In recent columns published in Fortune and the New York Times, writers defend meetings and incentive travel as valuable tools for strengthening business, and point out the damage that can be caused by demonizing such events.
Fortune columnist Allan Sloan's latest column focuses on a reason why bashing corporate incentive trips is a bad idea—especially those run by banks that received federal bailout funds.
Sloan's The Deal column in the March 30 issue of Fortune, titled "Boondoggle Baloney" starts with a very clear summary of the reasons sales incentives work—including those to Las Vegas and golf tournaments like the one that caused Northern Trust bank so much trouble—and why taxpayers benefit when recipients of Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds take actions to make more sales.
But then he delves into a more subtle type of damage that incentive bashing could inflict on the U.S. banking system. Roughly, he argues that TARP was designed to send a cushion of money to strong banks as well as weak ones, and if incentive- and executive-bashing drives the solid banks to repay the funds as quickly as possible, it will leave those that cannot repay those loans in short order dangerously stigmatized.
It's an interesting take on incentive bashing, and worth a quick read: it summarizes incentive supporters positions quite well, and adds another strong argument.
Meanwhile, in Sunday's New York Times, writer, actor and economist Ben Stein makes the case for meetings, dismissing the charicatures of excessive corporate events and emphasizing their value. In his column titled Don't Blame the Business Trip, Stein writes, "The truth is that business meetings are usually not a waste of time, even if they are held in Las Vegas or at a resort with a golf course near a Southern California beach."
He describes his own experiences with meetings that could hardly be considered luxurious, describing how much was gained as well as how little wasted. Stein grants that while video and teleconferencing technology has evolved, there's nothing that can replicate the innovation and energy that produced by face-to-face interactions.
While his focus is more towards meetings than incentives, Stein does observe that, "it's hard to see what business purpose is served by punishing the most productive employees at a company, who are often the ones at business gatherings."
He also makes the point that disparaging corporate events can cause collateral damage throughout the hospitality and travel industries. These arguments parallel those that are being made by industry defense campaigns such as Meetings Mean Business and Keep America Meeting, and may reflect that messages about the value of corporate events are beginning to get through to the mainstream press.