Strategic communication begins and ends at the very top of the organization. The leadership teams of the companies I work with, when asked about the quality of their meetings on a scale of one to ten, average just under a four. Most of these companies have been in business well past the small business death trap of three years, and many are on second generation cycles and are considered to be top tier in their respective fields of endeavor. So why are their meetings so bad?
While we are all familiar with the phrase, “Death by PowerPoint,” we should not believe PowerPoint software and the presentation itself are the culprit. The real culprit is the nature and context of the meeting that the presentation is built into. What I experienced in my own firm, and what I see in these low scoring meetings, is that most are called so that something can be “communicated out to the masses,” whatever “mass” is in play that day. So let’s regard the statistics of how effective this style of meeting is, as researched by the National Training Laboratories and presented in their Learning Pyramid.
Passive teaching method retention rates
- Lecture 5%
- Reading 10%
- Audio/visual 20%
- Demonstration 30%
So in spite of the chuckle we get poking fun at PowerPoint presentations, they are four times more effective at getting the point across than simply reading something to our team or lecturing them on it. If they read it themselves, it is at least twice as effective. So then, why would we call a meeting like this?
At my former firm, once we realized that lack of purpose for this type of meeting, we simply cancelled them all until we could come up with a more effective way to do our business. And not very surprisingly, no one missed them! So we backed up the bus and looked into ways we could get our meetings from well below a score of four (which was the case for us) to a level ten.
We did this by changing the format of our meetings to focus on solving the issues, barriers and bottlenecks that were hurting our team and their progress forward. We started having meetings richly embedded in accountability and purpose, and we did this by focusing on the following principles to stay on track and make the meetings more meaningful and effective:
- Same day
- Same time
- Same agenda
- Start on time
- End on time
Moving from passive download format to participatory teaching formats; in the context of the Learning Pyramid, produces a 50 percent retention rate for group discussion. It follows then, that discussion has to lead somewhere, and that is to a solution with a single name holding the accountability to seeing it through.
None of the above principles seem that profound, but their simplicity is what makes them potent. The first two – same day/same time – are critical because it lives on your calendar and everyone on your leadership team and those they interact with can learn and depend on this reality once they know it is steadfast. This alone, versus having roving meetings, will increase attendance, interest and accountability since people won’t continually be trying to remember when the meeting was supposed to be – they will simply know because it will be fixed on the calendar.
The third item, having the same agenda, is similar to the first two in that it takes the mystery out of what is going to happen at the meeting and adds a reliability factor that you need to establish. Wandering agendas, lack of agenda entirely, and many other similar woes are meeting and energy killers. Knowing with certainty what will happen in that meeting and how it flows will have everyone prepared, thus building accountability into the process – because those items from the prior week can easily be tracked and checked in terms of whose name went beside each action step. Most teams have individuals that say they will do a given task in a given time frame, but in most meeting structures, there is no way to simply check on whether that happens or not. In fact, most of us know how that usually works, in that we don’t often remember the task or who took it on until it doesn’t get done.
You have to ask yourself how much time and energy you consume trying to keep track of your meeting initiatives when you do not have a regular mechanism to track and report on progress. We recommend weekly 90 minute meetings, and while that sounds tedious on the front end, if you only had one meeting each week that was productive, can you imagine how much more time you would get back in your day versus rambling from meeting to meeting with that exasperated feeling of no accomplishment that most of us cycle through now?
The next principle is start on time. Simply enough, it’s purely respectful. If a meeting is scheduled and even one person is five minutes late, you have stolen time from everyone else that we there and ready. Multiply those five minutes by your leadership team headcount and it won’t take you long to figure out the fiscal cost, which pales in comparison to the aggravation and irritation had by those kept waiting. Legendary coach Vince Lombardi, a famed disciplinarian; was known for saying “five minutes early is on time – on time is late!” and he famously fined his players for not adhering to that code. Be on time when you agree to meet.
The final principle, end on time, may be the most important. Even with good meetings in place, and more of your time gained back by doing so, most of us have commitments that are waiting for us any time and every time we are meeting. We need to respect this fact and reliably end meetings on time so that our team can plan their day and schedule accordingly. Honor these timing aspects will improve accountability, attendance and attention because whatever still needs to be handled near the end of the meeting will still be there the next week when you reliably gather with the same agenda to tackle that issue.
I recommend canceling all your meetings until you can start getting them right, and respect yourself and your leadership team enough to get your business lives back on course by being more effective, efficient and engaged in the right style to take you to the next level.
Matthew D. Todd is the entrepreneurial operating system (EOS) implementer at Pac Crest Business Engineering, where he works with other entrepreneurs to help them get what they want out of their business. An HVAC industry veteran, he has served on boards in local and national chapters of construction industry associations and is a former president of Lewis River Rotary.