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Make Meetings Less Dreaded
Turn those groans into raves when you conduct effective meetings using these simple steps.
Mention the word “meetings” to a group of managers and you’re likely to hear at least one person groan. Meetings are the bane of our existence—the thing we love to loathe. Who doesn’t have a horror story to tell about the guy who won’t zip it or the perennial “devil’s advocate” who never has an idea of his own. My favorite is the person who can turn any conversation into an opportunity to grind the same old ax about something that happened 10 years earlier.
But the problem goes way beyond dealing with these kings and queens of wasting everyone’s time. Ineffectively run meetings cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars each year and become career stoppers for managers. People and their time are your company’s resources, and it’s your job as the manager to maximize the value of both to the organization.
When working with a client several years ago, I asked the senior- and mid-level managers three questions:
How does that translate to real dollars? Say you have a two-hour staff meeting on Tuesdays. Ten people participate and each makes $60,000 a year plus benefits. Your direct cost for each meeting is about $300 per hour. Then, factor in that, on average, employees are expected to contribute 2.5 times what they cost, so the collective value of their time is $750 per hour.
What if each week at least one person is 20 minutes late and everyone else waits? Then it takes a few minutes to get started, so you routinely get down to business about 30 minutes after the established start time. Each week, you’re burning $375. If it happens 50 times a year, this habit costs more than $18,000 a year.
Multiply that number by four if you’re dealing with senior executives. And that’s just one meeting.
What if the generally accepted meeting behavior is for people to be late and then spend the first few minutes catching up on the city’s latest sporting event? Poor meeting discipline is a major financial hemorrhage, and frankly, as a manager, it’s your job to keep it in check. When we did this math for the company I mentioned above, we discovered that they were wasting nearly half of their fully loaded managerial payroll.
Get out of The ‘Event’ Mind-Set
Meetings are not events. Effective meetings take place on a continuum of thoughtful preparation before the meeting, focused execution during the meeting and diligent follow-through after the meeting.
Sloppiness in any of these areas can jeopardize a meeting’s effectiveness. By limiting your view of meetings to what happens in the room, you set yourself up for failure from the start. If your meeting is well planned, and follow-through is carefully defined and monitored, the odds of achieving your goals go up exponentially.
As a management consultant who works mostly with CEOs at the strategic level, I’ve had the opportunity to observe many organizations at work and the following steps are the best practices I see that help people save time and get more done.
Meetings that reflect these best practices become valued opportunities to communicate and learn instead of resented gauntlets we’re required to run.
Before Anyone Convenes
The following steps will help you and your meeting attendees prepare for the meeting:
If you’re invited to attend a meeting, always schedule time to review the advance materials. It’s simply your job. It also has the added bonus of validating that your presence is necessary. If it’s not clear to you why you’ve been invited to a meeting, ask. A simple e-mail saying, “I’m not sure what value I’ll add in this meeting; what did you have in mind when you put me on the list?” will do the job.
In the Room
Stick to these suggestions, and your meeting will stay on track:
A meeting is pointless without these follow-up action items:
Putting Steps into Action
I challenge you to approach the meetings you call in the next few weeks differently. Chart each on a continuum that includes preparation and follow-through, no matter how small the meeting seems. Commit to using these best practices to get the strongest result with the leanest resources and track how consistently you achieve your objective. I can almost guarantee that you’ll be hooked.
And, the next time you call for a meeting, those groans will be silenced.
Stuart R. Levine is chairman and CEO of Stuart Levine & Associates LLC, an international consulting and leadership development company, and author of The Six Fundamentals of Success: The Rules for Getting it Right for Yourself and Your Organization
(Currency, 2006) and Cut to the Chase: and 99 Other Rules to Liberate Yourself and Gain Back the Gift of Time
(Doubleday, January 2007). Levine can be reached via his web site,
www.stuartlevine.com, where you also can download a template of the best practices.
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