Tag Archives: Kristin McGrath

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be … Planners!

Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be ... Planners!

Did you know early in life that you wanted to work in the hospitality industry? Maybe you did—depending on your age and family or other influences in your life.

As the school year begins, and for some of us, a new year with Rosh Hashanah, it is a time of reflection or even, for some, declaring a major. It is a time of renewal as the leaves turn. And many are considering what now or what’s next in their careers.

And I, having discovered yet another parent-child duo both in hospitality, began thinking about that song: “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To be Cowboys.”*

Although I’d never heard the song in its entirety, the title always made me smile. Then I read the lyrics and thought how apropos for our industry! (Do note that clearly some part of me wanted to be a cowgirl … and perhaps a detective—thus the garb in the main photo for this blog post from my early years!).

Liz Erikson Marnul, an industry icon and someone I’ve known for more than 35 years said “You should really tell people how you got into this industry.”

I was surprised somehow that she didn’t know.

Other than the very early years of wearing clothing that seemed to reflect two possible professions, I thought I wanted to teach—I loved “playing school”—and then I considered social work. If I had had “school smarts” rather than being a life-long learner who learns by reading, observing, discussing and practicing a craft, I might have been a social anthropologist or, because I love words and how they fit together, a lawyer.

As a meeting professional, and in the areas in which I’m involved now in our profession, I think that I have been able to incorporate some of my passion for those areas.

As a child in the ‘50s, I put on street fairs to raise money for polio research when the boy next door was diagnosed with polio. In grade and high school, I helped organize events. Later, I helped plan and run city-wide ones and national events for a museum and then for an organization.

After dropping out of full-time college after a year—even working while in school didn’t provide the financial resources, and the learning by sitting and absorbing lectures and spitting back information was not my learning style—I worked a variety of jobs: ad sales at a newspaper, bookstore sales, in the family poultry business, and as a teacher’s aide. Until I moved to Washington, D.C. in 1978, I didn’t know there was a profession for what I was doing.

What influenced me? Did I truly fall into this profession—this industry? Was it pre-destined? Was I, in a past life (if you’ve followed me for any time, you know one of my favorite films is “Defending Your Life” on which John Chen and I based a discussion) was I one of “those” meeting participants who, at a bad meeting, said “Sheesh, I can do this better”?

My parents, of blessed memory, worked in various professions including sales; some cousins were lawyers; others teachers. One branch of the family founded a successful chain of restaurants and though I visited that part of the family, I don’t remember that they influenced my choice of profession. Unlike those interviewed there was no one to guide me into a hospitality career.

In conversations with many who choose to go into our industry, I hear the influencers are still the love of people, travel and details.

Those already in the industry are seeking more fulfillment, whether it’s moving away from logistics only or putting a spin on logistics or finding a way to better serve customers.

If love of people, travel and details were the main reasons to be a planner, I’d not be in this industry. An introvert, I like people in small doses; a mobility disability has made travel a greater challenge, and details? If it’s contracts and words, yes. If it’s meeting logistics, not so much anymore.

When I read the articles linked in the additional reading, none of them applied.

There are studies to show why being an entrepreneur may run in families. The number of self-employed people in various professions—lawyers, doctors, small business owners—prevalent in my family is evidence. And there are lots of teachers among my first cousins and a niece. There was also a rabbi—a profession I once considered and as Rod Abraham, an MPI Founder, said about me when he introduced me when I received an award, I was a “rabbi”—a teacher.

I’m grateful to have learned how those interviewed—parents and children, sisters, and a granddaughter—were influenced to go into and stay in the hospitality industry. There are others not interviewed (Steve and Adam Ferran, Patti Shock, Vanessa Vlay and Michele Koch Hansen among them) who I hope will share their stories in the comments section below this blog post.

I hope, as you consider what now and what next, you will think about your Strengths[yes, capital “S” because it refers to a specific tool], and read Barbara Sher’s marvelous books (in particular, “Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want” and “I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was”) to learn more about yourself.

I think this industry has opportunities (careers in eldercare for example) galore that we are only beginning to discover and certainly one where there aren’t enough people (hospitality law); and areas of privacy and technology for use in learning and serving customers. The sky isn’t even the limit, is it? Some will need to be the pioneers to plan the hotels and meetings in space!

Keep this story in mind too: an actor who has had great roles also needed income to keep going. He took a job bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s. The story is inspiring. If you want to start in a position or as a volunteer that others think are “below” you, do it anyway.

Experience is what gets us where we need to be. And the more broad our experience is, the more we show our desire to work, the better our chances are, regardless of lineage, to find the job or next job that is best for you.

As you read these stories of careers intentional and unintentional that brought people to our industry, I hope you’ll reflect on the influences and influencers and then share yours.

This is an industry that can make a difference in how people learn, work and serve others.

What’s next in your future?

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Related Reading From the September 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 09.07.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

‘Ethical Negotiation’ – An Oxymoron?

Original published Meeting Today Blog 

'Ethical Negotiation' - An Oxymoron?

Psst… did you hear the one about the hotel salesperson and the customer who didn’t disclose their policies and history? OK, maybe that’s not a common setup for a punchline.

But everyone says it: there must be “hidden charges” that involve a financial risk to meetings that hotels never disclose, seemingly in order to protect themselves from major catastrophe. This causes meeting organizers to believe they’ve been “caught” by someone unscrupulous because if they were really our partners, wouldn’t all the information be disclosed at the start of the relationship?

