How not to run a business (Part 5) — Meeting Edition
In this edition of ‘How not to run a business’, the topic is meetings. Do they help or hurt your business? Let’s explore. I’ll start this one out with a ‘Do’.
Do set up meetings between sales staff and prospective clients
Sales meetings are entirely out of the scope of this article. Sales meetings are the only truly critical and needed business meetings. Sales meetings are also part of a salesperson’s job. So, for sales meetings, bring in anyone who is needed to ensure a deal is closed. If that means bringing in technical staff, then do it. If that means bringing in the CEO, do it. Of course, the personnel involvement level also depends on the size of the deal. If it’s a $10 a month deal, this is probably not worth involving everyone in the company. If it’s a $300,000 a year contract, then by all means create meetings with whomever it takes to close this deal. Sales meetings are the only type of meetings where some of these rules below do not apply. So, keep this in mind when reading through this article. The only other piece of advice I will add that’s outside of the scope of this article is, don’t oversell. That is, your sales team is there to help close deals you can actually support. Your sales team should never close a deal based on something that doesn’t presently exist as a product. Selling vapor products is a huge corporate no-no.
Don’t create a meeting based on personal opinion
Meetings are about communication transfer, not about personal opinions. Yes, we all have opinions, but business meetings are not the platform to express your opinion. You can do this in email or stopping by someone’s desk. Opinions impart no useful information about an objective. Getting the job done and whom handles specific pieces of that job, that’s a valid reason to gather a meeting. Discussing why you don’t like something about the business, that’s opinion and irrelevant to the job at hand. If you have an opinion that leads to a fundamental design change that works to solve a problem, then by all means create a meeting involving the design change, not involving your opinion.
Don’t expect productivity from employees while in meetings
Meetings quite simply halt employee productivity. When an employee is away from his/her desk in a conference room listening to someone discuss something irrelevant to their job at hand, then that is quite simply lost productivity. As a manager or business owner, you hire your employees to be at their desks doing the job you hired them to do. However, if they are continually being required to attend meetings, they cannot be at their desk doing that job you hired them to do. This means that for every minute of time the employee spends in the meeting, that’s minutes you paid for that employee to not do their job and not be productive. Meetings often solve nothing which leads to completely lost productivity.
Don’t expect your employees to make up for productivity lost while in meetings
If an employee spends half or more of their day attending meetings, don’t expect that employee to put in overtime or spend after hours time making up for lost productivity in those meetings. This is a completely unfair work life balance request. You have then asked them to sacrifice their personal time (either on or off the clock) to make up for that lost time spent in the meeting on the clock. Not a a fair trade and is not be expected. If you expect this, you will eventually lose the talent it took you so long to actually find and hire.
Don’t call meetings with people who do not need to be there
Invite only the absolute minimum people you need to any meeting. Everyone else can learn from someone else. So, if a manager has 10 staff, only bring in 1 or 2 staff to attend a meeting and leave the rest at their desks working. Don’t invite all 10 of those staff simply because you want to have a staff meeting. You can rotate your staff through the staff meetings weekly so that each of them participate in a staff meeting at some point, but they don’t all need to be there every single time. Alternatively, sit with your staff at their desks one at a time and spend 5 minutes or so catching up on expected completion times for projects or other deadline work.
Don’t hold hour long meetings
Meetings should be as brief as possible. Fifteen (15) minutes is long enough time to impart most necessary information and simultaneously short enough to prevent the meeting from degrading into a pissing match between several people or other non-related discussions. At the same time, it prevents employees from being away from their desk and not being productive. Productivity is the key to your business success. The more productive your employees are, the more productive your business will be. Lack of productivity can be directly attributed to useless meetings among other time wasters.
Don’t hold (or allow your staff to hold) useless meetings
What exactly is a useless meeting?
- Meetings that rehash existing topics and add no new information.
- Meetings that are simply platforms for employees to express opinions.
- Meetings that discuss extremely distant possible future projects without knowing any exact information.
- Holding excessive numbers of meetings in a single day (leads to meeting overload).
- Meetings that are overly long and overly verbose.
- Meetings that degrade into unrelated topics.
- Meetings that end up with multiple groups dividing and talking at once.
Meetings need to be as long as is necessary to explain a given topic, short enough to limit productivity loss.
Don’t hold meetings every single day of the week
Employees want to work at their desk, not sit in conference rooms doing no work and listening to someone else chatter. You hired your employees to do a job, having too many meetings is wasteful and also means you’re paying these employees for sitting in meetings rather than doing the job you hired them to do.
