The Elephant In The Meeting Room
There’s a silent epidemic going on in business world, and it’s happening in every company, city and country.
Let’s face it, we’ve all walked out of a business meeting or two thinking:
‘Why was I even there?’
‘We achieved nothing’
‘That’s an hour and a half of my life I’m never going to get back’.
Hopefully it was a meeting you were invited to instead of a meeting that you were chairing!!
How many meeting agendas include empty words like ‘recap, discussion, review’ that lead nowhere and achieve nothing? Do you see many agendas that are unreasonably long? How many times have you attended a meeting with no agenda at all? Worse still, how often do you attend meetings with no clear purpose or objective?
HARVARD conducted research in August 2017 asking 182 senior managers across a range of industries about the meetings they attended they said that:
- 71% of meetings are unproductive and inefficient
- 65% said that these meetings keep them from completing their own work.
- Professionals who meet on a regular basis admit to daydreaming (91%), missing meetings (96%) or missing parts of meetings (95%)
- 39% of meeting participants admitted to dozing off during a meeting
- Over 70% brought other work to meetings
The US alone has around 11 million formal business meetings every day with an estimated $37 billion dollars spent on unnecessary meetings every year.
In the UK, the average businessperson attends 207 meetings a year, adding up to 636 hours, according to Powwownow.
It gets worse.
Meetings are expensive.
According to RealBusiness.co.uk, ‘The average meeting of six people costs £394.80, once salary, cost of travel and time out of the office is taken into account. By comparison, a conference call of the same nature would cost just £46.44.’
Even if it’s just the conference call, if you were to pay the £46.44 out of your own pocket, would you still go ahead with the meeting?
Now: keeping in mind how expensive the meetings are, consider this statistic: 63% of meetings have no planned agenda (according to a research by Attentiv).
So think about your own company … how many meetings will be held internally and externally today … 50? / 100? / 1,000? More?
Everyone already knows there’s a problem
So, hands up who thinks an extra couple of meetings in their diary every day would be great?
Even without being aware of the statistics cited above, we all know there’s a problem.
It’s the curse of the business world.
When you think of business meetings in general, the perception isn’t that it’s going to be time well spent achieving great things, with everyone benefitting from the process. The kneejerk reaction to the idea of a business meeting is one of ‘That’s another hour I’m going to need to spend in a meeting room instead of out there, helping my clients achieve success‘.
It is a difficult thing to measure, but if you think of just how many meetings are taking place only today, in your company, your city, the country as a whole etc.
It’s in the multiple thousands, hundreds of thousands if not millions.
So the serious question is … in all these meetings that are happening today as you read this article how confident are you that:
- Everyone at the meeting needs to be there.
- There is a clear objective and reason for the meeting.
- An agenda is used to ensure that the meeting stays on track.
- The meeting results in agreed actions and next steps for all who attend.
It’s shocking how often people miss these simple 4 steps.
As a result, the following spreads out like a disease in your organization:
- Meetings are called to discuss if there is a need for a meeting, or to review a meeting that just took place.
- People are invited to meetings and they don’t need to be there.
- Often, people who call meetings, do so in order to justify their existence in the organisation.
- Meeting organisers hide behind the excuses like: ‘we need the buy-in from the team’, or ‘meetings are great for team bonding’.
- It’s acceptable to be late to the meeting. It’s equally acceptable for the organizer to wait until everyone gets there.
- The standard length of a meeting is 1 hour. When was the last time your meeting was scheduled for 20min only, or broke out early?
- Even though the standard meeting steals an hour from your diary on average, it usually overruns.
- Why? Because discussions are hi-jacked, people go off on a tangent with no structure; people start ‘thinking out loud’.
- Consequently, the next steps aren’t agreed. Inevitably, the organiser will feel the need to call another meeting to finish off what’s been started.
- What could be achieved in simple 30 – 45min meeting, without preparation, planning and a clear execution now takes 3 1-hour meetings to achieve.
