‘Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything’
John Kenneth Galbraith – Canadian writer and economist
Each December we send out the monthly management blog early, and not on 21st of the month as is the standard. Here is the December blog:
The quotation by Galbraith sums up what many of us experience with meetings. Are meetings of value and do they contribute to improving the operation of a business?
Value is often an intangible concept. The best place to start when deciding whether to hold a meeting is to calculate the cost of holding a meeting. Using a ‘back of an envelope’ style calculation, add up the costs of salaries and their on-costs in time spent at the meeting, preparing for the meeting and following up post-meeting – as well as travel to and from the meeting and other costs, including meals and accommodation. The cost can be frightening.
Once calculated, determine the outcome of the meeting. For example, if the meeting cost $2,000, did the outcome to the business exceed this amount and warrant holding the meeting? This can give you a benchmark on whether the meeting is worth holding. Never hold a meeting which does not have an agenda that will lead to a clear outcome. The purpose of the meeting must be clear.
I was consulting to a business which held a weekly meeting by telephone, attended by state managers and operations supervisors. The agenda never changed. Literally dozens of key performance indicators (KPIs) were tabled by branch, the managers were often late calling in and took calls on their phones, the meeting chair rarely kept to the agenda, and the length of the meeting varied from 30 to 60 minutes. Action points were rarely completed on time. Furthermore, the business was in financial trouble. Clearly, these meetings were symptoms of what was wrong with the business.
What are the lessons to be learnt from this example?
- Tailor the meeting agenda to achieve the desired outcome.
- Clearly communicate the aim of the meeting.
- Set strict starting times and allocate minimal meeting time for the agenda.
- Only invite the right people to the meeting.
- Turn mobile phones off.
Meetings can take up to 40% of a manager’s working time – and much of this time is lost in idle banter, people being late, and people using meetings to delay decisions and offload their responsibilities. Meetings are a necessary evil in an organisation, however the number of meetings held and the way they are conducted must be managed with discipline. Otherwise, money is wasted, staff become demotivated, people are not held accountable and little is achieved to meet the organisation’s overall goals. For example, one of my partners in our former business – who was responsible for an operation that was performing poorly – would claim in the management meeting that he would implement a plan of action to rectify performance by a set date. Each month we were given the same story and, unsurprisingly, the performance never improved. This not only affected our profitability but also demotivated others and sent a poor message about accountability.
Most people are motivated when they see things being achieved. Meetings can do this, providing there are strict disciplines imposed on behaviour, procedures and actions while also holding people to account. Performance and outcomes must be measured. Some of the most effective meetings are short stand up 15-minute meetings, where information is disseminated, issues discussed, and time-bounded action points with assigned responsibilities are included.
There are three golden rules for conducting a successive and constructive meeting:
- The chair should conduct the meeting in a disciplined and professional manner, keep on track and have a clear aim or desired outcome.
- All participants must be prepared, be on time, have a positive attitude and be respectful.
- At the end of the meeting, the outcome should be confirmed, action points with deadlines agreed and assigned.
Are meetings in your business meeting these criteria?
How can you minimise the time spent in meetings and the number of meetings, while achieving the desired outcomes for the business?
In conclusion, meetings are good indicators of the health of an organisation. The responsibility of managing and conducting meetings is up to you. They can be vehicles for desired and positive outcomes or, conversely, an opportunity to avoid responsibility and waste everybody’s time and money.
On behalf of the 5-Dimensionz team, we wish you and your families the blessings of Christmas and for a prosperous and wonderful 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year 2020 has been very difficult for many people throughout the world.