Conversely, hoteliers and other vendors, working with a wide range of customers say they are frustrated that RFPs (Requests for Proposals)—whether written, electronically completed or phoned in—don’t describe an entire meeting, its needs or its history.

Those with many years of planning, sometimes for the same organization, where year-to-year meetings are pretty much the same; those with little experience; or the well-meaning person who, based on a social media group’s interest, wants to convene face-to-face gatherings, all sometimes take short cuts.

Without all the facts, hotels and other vendors may take for granted that what they get is enough and the person from whom it is received knows enough to ask the right questions. Neither party wants to lose money. In fact, the expectation for each side is that a profit be made, or for the group, at least a break-even financial outcome. Each party wants to believe the other is not withholding information.

I’ve written and taught about contracts*, ethics, and negotiations for years, most recently in the August 2016 edition of Friday With Joan and again in the article “7 Keys to Hotel Contract Success” and spoke on a webinar about contracts for Meetings Today, and for UNCC in a class (for which you can enroll for the spring semester). I’ve spoken at chapter programs for MPI, PCMA, SGMP and others. Yet, emails and calls tell me that disclosure and transparency are still not how we operate as an industry.

I speculated that it’s perhaps because:

  • Hospitality is still a “relationship industry” and with that is implied there is a belief in the honesty and integrity of those with who we partner on meetings and events.
  • It is also implied there is sufficient experience to be able to know the lingocontract terms and when to say “I don’t know” and then find out versus bluffing one’s way through a negotiation to a contract that may not make sense to you or that you may not even be able to defend if need be.
  • We want to believe in the honesty of the party with whom we are working and we don’t want to “play our hand”—that is, show what we may not know so, we believe, we can avoid being taken advantage of.
  • We don’t know what we don’t know.
  • We’re busy and don’t want to take time to ask questions or questions are discouraged, or when asked, a standard “it’s out corporate contract” (or addendum) is the response, without digging deeper.
  • Sellers put pressure on buyers to “sign now” or lose the deal, partly because many sellers and some third-parties are incented on the number of room nights booked by quarter or year-end and have quotas they must reach.

Just as I hear from colleagues, friends and strangers about ethics issues, I receive questions about contracts, often when there is a potential crisis. A recent incident led me to write this blog and to invite comments** from others in the industry.

One request for help was from a non-industry social media group moderator who, with the encouragement of the group, agreed to organize a multi-day, face-to-face meeting. Based on the expression of interest—not a much different experience than that of a corporate planner whose CEO says “Let’s put on a show,” or an association planner whose Board says, “There’s a great need for a new program on this great new idea”—the person or “meeting convener”—found and booked a hotel.

The meeting convener (not a planner, professionally) signed a hotel contract that, if you read or listened to any of the above linked information or that of others like Tyra Hilliard, was not favorable at all to the individual or group.

The convener, even though it appears the hotel may be sold out by transient and other rooms over the dates booked, may still be on the hook for upwards of $40,000. Even for an association or corporation, $40k is a huge hit!

For an individual, it could be devastating.

Here’s what I think could have been done to prevent or mitigate the outcomes and what can be done going forward by us all. Add your suggestions in the comments section of other ideas for those whose knowledge of the industry is less than yours, or for those who may have never planned an event. (If you prefer to have a comment posted anonymously, email me and I promise to keep what you say confidential and post the comment anonymously. Just please identify yourself to me).

By the hotel

  • Ask more questions about why the convener thought the number of room nights contracted was accurate.
  • Check history … though for this group there was none but still, what happened to the practice of checking, which I’ve found has gone out the window for expediency? … but I digress slightly…
  • Explain how hotels operate, how they make money, and what the financial risks were to the convener of the number of guest rooms and other provisions.
  • Provide a sliding scale of guest rooms, and based on reservations and registrations, increase as needed at a negotiated group rate.
  • Be transparent in all you say and do.
  • Negotiate an audit clause so that those who made reservations outside the group block, perhaps at a greater discounted rate, would be counted toward group pick up.

By the convener

  • Research to learn more about how meetings are held and how hotels operate, what contract provisions will be fair to both parties and what risks may be involved.
  • Charge a non-refundable pre-registration fee.
  • Explain to the group—once research has been conducted and the hotel had explained to the convener—the risks for the individual so that the burden would be shared.
  • Ask more questions to understand the clauses, financial obligations and the risk.
  • Be transparent in the information you provide and the negotiations you conduct.

I want to believe our industry is ethical and honorable. I’ve always said there are no hidden fees, just fees that we planners forget to ask about and cover contractually.

I also want to believe these points from the CMP Standards of Ethical Conduct Statement and Policy—“Maintain exemplary standards of professional conduct at all times,” and “Actively model and encourage the integration of ethics into all aspects of the performance of my duties.”—guide even those who are not CMPs, and that we all want to conduct business transparently.

Although I cannot provide exact language, I recommend negotiating something like “all terms and conditions that impact the financial and operational aspects of the event have been disclosed in the Agreement or they will not be in effect” into your contracts.

But don’t take my word—talk with an industry attorney, preferably a member of AHIA – the Academy of Hospitality Industry Attorneys.

I really do believe that ethical negotiation is not an oxymoron. Tell me I’m not delusional!

*As always, my disclaimer in reference to any contract issues: Although I am an expert witness in industry disputes, these materials are provided with the understanding that the author is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or professional services through the distribution of the materials. If expert assistance is required, the services of a professional should be contracted.

**I’m grateful to those who were willing to respond—although I was surprised by some of the responses—and help further the conversation. I hope you’ll join in with your comments below.