- If, by way of a miracle, there’s any time left, you often hear: ‘We have 15min left, what else can we discuss?’
- Lengthy recaps are a norm, yet they often fail to underline the ownership of tasks and next steps (if at all established in the meeting in the first place).
It’s a silent epidemic.
Everyone knows this is happening.
Everyone knows that if they were honest with themselves, out of the thousands meetings that are happening today, the vast majority are a complete waste of time and money.
People are trained on customer service, account management, selling skills, but no one is ever trained on business meeting etiquette*.
The fact is that most professionals have never experienced first hand the power of an efficient meeting. They just don’t know it can be done so much better. They are stuck in their comfort zone.
If there ever was time to be efficient, it is now. This is especially the case in the UK, in the lead-up to Brexit. In the time when business is hard, political situation is challenging, and the economy is only just recovering, we are suffocated by the amount of poorly prepared business conversations.
* This is not entirely correct. The Longley Sales Academy does and has been doing it since 1994.
Business Meeting Etiquette
In a fast-paced world where we need to move faster and more efficiently to achieve more in less time … time has become our most valuable asset. And let’s face it – that asset is in short supply.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying business meetings should be scrapped altogether (although it’s a tempting idea). Everyone will agree however, that there’s a fair percentage of meetings that bring zero value to the business, or indeed cost business money.
So what can be done about it? Is it too big of a problem? Do we just have to accept that this huge waste of time money and productivity is just part of conducting business in the 21st century?
It should not and cannot be accepted.
So how do you go about changing it?
It’s not that complicated. For some reason we have clear code of conduct in our social life. Some things are acceptable, some things aren’t. Yet, when it comes to business, the bar lowers dramatically.
Here’s a scenario for you.
A stranger stops you in the street. He asks you to have a chat with them.
Do you comply, no questions asked? Or do you ask:
Or – most likely – you simply say: ‘Sorry – very busy’.
For some reason, no one ever does that in business environment.
If you are dragged to a meeting, you don’t ask why. You don’t ask the organizer if they have a clear objective in mind. You don’t question the agenda or the unrealistic length of it.
The good news is I’m going to share with you the code of conduct that the most effective and productive meetings follow so that you can avoid running and attending the types of meetings that make you want to stab your leg with a sharpened pencil to stay awake.
It’s simple. It’s also common sense.
Every meeting needs a PPP.
- PURPOSE: Decide and share the purpose of the meeting together with how will the attendees benefit from attending. If there’s no benefit for an attendee … they don’t need to be there.
- PROCESS: Share a process or agenda for the meeting. Limit the agenda to three main key points. No one wants to go to a meeting with a 40-point agenda … life is just too short. A 3-point agenda sounds like a quick meeting and will get everyone’s focus from the start.
- PAYOFF: Share the expected outcome of the meeting at the beginning of proceedings so that everyone knows what you are looking to achieve.
That’s it, why are you all there, what are you going to discuss, what do you expect to achieve in the time available.
“It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time” – Elon Musk
One final thing … do you want to avoid your next coma-inducing meeting? Next time you receive invite ask these three questions before you say yes:
- What’s the meeting about (what’s the purpose)?
- What will we be discussing (what’s the process)?
- What are we looking to achieve (what’s the payoff)?
If they can’t answer these three simple questions how prepared for the meeting are they are how productive will it be? You can then say sorry you’re not available and avoid another 2 hours of yawn-inspiring discussion.
Now, think back to your company, your city, your country. If you think how many meetings are going on today – if every one of them started with a clearly stated objective, the benefit for everyone, an agenda to keep everyone on track, clear next steps at the end of the meeting along with a timeline… If every single meeting was prepared and executed to that standard, how much more successful would the company, city, country be?
“Walk out of a meeting or end a phone call if it is failing to serve a useful purpose” – again, Elon Musk
The only question now is … how many more deals are you going to close with all this extra time you are going to have?