No More Mistakes? Six Sigma’s Promise

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This article was prepared for the

November 7, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights

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Meetings Can Be Cost Effective

The meeting planning industry has taken a hit. Even

before September 11, business was not what it had been. After that

terrible day, business declined still more, and in ways that may

outlast

the economic downturn.

Michael Young, owner of Meeting Dimensions, an eight-person

Pennington company, says Meeting Planners International, an industry

group, recently called an summit to discuss the situation.

"Without

question," he says, "things have changed. There have been

a lot of cancellations, and a lot of downsizings." Meetings that

were to have drawn 300 people, he says, might now draw 250. Still,

he says there are encouraging signs. Events are now being booked for

2003.

Young says there are ways to cut the fat out of the cost of meetings,

and to get around the new reluctance to travel. He speaks on "Cost

Efficient, Effective, Meaningful Events" on Wednesday, November

14, at 7:30 a.m. at a meeting of the Princeton Chamber at the Nassau

Club. Cost: $21. Call 609-520-1776.

Young’s roots are in the restaurant industry. His family owned Don

Young’s restaurant on Olden Avenue for 15 years, and Cala’s on Scotch

Road for 18 years. He started a catering business "out of the

back door" of Cala’s 13 years ago. Soon thereafter, a friend who

worked at Scanticon (now the Doral Forrestal) told him IBM was looking

for someone to put on an event for 1,200 people.

Young took on the challenge, and when the meeting was over asked his

IBM contact if he could bid on future jobs. The answer was yes, and

the new company reeled in many more contracts. Those events led to

work for other corporations. Meeting Dimensions now does the majority

of its work for pharmaceutical and medical concerns. Communications

was another big niche for the company, but recent problems in the

industry have cut into that business.

Setting up a meeting is more than erecting tents and hiring waiters.

Young compares the business to architecture. He is in on everything

from designing a concept to finding just the right site for the

occasion.

He chooses a menu, draws up an agenda, books speakers and

entertainers,

arranges for lighting and multimedia linkages, makes travel

arrangements,

sends out invitations, reserves hotel rooms, and sets up registration.

Young puts on about 50 meetings a year. Most revolve around product

launches, national meetings, and the incentive gatherings corporations

use to reward top producers. Along the way, he has picked up a wealth

of information about what an effective meeting looks like. Here is

some advice.

Know what the meeting is for. "The most important

thing is to identify measurable objectives," Young says. In his

view, nothing else comes close. "If you don’t know what you want

to do," he asks, "how will you know if you have achieved

it?"

Identify all the stakeholders, and decide what it is you want them

to get out of the meeting. Then measure results. As part of its

service,

Young’s company will hand out surveys, conduct focus groups, and give

testing to attendees at instructional gatherings before and after

they sit through training classes.

Meetings are expensive. Companies need a way to see just what return

on investment they yield. Yet, says Young, most clients are reluctant

to spend the money to set objectives for their gatherings. This might

not be much of a problem if a company’s only event is an annual

holiday

party, but, says Young, "the more a company uses meetings and

events as a business tool to contribute to the bottom line, the more

important return on investment is."

Painless cost cutting. Many corporations are now on a

monetary diet, and most have lots of meeting fat from which they can

cut. A night at the Ritz Carlton is $300, Young points out, while

the same bed can be had at a Holiday Inn for $50. Some companies

routinely

use the more expensive lodgings when the lower cost rooms could serve

the same purpose. Likewise, in flush times, a mansion serves as a

lovely backdrop — at $6,000 a night — but a hotel conference

room can often be had at no charge. "They make money on food and

drink," Young observes, and so many hotels will throw in the

conference

room.

Pretend cost cutting. With economic gloom and doom making

the headlines on a regular basis, even flush corporations may feel

uneasy about making a big splash at their events. There are ways,

Young says, to make an expensive gathering look less so. "I can

spend $1,000 on special effects lighting, and everyone notices,"

Young says. Cutting that frill will make the meeting seem much more

austere.

The same is true for glittery table treatments and huge centerpieces.

They don’t cost a whole lot in the larger scheme of things, but create

a rich feel. The lesson here is that corporations aiming to look

frugal

can do so by dumping a few high visibility frills.

Circling the wagons. Young predicts that companies that

held big, national — or international — meetings in the good

old days (pre-September 11) may now replace one meeting in, say,

Cancun,

with four regional meetings in the United States, within driving

distance

of many attendees.

No matter the size of the company’s budget, "it’s the final

5 percent that makes the difference," says Young. And so very

often, he sees companies try to get by without it. As an example,

he says a company might hold an event at the Forsgate Country Club

to reward top salespeople. The locale is lovely, the food is

excellent,

and there is an afternoon of golf. Having spent perhaps $10,000 to

arrange this day, which is designed to pump up its best performers,

many companies skimp on the speaker.

Says Young: "They don’t want to pay $1,500 for a professional,

so they get someone from the company." And the whole mood of the

day is spoiled.

Top Of Page
No More Mistakes? Six Sigma’s Promise

Six Sigma is a set of tools used in conjunction with

the Total Quality Management (TQM) style of running a department or

an organization. Its aim is to reduce errors in all sorts of business

processes to near zero. It urges companies to consider some zen-like

premises, such as "we don’t know what we don’t know." At least

six books have been written on the subject, and a plethora of websites

provide everything from Six Sigma tips of the day to information on

how to become a Six Sigma green belt or a black belt. Six Sigma: The

Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top

Corporations

(Doubleday, $29.95) is a new book on the methodology, which is said

to have boosted GE’s bottom line by as much as $6.6 billion.

On Wednesday, November 14, at 5:30 p.m. Frenck Waage of Market

Value Management speaks to the American Society for Quality on

"Using

Six Sigma to Value a Company to Sustained Profitable Growth" at

the Ramada in North Brunswick. Cost: $25. Call 609-730-9681.

Six Sigma, referring to the six points of standard deviation from

mean to a specified limit, leads organization through a five-step

evaluation:

We don’t know what we don’t know.

We can’t do what we don’t know.

We won’t know until we measure.

We don’t measure what we don’t value.

We don’t value what we don’t measure.

The results from following this thought process, say proponents

of Six Sigma, include increased market share, cost reductions, and

dramatic improvements in profitability. Reducing errors and mistakes

is also a key outcome. Six Sigma promises, in fact, to go beyond

mistake

reduction, and to recreate business processes so that mistakes are

never made in the first place.


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