As a top leader of your company, your time is precious and getting the most out of your workday requires time discipline and efforts to generate the greatest possible value for your organisation1. Then, why do so many directors and board members spend their time in inefficient and unproductive meetings?
According to meeting expert, Paul Axtell "meetings are at the heart of an effective organisation, and each meeting is an opportunity to clarify issues, set new directions, sharpen focus, create alignment, and move objectives forward"2. This makes meetings, most of the times, the instrument of choice for leaders. Tobias Häckermann, CEO of Sherpany points out "meetings are the most often used leadership instrument" and explains that "it's the instrument we use as managers, as directors, as leaders to ultimately achieve our overall goals, to lead our teams towards achieving these goals, and if this instrument is getting dysfunctional, we will ultimately not achieve our goals which will result in frustration for everyone involved."
Studies3 are showing that meetings today represent a key tool in determining a company's success: in the past 50 years, meetings have been increasing in number and duration.
At present, executive directors dedicate an average of 23 hours a week to attending meetings, not including preparation nor post-processing, compared to the 60's when they used to spend about 10 hours per week in formal gatherings. Considering this significant increase, many leaders are asking themselves today how many resources are actually invested in their corporate meetings.
While costs in time consumption are of essence, there are other costs as well. If time is a zero-sum game, then every minute spent in unnecessary meetings is a minute lost in detriment of individual work, which is important for creativity and efficiency. Take as an example a company whose weekly meetings last one hour, and are attended by seven of its senior managers. These sessions consume seven hours of managers' individual work. If you multiply them by 52 weeks, then this company spends 360 hours yearly on one weekly session among its top executives4.
Scheduled meetings throughout the week can also take a toll on productivity, as they interrupt "deep work". This, according to Cal Newport, professor of computer science at Georgetown University, is a term used to describe the ability to focus without distractions on demanding cognitive tasks5. If these interruptions are far too often, then people are prone to late working hours, or weekend time dedicated to working on tasks that require concentration and a quiet environment.
If "time is money", meetings are a significant financial investment for organisations. "The estimated cost of unproductive meetings in Europe is 32 billion euros a year. We could achieve more with a better meeting culture." highlights Mr. Häckermann (Sherpany). What better way to assess the return on an organisation’s investment than by collecting data on meeting effectiveness and processes? Estimates suggest that most organisations devote between 7% to 15% of their personnel budgets to this purpose6.
Monetary costs are even more evident when considering top leadership meetings. Using the calculator for meetings7 from HBR, we can easily identify the direct salary costs related to 50 top management meetings a year. If each leadership session lasts one hour and is attended by 8 participants, each with a yearly salary of €120K, and also taking into consideration travelling and materials' costs, such as paper, pens etc., then the 50 meetings would raise up to a total cost of €54.200, out of which €33.600 would be the cost per salary, €5.600 travelling costs and €15.000 materials costs.
In spite of the numerous strategies for improvement and how well these are implemented, organisations do little to assess the return on their meetings investment or take concrete steps to make sure these investments have an adequate return. Wasted time in meetings has direct monetary costs, as well as other costs, such as opportunity ones, which refers to time lost that could be dedicated to other activities8.
For instance, most organisations place few restrictions on who can organise a meeting. The result: these gatherings are scheduled without the smallest consideration of time, or how much they spend. A manufacturing company discovered that a regularly scheduled 90 minutes session with managers cost them more than $15 million annually9. The company taken as an example is, without much doubt, not the only one. This is not to say that meetings aren't relevant for enabling collaboration, creativity, and innovation. They foster relationships, ensure proper information exchange and provide real benefits10.
Turning leadership meetings into powerful business tools is an important step towards greater business accomplishments and the overall success of your organisation. To do so, there are three main axes you need to consider. To begin with, people working within your organisation. What are the practices they follow when it comes to meetings? How do the C-suite representatives run their sessions? What is the general perception of these formal gatherings? And, which are the advantages and the drawbacks of organising them? Conducting an assessment of your company's meeting practices can lead to a clear identification of specific, relevant issues. These can be a strong indicator of where improvements are required to make meetings time- and cost-efficient.
Along with its people, organisation is also key in the endeavour of turning leadership meetings into effective tools. Companies are, hence, required to comply to a clear set of regulations and processes. In today's corporate world, having the best practices implemented becomes a business imperative. An agile meeting management framework is what companies are still missing. It is a set of organisational and workflow patterns to promote alignment, collaboration and delivery across meetings. This is similar to the bones and muscles in the body that give the required stability for an organism to work, and the brain and nervous system that can then quickly react to external inputs.
Finally, automation and streamlining of processes leans on the potential of digitisation. In this sense, technology is a main driver. Organisations that implement correctly technological solutions gain competitive advantage and are more likely to experience increased meeting efficiency and productivity. For instance, Groupe Seb digitised their entire process of executive and board meetings' preparation with excellent results. Sixtine Prouvost, Corporate and Stock Exchange Lawyer at Groupe Seb reveals that "it is no longer necessary to print documents, but that paper savings are nothing compared to the agility and time savings"11. No doubt, when these three axes are aligned, companies start transforming their leadership meetings into management sessions that avoid wasting resources and allow managers to gain valuable time. As we continue to invest time in meetings, let's make them all count. To find out more about agile meeting management and how to increase your meetings' ROI for your leadership teams contact us.
The article appears in its original version in Forbes Italia.
1. Michael Mankins, Chris Brahm and Greg Caimi. Your Scarcest Resource. Harvard Business Review. May 2014.
2. Paul Axtell. Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations. 2015.
3. Steven G. Rogelberg, Cliff Scott and John Kello. The Science and Fiction of Meetings. MIT Sloan Management Review. December 2007.
4. Anna Johansson. Why Meetings Are One of the Worst Business Rituals. Ever. Entrepreneur. April 2015.
5. Eunice Eun, Constance Noonan Hadley, Leslie A. Perlow. Halte à la folie des réunions. Harvard Business Review. April-May 2018.
6. Steven G. Rogelberg, Linda Rhoades Shanock and Cliff W. Scott. Wasted Time and Money in Meetings: Increasing Return on Investment. Small Group Research. April 2012.
7. Estimate the Cost of a Meeting with This Calculator. Harvard Business Review. January 2016.
8. Steven G. Rogelberg, Linda Rhoades Shanock and Cliff W. Scott. Wasted Time and Money in Meetings: Increasing Return on Investment. Small Group Research. April 2012.
9. Michael Mankins, Chris Brahm and Greg Caimi. Your Scarcest Resource. Harvard Business Review. May 2014.
10. Eunice Eun, Constance Noonan Hadley, Leslie A. Perlow. Stop the Meeting Madness. Harvard Business Review. April-May 2018.
11. Laurent Mavallet. Seb dématérialise la préparation de ses conseils d'administration. CIO, August 2018.
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