As I mentioned last week, I am down with COVID and tired, so spending more time reading rather than working. I read Bill Browder's Freezing Order this weekend, and I highly recommend it. However, at the end of the book, Browder says that oligarchs, autocrats, and...
It easy to suffer meeting fatigue, especially at times like this. So how do you reduce meeting fatigue? I think there are several ways.
Do you need a meeting?
It is too easy to have meetings today, especially with Zoom and our lack of social interaction. However, just because it is easy doesn’t mean that it has to happen. Undoubtedly everyone has seen those mugs and memes – “I survived another meeting that could have been an email.” So before calling a meeting, determine several things:
- What is the purpose of the meeting?
- What is the expected outcome of the meeting?
- How needs to attend?
- How long should it be?
If you cannot easily articulate the first two, then you don’t need a meeting. If you can, “Who needs to attend?” should be easy to determine. Keep it limited to only those who need to attend because making it large and wasting people’s time will reinforce “death by meeting.”
Finally, as Leonard Bernstein put it so well, “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.” Keep the meeting short, which keeps pressure on everyone to get its purpose accomplished within the time because no one needs another session.
A Meeting Agenda
Having determined that a meeting is necessary, put together a meeting agenda with time allocation. As Bernstein’s quote above states, you need “a PLAN.” Your agenda is the PLAN. So, lay out all the parts you want to cover in the meeting, the estimated time for each item, and the takeaways. Not the specific outcomes, but that there will be an agreed date, action item, responsibility.
Once you prepare the schedule, share it with the invitees, so they understand the expectations and determine if they need to attend. For example, an agenda could look like the following.
|1||Introductions & Purpose||5 minutes|
|2||Update on project status – Just each step’s status||
||5 – 10 minutes|
|3||Review of those items “Of Concern” and “Behind Schedule.”||Action Items, To-Do List||45 minutes|
|4||Review of meeting outcome and schedule of next meeting if needed||Confirmation of Who, What, and When||5 minutes|
The above agenda provides expectations of the meeting’s purpose, the expected outcomes, and how long the session will last. Without results, the meeting becomes a discussion with no solutions. I remember leaving a board meeting once where I was only an adviser, saying I would never attend another because, to paraphrase Samuel Beckett, “Nothing happens. Nobody commits; nobody is held accountable. It’s awful.”
Now just because we are suffering meeting fatigue doesn’t mean we don’t need meetings. For meetings to have value, they need a rhythm that is a continuous circle of meetings. Each session has a specific purpose, outcome, and time allocation. As Verne Harnish put it, “Goals without routines are wishes; routines without goals are aimless.” If you follow Rockefeller Habits, the 7 Attributes of Agile Leadership™, which I use, or EOS™, meeting rhythms will not be new.
However, whatever meeting rhythm you have, the key is to ensure the relevant data, financial, KPIs, etc. is circulated to all members prior to the meeting. Spending a large portion of the meeting receiving the data through PowerPoint presentations has a number of effects:
- It is just a huge waste of time. We can all read faster than we speak.
- Attendees tend to check out and so miss key pieces of information that may be presented.
- Giving people time to review and process the information will lead to better discussions.
- It increases “Death by PowerPoint,” and an aversion to meetings.
The ideal Meeting Rhythms for a company are below.
The Daily Huddle is a daily alignment meeting that lasts 10 or 15 minutes—done standing. All employees attend, and anyone not present should call in. If this seems complicated, remember General Stanley McChrystal, while in Iraq as Commander of JSOC from 2003 to 2008, did a daily huddle involving 50 people. However, he soon realized that the huddles needed to change to adjust to battlefield conditions, so they were expanded to include 7,500 people and run for 90 minutes.
The purpose is to synchronize activities across the organization and provide a daily forum for activity updates and scheduling. Each team member should contribute. However, it is paramount for the leader (CEO) to make sure it is too valuable to miss.
- Headlines: Good news (personal and business). The aim is to make the attendees relaxed and build camaraderie.
- News: Any news from the previous day relevant to the entire team. Align on the Number One Priority for today
- KPIs: Review yesterday’s numbers and each persons’ progress regarding their stated Critical Numbers and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
- Issues: Any issues employees have encountered preventing them from moving forward on the Number One Priority for the day.
- Rocks: The most crucial task each team member is committed to accomplishing that day. The statement starts with: “Today I will commit to accomplishing…”
The Weekly Meeting ensures the weekly execution of Quarterly Rocks’ sub priorities. This meeting should be 60 to 90 minutes.
Participants should prepare to discuss results, KPIs, accomplishments, Rock updates, and their respective Priorities for the upcoming week. The meeting is not to solve significant strategic issues but to resolve most minor matters relevant to the monthly or quarterly plan and problems from the Daily Huddle.
