Meetings are an Investment of the Company’s Assets. Make Sure You Get a Return.
By Steve Schumacher
During an initial discussion with a company president several years ago, he told me that he felt like there were too many meetings going on and he wasn’t sure if they were being productive. He went on to say that he had a tough time getting people to respond to him in a timely manner because they were always in meetings. As I talked to other members of the leadership team, they all echoed what the president had told me. There were just too many meetings and most of them were a waste of time.
The president and I put together a list of the scheduled meetings over the next month, identified the participants, how long the meetings were scheduled, and got the average hourly salary of each participant from finance. We did the math and determined that, over a one-month period, the company was spending more than $275,000 on meetings alone. That doesn’t even count the lost productivity.
The president sent out a message to everyone saying that from now on before calling a meeting, each meeting leader must send him the list of participants, how long the meeting is scheduled and how much the meeting was costing based on the participant’s average hourly salary. We then posted a sign on the wall of each meeting room that read: “This meeting is costing $________, are we getting a return on that investment?” Each meeting leader was required to insert the dollar amount on the sign at the start of each meeting.
Almost immediately, the number of meetings was cut in half and the ones remaining became much more action-oriented and shorter. People became more available and happier that they weren’t spending so much time in boring, unproductive meetings.
If your company faces a similar situation with meetings, in addition to doing what that president did, the following steps will help you get a solid return on your investment of meeting time:
1. Set a clear objective for each meeting.
Begin each meeting with the end in mind. What do you want to have happen as a result of this meeting? What do you want to change? Think about the key metrics of your organization and build your objectives around them. Don’t just meet to meet, have an outcome. Visualize what you want participants doing when they leave the meeting. If you can’t come up with a clear objective, you probably shouldn’t have the meeting.
2. Set a reasonable length for the meeting to accomplish the objective.
The more people you invite, the longer the meeting usually takes. It’s better to err on the short side; it creates a sense of urgency for the meeting.
3. Be selective about who you invite.
Ask yourself this question, “Who will contribute most to accomplishing the meeting objective?” Invite those people only. I’ve seen too many meeting leaders invite certain people because it’s politically correct to do so. Keep in mind, you’re a steward of the company’s assets and inviting people to the meeting that don’t contribute to its outcome is a waste of those assets.
4. Send out the meeting objective and agenda in advance.
Give participants time to gather their thoughts prior to the meeting. If you want certain people to come to the meeting with specific information, tell them ahead of time. Advance preparation will make the meeting go smoother.
5. Start on time, end on time.
Participants are giving up their time to attend, so show them respect. If someone arrives late, don’t start over for their benefit. Even if you don’t accomplish everything, end the meeting on time so participants can effectively manage their own time and other work. If your meetings tend to run long, schedule them right before lunch or quitting time and they will tend to end on time. If people tend to show up late, schedule the meeting at an odd time, like 1:47 instead of 2:00. Doing that creates an air of importance that will get people to arrive on time.
6. End each meeting with specific action items.
Never leave meetings open-ended. Leave enough time at the end to identify action items – WHO does WHAT by WHEN. Don’t have an action item with a due date of ASAP or TBD, put a date on it. Begin each meeting with reports on the action items from the previous meeting.
7. Consider using a meeting facilitator.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve seen for meeting leaders is keeping the meeting on track. Meeting facilitators can help. Someone that is objective and keeps an eye on the agenda, the clock, and gets everyone to participate, can allow the meeting leader to participate in the meeting and make it more productive.
Meetings are an essential part of every organization. Every company has them and few do them very well.
Keep in mind that every minute spent in a meeting is costing your company money.
It is your job to make sure that every meeting is productive and gets your company a return on its investment of that time.