Meetings are not sacred. Cancel a few, right now!

Last week I wrote about the scourge of lateness that plagues business these days, and I gave meeting start-times as an example of the disrespect many people show their colleagues. That blog post created a storm of comment, and some of the discussion centered on meetings themselves, and what a waste of time they can be.

And in recruitment, don’t we love a good meeting? Job meetings, status update meetings, talent updates, pipeline reporting, key account meetings, sales meetings, management meetings and finance meetings. The list is endless.

And here is the thing. Many of these meetings, some would argue most of them, are a total waste of time.

No doubt there are thousands of books, articles and training courses on how to run a good meeting. I don’t propose to emulate these. But let me share with you what I have found works in making meetings more effective in the recruitment business, be you a junior team leader trying to herd a group of recruiters, or the CEO determined to impose order and direction.

  • Meetings are to start on time. Meetings are inherently dubious because they take us away from our customers. If you keep a group of 10 of us waiting 15 minutes to start a meeting, that is 10 x 15 minutes = 150 minutes. Essentially three hours wasted, when we could have been servicing clients and talent, and generating revenue. That’s unforgivable. So, if the meeting starts at 8am it starts at 8am. Those who come late are clearly and publicly reminded of the meeting start time, and we would appreciate them getting here on time, next time. We do not go back to brief latecomers on what has been discussed. They can find out later. Why should we waste more time for people who did get to the meeting on time? Those who arrive obscenely late are asked to come to the next meeting as they have missed this one.
  • The underlying theme of every meeting is “How does his meeting help our customers”. Ask the question every 20 minutes. Hang a sign on the wall asking that question. Give everyone the right to ask that question if discussions go off track. If the meeting becomes too internal, too waffley, simply call the meeting to an end. Seriously. Meetings are not sacred.
  • Have a time limit for every meeting, publicised beforehand. This meeting starts at 9am and finishes at 10am, if not before. Never allow it to go beyond the set time. This allows people to plan the rest of their morning efficiently, and it focuses the discussion wonderfully to ensure you get through the agenda swiftly, focusing on the important stuff.
  • Have an agenda and invite all attendees to contribute to the agenda beforehand. If the topic is not on the agenda, it does not get addressed. This approach is really effective in ensuring people prepare their thoughts, and stops all those meeting ‘hijackers’ raising irrelevant topics on the fly as it occurs to them. Very disruptive.
  • Contributions from attendees must be limited to discussions where decisions or strategies result. This is important. NO waffle, no grandstanding, nompostmortems or war stories. So the meeting convener says, “ How does this lead to us agreeing a strategy for XYZ”? If it does not assist in that direction, move on.
  • When chairing meetings, move fast through the agenda. Don’t get bogged down on petty and small points. Make sure the meeting has a purpose and a result.
  • Delegate tasks coming out of the meeting to consultants or attendees. You, the manager, doesn’t end up with 20 tasks. If some one has suggested sponsoring the local football team is a good idea, and the group agrees, the person who raised the idea gets the job to research and cost it and come back to the next meeting with a proposal. This is a great tactic because it quickly results in people only raising items they are passionate about. Because if it flies, they get to do the work! Self-regulating, I find.
  • If possible have all attendees get to the meeting having had some prep to do. Especially if they have nominated agenda items. Make sure they have to present the topic and sell their idea.
  • If you prepare for a meeting and find there are few or no burning issues to discuss, cancel the meeting! Meetings must result in definable outcomes and actions steps, which are tabled and followed up at the next meeting. If there are no issues, then it’s better to can the meeting and spend more time with customers.

One of the best meetings I attended recently was a job meeting at 9am in our Tokyo office. The purpose was to cover open orders, highlight fresh new talent and set goals for the day. The meeting was held standing up! Fantastic. Everyone stood there, delivered their news, shared their issues and 15 minutes later it was over and on with the day!

Great meeting.

Finally here is a great tool.  Set up a laptop on your meeting table. Enter the $ figures into the tool and watch the cost of your meeting rise in real time.

The cost of your meeting!

Meetings are about outcomes that improve the result for customers. Seriously, what other purpose is there?

About Greg Savage

Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as a global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.

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11 Responses to Meetings are not sacred. Cancel a few, right now!

  1. Alban June 15, 2010 at 10:24 am #

    In my previous company, the GM loved meetings for just about anything under the sun !! He then went a step further by introdcuing SWOT analysis for each of them. I remember a consultant coming up with the meaning of SWOT – Simple Waste of Time.

    Thanks Greg, I especialy love the standing up meetings !

  2. Jeff Andrew June 15, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    My current MD (Company owner) is never available for a discussion and even when he calls meetings he delays them by arriving late or not at all (even if he is in sight).
    Yet when he holds a meeting it is a long playing diversion from the agenda (if there is one).
    I have started demanding an Agenda and demanding we stick to it and the timing. This is OK (and has helped) when he turns up but he still is slack at that.
    I pray for am agenda driven, on time meeting. If only I was in charge!
    Jeff – Director

  3. WP June 15, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    Great post and “the meeting”has become a personal source of great irritation. As I read on Twitter before “Meetings breed more meetings”. I was recently involved in a Sales Meeting, then had to write an email of what was discussed in the meeting and another spreadsheet to double that up!! Why hold the meeting in the first place – just cancel the thing.

    I like your term “hijackers”.

  4. Adrian Priddle June 15, 2010 at 6:20 pm #

    Great practical ideas on meetings Greg, I particularly like the focus on purpose of the meeting and challenging this as you go through. Too often meetings are populated with ‘violent’ agreement from people just wanting to rephrase things. One question, presumably your points on strategy and decisions would be relaxed where the purpose may be innovation or brainstorming. This might require people to go off on thoughts that aren’t immediately relevant in order to find new ideas? Interested in your thoughts on bringing that sort of innovation into meetings.

    • Greg Savage June 15, 2010 at 6:57 pm #

      Hi Adrian, yes you are quite right about “strategic” type discussions. There is definitely a place, indeed a need, for those meetings too – and in that forum open brainstorming and creativity is encouraged. Some meetings may be solely set up for this purpose or you might allocate 20 minutes at the end of a meeting for “free thinking”. Good point

  5. Nick Edwards June 15, 2010 at 6:35 pm #

    This post has just hit the spot with me, I work for a company that has a meeting about every little thing. Our weekly team meeting (we are a company of 6 staff) could last up to 3 hours, every Monday plus all the other meetings that came off the back of that one

    They never start on time, discuss everything to the Nth degree and achieve nothing. Coming from a fast-paced agency background where a 30 mins meeting at the start of the week was all that was required finds me at time banging my head against the wall

  6. GB June 16, 2010 at 9:14 am #

    A clear theme emerging here…wasted time. I’m looking forward to you sharing your views on the time staff spend reading industry blogs…

  7. David Beattie June 16, 2010 at 10:21 pm #

    I lived and worked in Japan for 7 years. Trust the Japanese to do it right. They don’t muck around. Standing up. Brilliant.

  8. Mark Hender July 13, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    Greg, this is my favourite topic. I now only meet with one person at a time (my direct reports) where I can focus on individual results/issues and give direct feedback and encouragement.

    Group meetings are for birthday morning teas and end of month drinks.

  9. Tom Riesack July 29, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

    Greg, as I am teaching new consultants the basics of their trade, one of the things we do in a 3-day course is train how to prepare, conduct and close meetings in the most sensible and least time-consuming way – so all of the points ring so true. And looking at my own work I am more often than not trying to avoid meetings if not absolutely necessary. Especially weekly status updates, etc. can at times be trying… 🙂


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