Meetings are a necessary evil. They take up a lot of time, and can be an excuse for people to talk a lot while saying very little. Yet they remain fundamental to keeping on top of your business’ performance. How else can you share important information with the people who are driving the company forwards?
I have spent a lot of time in meetings, and almost as much time trying to work out how to make meetings more effective. Finally, I think I’ve cracked it.
One of the greatest strengths and the most debilitating weaknesses of the modern age is our ability to collect data on anything and everything. This data is then poured into PowerPoint presentations and delivered, slide after slide, at management meetings.
I’ve lost count of the number of three-hour meetings I’ve sat through, as each person shares their KPIs or whatever other metric is the flavour of the month.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand how crucial it is to collect and analyse data. BigChange is built on the understanding that we will harness customers’ data and use those learnings to improve their efficiency and customer service. But there is a fine line between using data to make smart decisions, and letting data drown those decisions.
Time and time again I see data used as a smokescreen in meetings: a way to prove that someone is aware of a problem, while allowing them to avoid actually thinking of a solution. Individuals will come to a meeting with an agenda as long as my arm, listing 20, or 30, opportunities or problems. The following week, they’re back, touting the same list, with only one or two items completed, and another 10 to add to the pile.
It’s time to stop letting the data manage us and start managing the data.
I have come up with the solution.
It is important to review the data but I’m not interested in hearing the numbers unless you’re presenting exceptions. To explain: when you review your bank statement, you’re not interested in the regular outgoings that don’t change month to month – rent, your morning coffee, etc. You are interested in the unusual activity. The big bills that were unexpected. Or the sudden boom in earnings. Those are the details you need to study in order to repeat or avoid a trend. As a business, I want to know if I’m not on forecast. I can’t rewrite the past so I need to know what I must do to avoid x, or make y happen, in the future. Department managers need to review the data and make sure the patient’s heart is beating at right rate, reporting only erratic behaviour.
2.Start the timer
Management meetings must last no longer than an hour. Any more than that and people’s eyes start to glaze over. By setting a time limit, we force everyone to be succinct and to prioritise the issues that are most important. If you don’t raise it in time, you are out of luck.
3.Slash the agenda
Everyone is allowed to promote a maximum of two ideas or things causing them pain. Those issues must be dealt with within an agreed period of time. You can’t raise the next issue until you’ve completed the outstanding tasks. Don’t bring five things to discuss at a meeting because it’s impossible to deal with that volume of problems at once. No company can do that. And then you see people returning with the same problem, again and again, like Groundhog Day. Teams only have a certain capacity to change each week or month, so you can’t hurl millions of ideas their way and expect them to instantly adapt anyway.
This new approach to meetings and data could have huge implications for BigChange. If you complete just one task a week, that’s 50 improvements to the company over the course of a year. That’s huge.
The team here is on board with this new approach and everyone is excited to see whether we can deliver some incredible results. Wish us luck – and share any of your data/meetings hacks in the comments below.