Don’t allow staff to hold meetings that consume nearly every work hour
When a company gets to a certain size, usually above 100 employees, meetings start becoming excessive. People begin scheduling meetings to discuss any and everything. I’ve been personally pulled into meetings that have consumed every single hour of my work day including, no surprise, the lunch hour. Granted, free food was supplied, but that doesn’t make up for all the work that didn’t get done. This is meeting overload. At the end of the day, you walk away from work knowing you got nothing done and, at the same time, feel like the meetings accomplished nothing. So, it was a completely unproductive day. But, my employer paid me nonetheless. Then the employee comes to the realization that they have about 3 due tasks the day after that meeting stretch. Meetings should not pull in staff who have critical deadlines the next day.
Don’t hold meetings during lunch hour without supplying lunch
If you plan to hold a meeting that spans through the lunch hour, then supply lunches to your staff. Don’t expect them to take a late lunch or skip their lunch as they might be tied up getting other work done and have no time to take a lunch after that meeting. This is both unfair to the employee and can get your business into legal hot water if any employees file a grievance. If at all possible, let your employees leave for lunch and reconvene the meeting after lunch is over or, alternatively, expect to order lunches for meetings that span the lunch hour.
Don’t let your meetings run long
Meetings need to be a predetermined length. Many times, meetings can degrade into a pissing match between one or several people over a single thing. Nip that behavior out quick. Have these employees table the discussion for later or have them take the discussion out of the room. The rest of the attendees likely don’t need to hear or even want to hear those discussions. Additionally, if you are unable to impart all of the information you expected to and the meeting is at an end, schedule a followup meeting for later, but not the next day. Let the people digest what they’ve heard. By the time you reconvene, there may be new information that would have invalidated your extra information (or even the entire meeting). If you can cut your meeting short, then do so.
Don’t feel obligated to use all of the reserved meeting time
If you have reserved a one hour slot, but you are done with what you need to say in 10 minutes, leave the conference room. Do not continue to hold the meeting after 10 minutes simply because you have the meeting room reserved. Let your employees get back to their desks as fast as possible. You hired your staff to do a specific job, let them do it. Remember that keeping people in extended meetings takes employees away from their desks.
Don’t schedule excessively long meetings
Schedule only the maximum amount of time you need to impart the information required. Don’t write a novel sized agenda, set up a 4 hour meeting and expect many attendees. Business meetings need to remain short. The shorter the better. Fifteen minutes is the optimal time. Long enough to get done what you need, short enough to get people back to their desks to become productive.
Don’t expect great things out of meetings
Meetings are a mixed bag. Sometimes they work, sometimes times they fail. I’ve been to many meetings where nothing was accomplished. That is, we were no better off after attending the meeting than before we joined the meeting. If you suspect (or know) your meeting will not bear fruitful results, then bring in the minimum people. If you didn’t realize your meeting would be fruitless, then you will need to understand why the meeting failed before setting up another meeting of that same topic. Don’t continue to press a failed topic if it’s not going anywhere. Drop the topic and move on.
Don’t schedule a meeting between two people
Meetings are intended for 3 or more people unless it happens to be an interview. Two people conference room meetings are a waste. Send email, call them or stop by their desk to ask your questions. Don’t go through the motions of reserving a conference room for two people.
Don’t expect as much produced from a meeting as can be produced from someone at their desk
Employees know their jobs. They know what they are doing. Or, at least they should know what they are doing as that’s why you hired them. Meetings are generally designed to discuss unknowns (how do we do this, how can we fix that, what happened with this, where are we with regards to blah, etc). Some of these questions can be asked one-on-one to the individuals involved and do not necessarily need 20 people together to ask this single question and get this single answer. Taking a number of people away from their desks for extended periods means that the employee are getting further behind in their work for topics that could be better handled in other ways. So, those employees now have to make up that one or possibly several hours of dead time for work that they were unable to do while sitting in a conference room. So, pull in only the people who absolutely must be there. Don’t bring in people who have no participation in that discussion.
Don’t use a meeting as a public whipping post
Meetings are and should be about business topics. That is, topics that further the business along. Meetings are not intended to be used as subterfuge to get people in a room for group tongue lashings. If you need to chastise an individual or group for failing to perform, do this one-on-one with each individual. If you need to have a group fail discussion, then produce an improvement plan. That is, design a ‘Here’s how we can do better next time’ approach. Chastising people without a way to correct the issues is fruitless. This type of meeting only serves to demoralize the team without anything productive from the meeting. Again, if you need this type of meeting, then bring in something positive to the meeting by discussing how to correct the issue and with improvement points for each team member to work through. Putting together a fail meeting solely chastise employees can open your business to legal hostile workplace issues, so be careful with these types of meetings.
Do encourage other communication methods for meetings
With GoToMeeting, Skype, IM and SMS you can easily talk to people in many other ways than holding a physical gathering in a room. Find alternative methods to keep people at their desks. At the same time, they can attend and participate in the meeting when they are needed. Otherwise, they can be productive at their desks. Taking your staff away from their desks for conference room gatherings is the fastest way to lost productivity that you are actively paying your staff to produce. Keep the people at their desks rather than sitting in a conference rooms listening, but producing nothing.