Maintain focused discipline on the time frame and make every minute count. Reward and recognize good performance
- News: Wins both personal and business
- CEO Update: On the prior week or week ahead. Making the meeting “a not to be missed!”
- KPIs: Did the team have a good week or a bad week? How is the team performing on Critical Numbers? How is overall performance?
- Department-level Quarterly Rocks Review: Is the team on track or off-track for the quarterly goals? What Priorities are going well? What Priorities require fixing? Completed and open assignments?
- Customer/Employee headlines: What are customers saying? What are employees saying?
- IDS: Identity, Discuss, and Solve important tactical or implementation level issues. Use collective intelligence. Action Items and the “To Do” List. Who What When (WWW)
- Close: One Phrase by each attendee summing up the meeting.
The monthly meeting is the foundation of strategic execution. The discussion should start with a strategic training topic as part of the management team’s continual education. Frontline, middle and senior manager should attend, and the organization should use it as an opportunity to transfer leadership DNA.
This meeting is a place to discuss significant issues, which will have a long-term impact on the business. As these issues require more time for participants to brainstorm, debate, present ideas, and actively engage with each other to achieve the optimal long-term solution, the meeting should only be one or two topics identified in advance.
This meeting undertakes a review of the prior month’s financial results and the Rock’s execution status, so it should occur as soon as the monthly financials are available.
- News. Good personal news.
- Monthly strategic training topic(s)
- Wins and Misses. Successes and Misses from the prior and current month relating to the achievement of monthly and quarterly business goals.
- Review of Financial Statements: Monthly focus on Income Statement, Cash Position, and Working Capital.
- KPIs: Executive report out on Critical Numbers, Metrics, Lead Measures and KPI’s.
- Quarterly Rocks Review: On track? What is going well? What needs fixing? Where do you need help? Are there processes and inter-departmental flows that need improving?
- Customer/Employee headlines
The Quarterly Meeting
The Quarterly meeting is a time for leadership to assess a variety of strategic issues. The update and execution of The One Page Strategic Plan drive the agenda. Other topics for discussion and resolution are the team’s interpersonal performance, specific elements of the company’s strategy, top-tier and bottom-tier employees, morale, client success and satisfaction, competitive threats, and industry trends. Focus on the four key areas: People, Strategy, Execution, and Cash.
This meeting focuses on executing the subsequent 13-week “Sprint” toward the next waypoint on your company’s 3HAG. The duration of the session is typically half to a full day, depending on company need. It should occur as soon as the quarterly financial results are available.
- Team Exercise or Icebreaker
- Prior 13 Week Sprint Assessment: Revise incomplete priorities. Review the attainments for the quarter against critical criteria.
- Financial Performance: CFO Report
- Next 13 Week Sprint Plan: Review of 1 Year Goals, 1 or 2 Critical Numbers-Upcoming Year & Quarter, Key Company Rocks, Key Metrics/Lead Indicators
- One Phrase Close
The Annual Strategic Planning Retreat
The annual strategic planning retreat is somewhat similar to the quarterly meeting; however, it is more strategic in scope. Assess the prior annual plan, current realities tested, and formulate a new long-range strategic plan. The yearly retreat focuses on the core ideologies, the BHAG, the development of 3–5-year strategic thrusts that will meaningfully differentiate the company.
The meeting’s duration is typically a whole day to two days, depending on company need, and is held offsite.
There is no need for the plan here as that can be a separate topic; however, in the end, communication of the outcomes to all employees need to be determined. The meeting rhythms should be set annually at the retreat, with the times and dates of all the meetings planned and circulated to everyone that will attend.
All managers should have weekly 1-2-1s with their direct reports. These meetings should be an hour and the discussion focused on:
- How is the employee doing?
- Issues they are facing?
- Issues that the manager sees?
- KPIs and objectives for the quarter and year.
It is best if the agenda is agreed upon beforehand to prepare both the manager and direct report. If both know the topics for discussion, the outcome will be more fruitful, and if not, neither may have the requisite information at hand, making the discussion meaningless. Also, this weekly 1-2-1s are providing continuous feedback to the direct report and allowing for incremental improvements. Thus, at the time of the quarterly, or annual, review, there are no surprises, and no one has to recall what has happened over the last year.
If all those meetings seem overwhelming, I think on reflection it should reduce the number of overall meetings make the remaining ones more effective. Hopefully, with this guide your meetings can be more fruitful and engaging, resulting in better outcomes for the organization, the employees, and the managers.
(c) Copyright 2021, Marc A. Borrelli
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