I love meetings!
Perhaps I should clarify. I love effective meetings. But, over the years I have been a party to some real doozies. Meetings that ran far longer than expected, meetings that descended into shouting and fighting, meetings that I wondered if they had any purpose, and meetings where I wondered if anyone’s head at all was actually in the same room as I was.
However, I have also been in meetings that I felt were so efficient, so focused, that they almost made me giddy. With many of my early years at Honeywell, fertile training ground for efficiency and execution, I have become a sucker for great process, not wasting my team’s time, and for moving the ball.
The following is a discussion of the most common problems I’ve observed with meetings. They are framed by using 3 segments of a typical executive style team meeting and they include various tips on how to improve performance.
- A) Key Performance Indicator Reviews
Management Tips: 1. Focus on most impactful 2. Accountability to action items
The information presented during the KPI review is exceptionally valuable. It is focused on the areas of the business that are meaningful. I would suggest this informational part of the meeting is valuable, but frequently falls far short of its potential for impacting the business for two reasons. The first is classically defined by the oft-quoted statement, “the enemy of the best is the good.” The use of KPIs is valuable, but the use of focused (no more than 3-5) KPIs is exceptionally impactful. It takes some time to define the very best KPIs, but even if you, as CEO, miss the mark a little here, the increased focus on a limited set of KPIs will mean they get more time and will see greater improvement. (Read 4 Disciplines of Execution for deeper insights into this topic). Secondly, once defined, there must be some action taken and accountability assigned. The executive meeting then becomes focused on holding leaders accountable to the actions they were assigned with respect to those particular KPIs.
Though tempting to descend into discussion relevant to the topic at hand, the meeting stays far more effective if the CEO can abide these principles. If you need some time to discuss other issues that arise, put them in a “parking lot” and quickly schedule a second meeting to address it. Again, the key is a disciplined focus on the agenda and training the team to know they shouldn’t stray. The CEO must train the team to stay focused on the issue at hand.
- B) Financial Status Reviews
Management Tips: 1. Preparation not only matters, it is mandatory 2. Status summaries are best done over email
When properly created, a financial update is better done with a summary email. And a proper email summary is exactly that, a summary. The range of what executives want to see is broad, some wanting less and some wanting more information. To accommodate both, be sure to demand some detail reporting with the summary that the detail-oriented on the team may dive into.
When a good summary email is sent out and executives take the time to read it, then the meeting can focus on decisions that need to be made as a result of the analysis performed and following up on actions taken from the last review.
However, and this is a big HOWEVER, without discipline it becomes easy to let people forget or simply neglect to review the financial report and then waste everyone’s time by having to stop and review it for them again in the meeting. The executive meeting should be used to discuss actions. Creating this mindset among the executives is best accomplished by setting the expectation that people really prepare, and then sticking to the principle, particularly when people fail to prepare. The first time you stop to catch someone up, then discipline is blown. Especially when early in the development cycle of a high performing executive team meeting, I’d rather see a meeting ended prematurely without a decision made than see it descend into an update meeting where time for the entire team is wasted because one person failed to prepare. They are more likely to prepare next time if the meeting is just canceled and reconvened. It won’t take long for a team to “get it.”
Importantly, while I used the Financial Review to illustrate the point of summaries, this principle applies to most meeting segments.
- C) Presentation & Discussion of Current Issues
Management Tips: 1. Focus on decision-making
With respect to decision-making, every item on the agenda should have an executive champion to research and make recommendations to the team. Set the expectation that the champion prepares for the meeting and is prepared with a well-researched recommendation. Don’t let team members believe the executive team wants to have choices presented so that they can debate and make the decision for the champion. Therefore, don’t allow them to get away with asking for a decision without a recommendation. Don’t discuss an item if the ultimate decision maker for that item isn’t there. Otherwise the discussion can’t elevate past discussion and debate. Take that issue out of the executive meeting and have it come back. It is crucially important to stick to the time allowed for the issue at hand. As soon as you let a 10 minute issue roll into 30 minute discussion, people will think it acceptable to do the same on any issue they feel passionate about. Be thoughtful about how much time to allocate, but then stick to the time.
The keys to success here are found in the following approach:
- Briefly (in 2-3 minutes or less) present the issue
- Offer the recommendation
- Discuss the logic that went into the decision
- Ask for support in the recommendation
- Allow time for debate, but stick religiously to the time allowed
- Summarize and make a decision to Go, No Go, or Do More Research and come back again
- On issues you feel comfortable doing it with, feel free to tell the champion, “Bob, this is your call. What is your decision?” But don’t make the mistake of letting them make the decision and then overruling it. If there appear to be too many dissenting views and the issue is significant enough, the CEO should say, “thanks for the input”, make the decision and ask for others to respect the decision.
There will always be exceptions that won’t fit nicely into this paradigm. In that case, plan a separate meeting and set the expectation that a deeper discussion and debate is needed and it is relatively open ended.
To summarize, the following are the fundamental principles to live by to operate an efficient and impactful meeting:
- Stay truly focused on the impactful issues and create a culture of accountability
- Provide updates via email before the meeting
- Expect people to read updates and prepare for discussions
- Cancel and reconvene when people aren’t ready…and don’t sacrifice this principle
- Allow quantified time for debate and then focus on decision making
- Decisions should be proposed in the form of a recommendation by the owner of the action
David Chase, Managing Partner at Advanced CFO Solutions, has experience in small to medium private companies and large public companies as a senior operational and financial leader. With 16 years in finance, a CFO of multiple entities and divisional EVP experience, Dave has a breadth of experience. Dave has led or been instrumental in raising multiple rounds of equity and debt in excess of $450 million.