Success Meetings
Invest in "Success Meetings"
(Don't waste money on "Failure Meetings"!)

A few months ago, the Wall Street Journal featured an article (“Stop Wasting Everyone’s Time”). The article reports on data mining analysis by VoloMetrix that found at one company "some work groups discovered they were devoting more than 20 hours a week to meetings". At others, analysis showed that some executives "consume more than 400 hours a week of colleagues’ time, the equivalent of 10 people working full-time every week just to read one manager’s email and attend his or her meetings”.
The most common reaction to such horror stories is to look for articles and tools that help improve "meeting effectiveness". These provide great tips (see "Great Meetings"), but meeting "waste" is more than just poor meeting behaviour. It is symptomatic of wider and deeper dysfunction in an organisation. But leaders must do more - they must transform their organisation from one that spends time and money on "failure meetings" to one that invests in "success meetings".

In this article I’ll explain how an organisation can move from spending to investing.

Meeting Types I, II and III

Of course, meetings play a key role in the management of an organisation and not all meetings are unnecessary or ineffective. However, they can consume significant resources for no benefit, as the WSJ article highlights.

Meetings can be categorised as being Type I (proactive), Type II (active) and Type III (reactive). There is a subtype, SubType A (inactive) that is common to the three types.

Type 1 - Proactive meetings

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In Proactive meetings a team sets the scene for future success. Proactive meetings could be, for example: a strategic planning session where the organisation’s strategy is developed and confirmed; an “all hands” meetings where a leader or leadership team lays out the organisation’s strategy for all employees to understand, appreciate and absorb, or; an improvement team’s initial meeting where the charter and the project plan are developed.
Proactive meetings are the most ignored, but have the greatest impact. A few tips:
  • All changes — no matter how small — should be undertaken using a project management approach; this doesn't need to be burdensome — there are many simple task and project management tools free on the internet
  • A project management approach requires a plan, but it's not the plan that's important, it's the planning; don't just pick up a template and start filling in the blanks, get together with the team or useful others and thrash out what needs to be done by whom and when
  • Don't use Gantt charts, use a network diagram; Gantt charts are for communication, PERT and CPM are for planning
  • Seek meaningful commitments from anyone involved or necessary for success; if you need "senior management commitment" tell them explicitly what that means and what you want them to do.

Type II - Active meetings

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An Active meeting is one where current activity is reviewed and progress assessed. Examples include: a quarterly review of execution of the strategic plan; a sales operations meeting reviewing sales against budget, or; a “Check” session within an improvement team's “Plan-Do-Check-Act” cycle.
Type II meetings, like Type I meetings, are generally "success" meetings. But, if you have too many of them and not run them well, they'll become "failure" meetings.
Type II meetings are easy to conduct; the hard part is making sure they are conducted and that they are conducted well (see the "Great Meetings" Infographic). One tip: assess the effectiveness of the meeting every time it's held (see "Great Meetings") - there are tools and templates on the internet that will help.

Type III - Reactive meetings

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In a Reactive meeting, strategic or operational “failure” is considered, where failure is a significant and unexpected deviation from plan, budget or strategy. They could be, for example, related to a product recall or as a result of a market backlash against the premature release of a new product; the loss of a significant sales opportunity that was considered to be “in the bag”, or; a rash of customer complaints. Reactive meetings indicate that the organisation has wasted money, resources, employee engagement and/or customer goodwill and organisation reputation. The level of waste hidden within an organisation is widely accepted as being between 30% and 50% of revenue or budget. It can up to around 100% if opportunity costs are included.
Even Reactive meetings should be well run, but the way to avoid them is to hold more and effective Proactive and Active meetings!

SubType A - Inactive meetings

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Within each of these categories is a sub-category - Inactive meetings. These are meetings that are so poorly conceived, conducted and considered in follow-up, that they constitute “failure” in their own right.
Inactive meetings are readily addressed using the meeting effectiveness tools mentioned above, particularly if you adopt a continuous improvement approach (see the "Great Meetings" Infographic)

More revenue and lower costs - Move from spending on failure to investing in success!

Great Meetings CCC
Leaders can readily reduce costs through the elimination of inactive meetings using a regime of improving meeting effectiveness. This should focus on:
Consideration – the need for the meeting is confirmed before it's called; clear and appropriate objectives set, an agenda with appropriate content and flow; post-meeting its effectiveness is reviewed, minutes circulated, action items completed.
Conception – necessary attendees invited; material distributed well beforehand and read
Conduct – well run and orderly, all attendees punctual and involved, agenda completed on time, minutes taken, action items assigned and accepted;

Sales Time
If these meetings involve sales people and others who are actively involved in selling, then improving their effectiveness frees up more time (almost one whole day according to much research) for sales people to grow revenue. The graph shows how sales people in high performing organisations spend much more time (in hours and as a percentage of total hours worked) with the customer than those in low performing companies.

To SELL MORE and SAVE MORE, a leader must ensure that expenditure is shifted from the waste associated with reactive meetings to investment in active and proactive meetings.

Meeting CoQ
That is, they must boost the amount they invest in "success meetings" and so reduce the (greater) amount they spend on "failure meetings". This is a more challenging task than simply improving meeting effectiveness by the elimination of inactive meetings, but is eminently feasible. It involves two strategies:
1. Eliminating reactive meetings by incorporating contingency planning into proactive and active meetings
2. Continuous improvement of key processes to eliminate “surprises”.