Friday, 25 February 2011

Open Sourcing Objectives

I'm feeling like I missed the mark with my peers at the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Conference recently. I led a session about Sustainable Event Objective Setting with GMIC Incoming President Paul Salinger. Our task was to help our fellow attendees craft some clear goals for case study projects they had been assigned as part of the conference theme "Game On". In reviewing the objectives crafted for the studies Paul summarized it quite simply: We all need to get better. It's bothering me, so thought I'd dust off and try another approach!

There are many project management resources out there that provide helpful guidance about objective-setting generally. I won't repeat them here, but share some informal lessons I've learned work best when strategising about event sustainability. Would also invite others to share their perspectives!
  • The basic formula that has worked well for me is Vision = (Objectives + Indicators + Targets) Time. Remember an objective is about transformation. It should set you on a path to achieving your vision in incremental steps. It is an active statement about how you want to change. Use verbs to describe it (reduce, improve, increase, eliminate, etc.).
  • Vision is critical. You might have a vision already, or need to create it. Sometimes an existing vision may need to be interpreted to focus in on sustainability and event applications. The critical point: create consensus around a common, concise mission statement that describes your ultimate destination. This might be a one sentence description of the kind of event experience or company you want. John Furlong's vision of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games as "Canada's Games" is a great example of this.
  • Don't neglect measurement. Objectives without indicators and targets are a bit like trying to lose weight, without stepping on a scale. For every objective decide how you'll track it, and what level of performance you want to achieve. Don't be afraid establish a baseline as your first target if you're really not sure what level of performance is possible. When you set indicators and targets keep in mind what kind of data you can collect consistently and compare over time across events. These kind of indicators will be the most valuable to you.
  • Participation is key. Collective goal setting translates into collective ownership. We are much more likely to take responsibility for something we've created and have a stake in, so involve staff, vendors, exhibitors, sponsors and attendees.
  • Set boundaries. Biting off too much too soon is a recipe for burnout. If water related issues are most important start there. If human health is a priority use menu planning and eliminating toxic materials as a first step. If it's necessary to save money use that as a filter. Or start with objectives that address your most immediate issues and problems. Just start. Somewhere, anywhere. And once you've achieved your goal, stretch it, and your boundary.
  • Be SMART. Once you've drafted an objective ask yourself a series of questions. Is it specific and clear? Can it be measured? Is it attainable based on factors that are within your control? Are resources in place to make the objective realistic? What's the time frame? Adjust and refine the objective to make sure these questions are answered.

Sustainable event objectives are as unique as your event project and you. Get creative. Personalize them. Stretch them. Some good objectives I've seen that touch on social, financial and environmental aspects include the following. Note targets are intended as hypothetical examples and not guidance on what you should strive for - set targets that make sense for you!

Reduce event venue waste production, energy and water use.
  • Indicators: Kilograms of waste produced per attendee, kWh of energy use per attendee, litres of water used per attendee.
  • Targets: Less than 1.5 kg per attendee, Less than 80 kWh energy use per attendee, less than 40 L water per attendee.
  • Variation: Stretch the boundary to include catering and hotels.
Reduce attendee carbon emissions from air and ground transport, venue and hotel use.
  • Indicators: Pounds of carbon dioxide emissions produced per attendee.
  • Targets: Under 700 lbs per attendee.
  • Variation: Add an objective to offset those attendee emissions that are not able to be reduced by 100%.
Improve host hotel compliance with contracted sustainability criteria.
  • Indicators: Percent of hotels used complying with each contract criterion, Number of non-conformities reported by event management and attendees.
  • Targets: 100% compliance with 20 criteria contracted, 10 non-conformities maximum (10% decrease from previous year).
  • Variation: Stretch the vendor boundary to measure this for catering, decorators, venues and other suppliers.
Improve attendee perception of sustainable event actions by organizers.
  • Indicator: Attendee evaluation rating about event sustainability.
  • Targets: 4.5/5 rating.
  • Variation: Add a question to evaluations that also invites feedback on practices attendees would like to see, enabling future targets to be set. If you're an event supplier, substitute 'attendee' with 'client'.
Generate positive media coverage of event sustainability.
  • Indicator: Number of positive media articles generated.
  • Targets: 5 articles generated.
  • Variation: Consider supplemental indicators that also measure the value of coverage and the number of readers reached.
Reuse signage.
  • Indicators: Percent of signage reused (square feet of signage reused divided by total signage used).
  • Targets: 50% reuse minimum.
  • Variations: Repeat the 'reduce' objective for decor items and name badges.
Expand sponsorship revenue by integrating new sustainable experiences into the event design.
  • Indicators: Financial value of new sponsorships.
  • Target: $10,000 minimum.
Improve employee health and well-being.
  • Indicators: Number of sick days taken within the two months to event on-site period.
  • Target: Zero days.
What sustainability objectives have you found to be successful for your events?


Paul Salinger said...

I heard from a number of people that we didn't fail them with our objective setting session. They just failed to take it in and spend enough time working on them.

But, I do think, in general the event industry could learn a lot about objective setting and using the models that are out there to set really good objectives that align to the business needs of their company or organization and that sustainablilty is one piece of setting those objectives, one which should be integrated into an overall event or meeting plan rather than a separate element.

Great post though and I like that you broke it down and gave some excellent examples.

Nancy J. (Wilson) Zavada, CMP said...

Great post, Shawna. Your description is much clearer. Especially this section, "Remember an objective is about transformation. It should set you on a path to achieving your vision in incremental steps. It is an active statement about how you want to change. Use verbs to describe it."

It would have been interesting have the teams stop right there, set 3-5 objectives and report back to the larger group; continuing on with the rest of the case study game afterwards. Isolating this exercise may have focused the teams and prevented them from going straight to the logistical details (planners will be planners).

Just a thought that now occurs to me after reading this post and participating in the game.

Shawna McKinley said...

Thanks Paul and Nancy for chiming in with your feedback. Time was definitely a factor so hope having some straw objectives up here 'for the record' gives people some examples to help next time. Also agree Nancy, it would have been a good idea just to stop there and exercise objective writing muscles for awhile. I've found it can take teams many event cycles to really get into the groove of setting objectives and seeing their value. Of course writing them is one thing...following through and determining success against them is another thing entirely! Making a mental note for a future post on that :) Thanks!