Please find some links and notes from the 2 Regular Guys Podcast. Every business goes through a transition as it develops. When we start out in business we focus on making enough money to pay the bills and having a little profit left over. As the company and staff grow, so do the number of meetings, memos, and directives until one day we realize, “We spend more time in meetings talking about the business than we spend selling and producing the product!” This week’s program we discussed the subject of meetings, and how to Making Meetings Matter.
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Making Meetings Matter
As the company and staff grow, so do the number of meetings, memos, and directives until one day you realize, “We spend more time in meetings talking about the business than we spend selling and producing the product!”
This reality struck me when I was very young and working with a company in Columbus, Ohio. During yet another marathon session to discuss sales techniques, markets and new products, I quite accidentally said, “When do we get done talking and actually sell something?” The question brought a long moment of silence, as I’m sure it does when any other growing company finally realizes there’s a problem with too many meetings and not enough producing and selling the product.
I once belonged to a group of business managers who met for breakfast once a month to talk about issues, make suggestions, and basically get an outside perspective. At one meeting, a member gave a presentation on how his company came up with their mission statement. He was proud to tell us that a group of top people in the company met for 18 months to hammer out this statement. Eighteen months! Okay, maybe I’m guilty of oversimplifying the business process. But I wanted to interrupt and say, “Here’s a mission statement for you. Make a great product. Make this a great place to work. And make some money in the process. Now, everybody get back to work!”
There is no question that you absolutely need to have meetings to communicate with your staff, plan for the near and distant future, plus share and encourage input and ideas. The test is in the preparation and planning for these meetings, clearly defining what you need to accomplish, communicating this to each and every participant, and making every meeting purposeful and effective.
Start every meeting on time, and get down to business right away. That’s a simple and novel idea, but you might be surprised how some managers waste valuable time sitting in a conference room waiting for meetings to begin.
Too many times I have arrived at a regularly scheduled meeting only to wait for one or two of the participants to finish a phone call, gather paperwork, or just dawdle until someone picks up the phone to say, “We’re all here. Where the heck are you?”
If it’s the boss who is perpetually late, it won’t be long until everyone starts drifting into the meeting later and later. Responsible behavior in a business is a reflection from the top. So, if you’re the boss, be sure you display the attitude that you want your company to mirror.
Limit Meeting Participants
I’m all for seeking participation from every single person within the walls of a company, but meetings have to be limited in order to be productive. When a group grows larger than five or six, full interaction and participation diminishes.
Once, I worked with a company that held a meeting once a month that included every person in a supervisory position. The theory was to motivate through inclusion, but the result was far different. Every manager or supervisor was required to contribute one topic to the meeting, even if you felt you had to make something up. As you might imagine, this monthly meeting was a long, drawn-out, time-consuming chore that resulted in nothing more than lost hours of productivity.
Meet with a Purpose
Having a purpose for your meeting is critical. Don’t set up a regularly scheduled meeting every week if you can’t guarantee there will be some value in meeting. I’ve sat through countless meetings that were held from 9:00 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. once a week simply because a meeting was on the schedule. Sometimes, I got a lot of work done – thinking up solutions for production problems I was having, planning out my week, deciding where I’d go for lunch – all while someone else was droning out his quota of meeting input on a trivial issue.
If you have two hours to fill with constructive, productive meeting issues, then go for it. Just don’t waste two hours of your staff’s time with forced regular meetings.
It’s a company every listener here likely knows.
If you feel the need to have a weekly meeting of managers just to “check in,” then keep it brief. Schedule a 20 minute meeting and offer the opportunity for any manager to communicate a pressing issue of importance to the group. Be sure that the other managers understand they are not required or expected to have an item or issue to add, but rather that this an opportunity to bring everyone into the loop about a project or issue that affects the company. “Check in” and nothing more.
Team Huddles for Short Term Planning
For short term planning and group communication, one-subject “stand up” meetings are effective. These narrowly focused meetings should target immediate issues involving your company’s sales, efficiency or productivity. The bulk of these meetings will deal directly with real-time, bottom-line issues.
For example, gather the key players from the production floor around the scheduling boards on Friday afternoon for a 10 minute conversation. Review the coming week and ask for input on anything that might affect the schedule either positively or negatively. These meetings are brief, focused and require no special preparation, but result in real and useful information that keeps everyone working toward the same objectives.
You can use this meeting concept throughout your operation. These short term planning meetings should focus specifically on “where are we today and where are we going tomorrow.” Floor supervisors can hold these meetings with their printers. Production artists and screen makers can do the same, as can your accounting, sales and other departments.
If there are larger, more pressing issues that need to be discussed, a specific meeting can be scheduled and should involve only the decision makers directly affected by the issue. Again, this is a specific meeting scheduled to discuss only a specific issue.
Focused Meetings for Long Range Planning
I believe wholeheartedly in long range planning. I just don’t believe you should do it on a weekly basis. You certainly need a plan or roadmap if your company is going to succeed. But if your business requires you to redraw or even tweak that map on a daily or weekly basis, you probably don’t have a very good plan to begin with.
For effective long term planning, I’ve had the greatest success in taking a small group of key employees out of town for a couple of days to attack a specific problem or objective. Everyone is required to prepare for the meeting, and this preparation plus the lack of familiar distractions gives the group plenty of time to really dig into a subject.
For these off-site sessions, also allow time for unstructured discussion as well, possibly at breakfast or after dinner when you can do some free thinking and spark new ideas for products and processes. Finish the meeting by summarizing the decisions and goals made and the methods established to fulfill these objectives.
Use technology that is available to you.
As you go into a meeting it is a good idea to have an agenda as we discussed and potentially a presentation if needed. For example I have found that using Microsoft OneNote for my meetings is invaluable. It allows me to manage my agenda and then keep notes of the discussion items right at my fingertips. Then I can make action items out of some notes and easily send the post-meeting notes to the attendees. Also if I have some information to present I can easily make a Power Point presentation that makes the data easier for the people attending my meeting to understand. Use this technology to keep everyone on track and your meeting with be more efficient and more useful.
Follow-up on the “action Items” that are discussed in your meeting.
This is the real key to having a meeting. If you don’t do anything with the information you discussed, then the meeting was pointless and probably should have been avoided. Make sure you note each action item and that after the meeting you “assign” that action items to the people responsible. Even if those people were taking notes, if you were the meeting organizer it is your responsibility to remind them and make sure it is clear that the action item is their responsibility. This is another great function of Microsoft OneNote. I can easily mark notes as action items that then show up in my Outlook Tasks. Also even when you have an informal meeting, there will be action items. Those are just as important. It is work taking 5 to 10 minutes immediately after that meeting to jot down the items that were discussed and assign and follow-up on any action items.
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