Sorry for the paucity of posts the past couple of weeks, but I’ve been in a blur of travel and work assignments – one of which has taken me to a venerable tradition in many companies: the annual meeting of the sales force. I’ve had several discussions over the past week with peers and friends about the value – and sustainability – of these meetings, particularly in companies that are growing beyond the comfortable confines of 10,000 or so employees or expanding across global locations. The costs and logistics for these meetings increase exponentially as a company grows in size and reach. In my last company (Dell) the all-staff meeting had long since been replaced by live, global webcasts and smaller functional or regional meetings supplemented by various technologies (like video-conferencing.) But many companies, either hesitant to tinker with a tradition (particularly involving the sacred sales force) or convinced of the value of face-to-face interaction, continue to go through the regular ritual…complete with award dinners, social events, marketing kits and a bonanza of drink and food.
After coming into the week as a firm proponent of virtual meetings – leveraging technology to conduct online sessions or even conducting an entire meeting in Second Life – I now have a more tempered perspective. I think there is still huge value in face-to-face interaction – even if the interaction is social as opposed to a purely business function. But I also see the inevitability of companies having to adapt when they become a certain size. Perhaps there is a compromise here – for example conducting regional meetings but linking all the participants by online events or webcasting…kind of a variation of the famous IBM “jams.” I also think many companies could replicate the face-to-face social aspects of a team meeting with online social networking tools – ranging from Twitter alerts to an event blog. Ignoring the huge opportunities inherent in the Web – and virtual environments like Second Life – is a big mistake.