Find the strategic initiative, and you’ll find the purpose of your meeting.
A COLLECTIVE SENSE OF PURPOSE IS EITHER THE SECRET INGREDIENT OR THE MISSING ONE. If organizations have it, there’s urgency and unity. If they don’t, there’s lethargy.
I recently attended a corporate meeting whose purpose was to install a paradigm shift, to show managers that their employees were the company’s most cherished assets. The event professionals and executive sponsors beamed at dinner the night before the first session when they shared this with me. They could envision the impact their meeting would have on employees, their families and even the company’s bottom line. It was a win/win/win. Over the next few days, they saw a transformation in the company’s culture, from leader down to supervisor.
Stanford professor William Damon defines higher purpose as “an intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond self.” Because the event managers intended to help attendees as well as the company, the purpose was truly elevated. That’s why it worked.
One of the easiest ways to identify a meeting’s higher purpose is to take into account the state of the union and what your leaders are focused on accomplishing in the near future. Find the strategic initiative, and you’ll find the purpose of your meeting.
In the case of my people-first client, the purpose resonated with the CEO’s commitment to increase engagement and retention and the stronger business results that stem from that (customer satisfaction and product and service innovations). Turnover was high, morale was low and he realized that there needed to be a change in the collective mindset. He talked about it during meetings, on investor conference calls and even at manager orientation sessions. This is what the meeting owners focused on and used as a framework for their meeting.
It won’t always be so obvious. There may not be anything that necessitates a paradigm shift, and you’ll need to align with the ongoing purpose of your organization or association. (Hint: Making money or growing membership isn’t the purpose; it’s the means to the end.)
In his book, Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies, Nikos Mourkogiannis writes that every organization has one of four purposes: discovery, excellence, altruism or heroism. He offers an online tool, a purpose-finder that begins with you, and then leads to the slotting of your organization at http://tinyurl.com/PurposeTool.
Once you’ve identified a higher purpose for your meeting, it’s time to employ it like the tool it is. Create a purpose statement that declares a measurable accomplishment.
For example, the YMCA falls in the altruism bucket when it comes to organizational type of purpose. At its 2011 North American YMCA Development Officer annual conference, meeting managers wanted to motivate attendees to volunteer even more of their time to community events. This purpose was important to the YMCA’s objectives as a volunteer-led organization and gave meeting managers guidance on design from logistics to content.
On the first day of the conference, they staged a community service event close to the convention center, in which dozens of delegates renovated an elderly woman’s home. She had volunteered in neighborhood efforts her whole life, and now people were helping her. Delegates swung hammers, hauled off trash and did light painting over a long, hot afternoon. I was signing books that evening at the trade show opening. The volunteers streamed in, still in their work clothes with smiles on their faces and touching stories to share.
It was such a hit that event managers decided to make it a permanent fixture of their annual meeting, as the purpose (promote volunteerism by example) would always be relevant to YMCA. It’s a new ingredient that energizes the event.
When choosing an event theme, let the event’s higher purpose act as a guide. I attended a recent retail furnishings annual association event with the higher purpose of promoting success in each member, regardless of size or stature. Retailers For Retailers was an effective theme that not only defined the event, but the organization’s website and collateral.
Leverage the higher purpose to recruit people into contributing to the event. Share it with executives when asking for their participation. Tie sponsorships to it. During the event, use housekeeping announcements and marketing materials to share the purpose with everyone.
When you buy a pair of shoes at Toms Shoes, you also put a pair of shoes on a child in need in the developing world. Founder Blake Mycoskie calls this buy-one-give-one, and it’s the secret ingredient to engagement with his brand. If your event is pursuing a higher purpose (creating a greener company and a greener world), then make sure everyone knows what kind of difference they’ll make when they participate in programs or give of themselves.
After the event, measure outcomes related to the meeting’s purpose. One company I worked with last year reported on new product ideas that came out of the annual offsite and how they contributed to the company’s overarching desire to “unleash innovation on the world’s energy problems.” This closes the loop, giving event stakeholders an understanding of what they accomplished during just a few days.
When we feel like we’re making a difference, we find meaning in our lives and in our work. Our meetings have an opportunity to offer this to everyone, and in turn, help them become part of something bigger than themselves. Helen Keller once wrote, “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” One+
One+ June 2012,