning and execution of meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) events for a smoother run and better results for the business and its people? Akankasha Dewan finds out.

In 2013, Singapore received more than 15 million visitors, and a good chunk of that number was made up by corporate arrivals taking advantage of the country’s growing meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) space.

When you include internal audiences – companies and people already working in Singapore – the number of off-sites, conferences, training days and engagement events held outside the office grows even bigger.

Undoubtedly, the MICE space is important, and in their bid to make it a more strategic part of the organisation – as well as a better business partner and more than a function which simply handles administration – human resources professionals have evolved in many companies to take an important role, if not a lead one, in helping to plan and execute these events.

Where HR can truly add value to the overall business is in the alignment of the human capital strategy with the business strategy. In fact, a 2014 survey conducted by the Centre for Effective Organisations – including companies such as Unilever and Sony Entertainment – recently concluded HR can contribute significantly to companies “by simply allocating more time, budget and expertise to the emerging trends that have the greatest potential effect on organisations”.

It’s precisely for this reason that today’s strategic HR leader cannot shy away from playing an active role in the conception and execution of MICE events.

Another report – the American Express Meetings & Events 2014 Global Meetings Forecast – concluded that in 2014, “meetings and events will likely continue to remain critical drivers for organisations to align on strategic business objectives and effectively communicate with employees, customers and partners worldwide”.

This growing reliance on corporate events to boost organisational growth is a trend not lost on Pearl Tong, senior HR business partner for APAC at Waggener Edstrom Communications.

“Each year we look at the team’s needs and organise training, team off-sites, team-building, and management team planning meetings at external venues,” she says.

The trend has proven to be especially popular in Singapore, with the island nation having been heralded as the world’s top international country and city for meetings, according to the Union of International Associations (UIA) 2013 Global Rankings.

The report found 944 international meetings were hosted in Singapore last year, and the nation formed 9.4% of UIA’s database of meetings, which was represented by 174 countries and 1,465 cities.

The skills gap

But as these events gain prominence in the region, it becomes even more integral for HR leaders to carry with them the knowledge, techniques and competency to plan, organise and stage meetings, conferences, exhibitions and other business-related events from both the project management and operations perspectives.

Studies suggest, however, it is fundamentally from an operational point of view that HR departments often don’t have the skills to plan and execute such events.

One study by Cornell University identified that “operations management and human resources management have historically been very separate fields.

“In practice, operations managers and human resource managers interact primarily on administrative issues regarding payroll and other matters,” it stated.

Therefore, when it comes to deciding on the venue and logistics of corporate events, challenges tend to ensue for HR leaders.

“The usual challenges consist of cost – venue, miscellaneous, cancellation policies, finding a venue that has all the facilities to ensure the event is successful, catering services at the venue, transportation – as well as public transportation access, parking facilities and site visits to ensure the facilities are in good condition,” Tong says.

The problem is made even more complex with integrated venues, especially in Singapore, which often offer new product combinations, retooled themes and dining and entertainment programmes that assure a myriad choices for a corporate event planner.

Commenting on MICE venues in Singapore, Tong elaborates on “the diverse range of convention centres, meeting venues, and exhibition halls to choose from” for any type of meetings.

“The city itself also has a wide range of accommodation with good transportation infrastructure and access,” she says.

Understanding the goals of MICE events

Crafting a clear and well-planned organisational strategy then becomes integral to deal with any potential issues, Tong says.

“Before exploring venues, you should set a budget and think through the criteria and guest list. There’s no point in visiting a five-star hotel venue when the budget does not support it.”

The response time is important as well. Tong suggests when you find a venue you like, see how quickly the venue sales staff responds to your enquiry because this can often give a good indication of what the service will be like.

“Also, see if they offer site visits as this is very important in allowing you to see whether the location is convenient and if the facility meets all your requirements.”

Tong’s suggestions hint at the possibility of leveraging on an overlap between traditional HR skills and those required to make corporate event planning better, such as communicating effectively.

This is often identified as a pressing challenge for those in charge. At an Andavo Meetings and Incentives’ Edu-Forum, meetings arrangers shared their most pressing challenges when it came to organising business meetings. One of the top challenges cited was getting meeting stakeholders to clearly articulate their desired business outcomes.

“Often, stakeholders are not fully engaged in the meeting design phase which can create a disconnect with the business purpose of the meeting and make it difficult to create metrics for success,” a report on the forum read.

Where HR can help is in identifying and communicating the purpose of MICE events to make them as successful as possible and getting buy-in and support from all levels of the organisation.

Leveraging on HR skills

Using the strengths of the HR function to help plan corporate events, where appropriate, can help to overcome some operational challenges such as venue selection.

“The type of venue is selected depending on the nature of the meeting/event,” Tong says. “We recently did a negotiation training workshop for the team and since the team is young, I wanted to include an element of fun and wanted them to set work aside and focus on their development.

“Instead of picking a hotel or training centre function room that doesn’t have windows and reminds them of work, I chose a non-traditional venue that was outside the city centre. The room had lots of windows which brought in good natural light and a view of nature. I also organised the room setting to be more casual so the team could relax and enjoy the full day training session.

Viewing event management as an extension of one’s HR responsibilities also becomes easier considering MICE events are now increasingly targeted towards the people dimension of the phenomenon, rather than being a solely product-oriented one – especially when it comes to employee incentive functions.

“The days of the old ‘boondoggle’ employee incentives are over and meeting arrangers must find ways to do much more than arrange golf and activities at a five-star hotel. Employee engagement is the new incentive,” Andavo’s report stated.

Essentially, aligning business aims and goals of MICE events with talent management policies such as effective attraction, retention and development of talent becomes a helpful tool to adopt when HR leaders get involved with planning MICE events.

For example, HR leaders can provide valuable tools and skills needed to recruit appropriate employees for executing the events, in addition to managing their performance and setting the right compensation and benefits strategies for them.

Organising training sessions for staff, as well as setting budgets, are also responsibilities HR professionals can easily undertake.

The MICE industry may be dynamic, complex and pose challenges which HR practitioners may not always know how to overcome, but by concentrating on the talent dimension of these events, HR can make their role in the conceptualisation and execution of them a more strategic one.

Image: Shutterstock

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