The moment I understood the difference between being a task manager and a strategic planner, my career changed.
Years ago when I purchased an events management company, I suddenly went from planning events to worrying about maintaining our current clients, finding new ones and keeping my business afloat. A scary fact dawned on me: what we offered was no different than any other events agency. Competent event planning was a commodity, so how was I going to differentiate my company and provide value other agencies couldn’t?
The key was understanding the value events provide for clients, and focusing on how we could enhance that value. Instead of concerning ourselves only with putting on events that looked great and ran smoothly, we first worked to understand our client's business and then created events that would help push their business forward. In short, we became strategic planners instead of task managers.
What’s the difference? A strategic planner appears a lot like a task manager, but look closely and the differences are clear.
A task manager…
- Knows the "what" of an event - Works hard - May use technology - Focuses on creating a great experience
A strategic planner… - Knows the "what" and the "why" of an event - Works smart - Uses technology to help with his or her to-do list - Focuses on creating ROI and driving an organization forward
So, how do you make the move from task manager to strategic planner? There are three key steps you can take:
1. Gain a deep understanding of the company for which you're planning the event.
Whether you’re an in-house planner or with an agency, it’s important you know the host organization’s goals and objectives, challenges and how their industry operates.
This requires initiative. Request to sit in on meetings where the company’s strategy is discussed. If that’s not possible, request notes. Most companies have internal documents noting both their and their competitors’ strengths and weaknesses—get copies. Set aside time to speak with key members of the organization about their goals and the challenges they face. Break down silos and form relationships across departments within the organization to gain additional viewpoints. The more access you get, the better understanding you’ll have of the company.
2. Identify high-value tasks that will make an impact on your organization’s bottom line.
Not all work has the same value. Some things, like planning for waste removal, are necessary but won't make your company any profit. Others, like developing a plan to engage your attendees during and after the event, are essential.
Identify tasks that require strategic thought from those that don’t. To do this, create two documents. The first should be a one-page, big-picture strategy document identifying the company's goals and objectives and noting how your event can help achieve them. The other document is an outline of all the tasks that should be done for the event. For each task, identify how closely tied with the organization’s success it is, which will lead you to step three.
3. Now, free up your time to focus on those high-impact tasks.
If you have the staff, become an ace delegator. Hand off tasks that don’t require your expertise to junior members on your team. Let them take control under your supervision while you focus on high-value tasks. Or—and this is my preferred method—identify tech that can automate low-demand tasks. You can try Hubb for event content management; Hubspot and Marketo for event marketing; and Asana, Basecamp or Microsoft Planner for project management. There are dozens of other amazing event tech tools that can help you shave time off the planning process.
As a strategic planner, you are most valuable when finding ways for your event to help your organization achieve its goals. We all start as task managers; but if you want to take your career to the next level, becoming a strategic planner is a must.
Allison Magyar, CMP, is founder and CEO of Hubb, where she is responsible for directing the company’s strategic direction with an emphasis on key partnerships, integrations and growth. Connect with her on Twitter, @alliemagyar.