How to make the most of business meetings
Does the announcement of your company's next office meeting trigger a spontaneous rolling of eyes among your employees? Are you noticing unusually high absenteeism on the days that these meetings are scheduled?
If you answered yes to either or both of the foregoing questions, it's a fairly safe bet that you need to do some work to make your company's office meetings more productive and, hopefully, more appealing to all participants.
You're not alone
If it's any consolation, your company is hardly the only one suffering from what BBC Capital columnist Sydney Finkelstein rather aptly labels "meeting malpractice."
Finkelstein suggests that if you find yourself "seated around a table, listening to people you don't really want to hear from saying things you don't really need to know," then odds are your company meetings have fallen victim to this very insidious strain of malpractice.
While there are many things that management can do to reverse the damage caused by meeting malpractice, Finkelstein and others who have weighed in on the subject all seem to agree that having an agenda for every meeting is absolutely essential.
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What is the meeting's goal?
Look at it this way: A worthwhile meeting should have a goal of some sort; perhaps even multiple goals.
If no such goals exist, then there is really little rationale for holding a meeting at all, unless you're operating under the flawed notion that getting together periodically is good way to promote team spirit.
Sadly, though, it appears the reverse is true. There is probably no more effective morale-killer than required attendance at a meeting that accomplishes nothing.
Requiring an advance agenda for each and every one of your company meetings has multiple benefits.
Perhaps most importantly, it requires the meeting organizer to define clearly what issues are to be discussed. It also allows those who will attend the meeting to consider in advance all relevant issues and perhaps do some brainstorming of their own to come up with possible solutions to problems the company is facing.
Roadmap for the meeting
The agenda spells out in logical steps the areas of discussion and action that the meeting is to cover.
One of the important side effects of requiring an agenda for every meeting is putting an end to meetings held on a regular basis just for the sake of meeting, whether or not there are important issues to be tackled.
Apart from demoralizing employees who find themselves summoned into a conference room to listen to other people talk; pointless meetings can be a significant waste of time and money, which might otherwise be devoted to productivity.
If you doubt the accuracy of this, here's a good way to estimate the cost of meetings. Mentally, tally the approximate hourly rate of all attendees at your next meeting. Then multiply that total by the number of hours (or portions thereof) that the meeting runs. Adds up, doesn't it?
Consider online meetings
Because even smaller companies today may have key personnel at remote locations, online meetings are becoming more commonplace.
The sharp rise in telecommuting is only one of the reasons why online meetings are the new normal. If you have employees in multiple locations and an upcoming meeting addresses issues that are pertinent to their operations, then an online meeting is clearly the way to go.
Another suggestion that can lead to more productive business meetings is to use greater selectivity in who's required to attend.
Consider the goal of the upcoming meeting and then carefully identify staff members who should be there and those to whom the proceedings are clearly nonessential. This way, you avoid wasting the time of those employees who don't need to be there and can make a greater contribution by continuing their normal work routine.
Stick to agenda
It should probably go without saying, but at the risk of redundancy let’s suggest that it's incumbent on the meeting's moderator to see that the agenda is strictly followed.
Don't allow a meeting to devolve into a free-for-all in which almost anything is discussed and nothing is accomplished. And that's what's likely to happen if the meeting departs markedly from the steps outlined in the agenda.
For each meeting, someone should be delegated the responsibility of taking notes to chronicle the matters discussed and the actions taken or proposed.
Generally speaking, a productive meeting ends with consensus on one or more action steps that must be taken to deal with the issues under discussion.
Each action step should be delegated to an individual employee or a team of employees, and ideally each action step should have a deadline set by which time the action should be completed.
Just so everyone is on the same page, it's a good idea for the moderator to wrap up the meeting with a quick summary of the matters discussed and the specific actions that are to be taken. If -- but only if -- a follow-up meeting is required, set a tentative date when concerned parties should reconvene.
As a business owner, what do you see as the pros and cons of your company’s meetings?
About the author
Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of business and personal finance topics.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.