Small Business Transition Blog
Business Meetings: thinking about the process
Call it a character flaw, but it absolutely drives me crazy when business meetings are not run efficiently and effectively.
As a Senior Business / Process Consultant and Analyst, I have had more than my fair share of attending mandatory, useless meetings that to my jaundiced-eye are apparently designed solely with the express purpose of maliciously burning-up the time available for the dozen or so high-priority things I needed to do at that particular moment.
I have often felt like the character Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch in the 1976 movie, “Network”. I want to stand up and shout, “'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!”
And then the better angels of my nature--or perhaps common sense--intervene. And I bite my tongue and try to follow the conversation for any interesting or pertinent nuggets that may accidently fall to the ground before me.
Upon closer and calmer consideration, it occurs to me that the reason many individuals don’t know how to run meetings very well is that people simply don’t know a real, legitimate alternative to approaching these pivotal daily events. Meetings are sort of like your Great-Aunt Hilda’s meatloaf: everyone knows that it tastes awful, but everyone is too polite to buy the old girl some cooking lessons for fear of giving offense.
By “meeting”, I am referring to business gatherings of two or more people, where the participants are convened for the purpose of achieving a specific goal through some sort of verbal exchange where information is shared, and a decision of some sort is made. That decision may be pre-conceived and arbitrary, negotiated and modified, or collaborative. At a minimum, all meetings must be documented. They should include the details of how the meeting was initiated, when and where it occurred, who was invited, who attended, the meeting’s agenda, a synopsis of its purpose, what was said, and its outcome. It should be distributed to all participants for validation of its accuracy and corrected or revised to accommodate the validation process.
If you go onto the internet you can find all sorts of advice on business meetings: how to run a meeting, whether a meeting is necessary, a meeting checklist, etc. For most of us a meeting is, well--a meeting. There’s nothing special about it. All meetings are the same. But is that really true?
Is a quick, informal conversation in the hallway, where a substantive business decision is made or communicated, a meeting? Using the definition of “meeting” above the answer is, yes. All of this begs a number of important questions:” above the answer is, yes. All of this begs a number of important questions:
• How do you know you are in a meeting?
• How do you handle a meeting that was initiated without notice?
• How do you handle an chance conversation that turns into an impromptu meeting?
• What do you do when you are not sure of what the agenda of the meeting is?
• What do you do when you are not the one who initiated the meeting?
• What do you do when no minutes are taken, or when you have no opportunity to validate what was said?
• What do you do if important stakeholders are not present?
This is something that each business owner must seriously consider. A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), available to all employees, should be established that governs what a meeting is and is not, and the steps each employee should take as a meeting participant. Auditing for employee compliance throughout the organization should be initiated
To assist in presenting this idea, I offer my own approach for consideration, in the form of a process flow map:
Some may look at the steps to this process, and say to themselves, “This guy is crazy! I don’t have time to do all of that every time I talk to a customer or one of my employees!”
My response is simply: being in business--the practice of making one's living by engaging in commerce--means entering into agreements or contracts, assuming legal obligations, incurring and paying debts, and to be held responsible for one’s business actions. When you take on a contractual obligation, you need to have documentation, should there be a dispute about the legal obligations agreed to by all parties.
Like caring for your teeth, eating sensibly, and getting enough exercise, if you want to remain in business for a long time, you need to establish a set of procedures for documenting all meetings.
Good business habits--like good personal habits--must be learned, they do not occur naturally.
When we talk about corporate and business culture, we are essentially talking about “muscle-memory” behaviors that have been established within the company. Initiating a process while your company is still relatively small will pay-off in dividends over the years. Many companies have lost contracts or gone completely out of business because they could not prove that a contract was orally modified.
There are other payoffs, too, for establishing a standard operating procedure for a meeting attended by a company employee:
• Issues of fact, expectations, and intent are validated immediately.
• Inaccurate interpretation of written or verbal instructions is quickly identified and resolved.
• The business owner’s time and business resources are not wasted on unnecessary effort
• In the end, more effort can be devoted to delivering quality and value-added
The probability of customer satisfaction will be increased.
Every business needs to consider the return on investment for establishing a meeting SOP. They need to consider, too, the risks to their business of not defining--specifically--what a meeting is and what it is not. They need to consider the cost of not establishing specific steps to substantially document the events that occurred before, during and after a meeting has taken place..
Follow this link to receive a free pdf copy of MCL’s Business Meetings Process and Decision Points.
A complete step-by-step description is as follows:
1. (Decision) Am I having a meeting (Maybe / No)? If Maybe go to #2, If “No” go to END
2. (Decision) Is there an agenda (Yes / No)? If “Yes” go to #3; if “No” go to #4.
3. (Process) Inquire / Discuss meeting agenda details; go to #4
4. (Decision) Do I understand the agenda (Yes / No)? If “Yes” go to #5; if “No” go to #3.
5. (Decision) Has the meeting agenda been validated by all participants (Yes / No)? If “Yes go to #6; if “No” go to #3.
6. (Decision) Are there any stakeholders missing from the meeting (Yes / No)? If “Yes go to #7; if “No” go to #8.
7. (Decision) Should this meeting be postponed or delayed to include the missing stakeholdersmeeting (Yes / No)? If “Yes” go to 21; if “No” go to #8.
8. (Process) Discuss Agenda Item 1; go to #9
9. (Process) Summarize Agenda Item 1; go to #10
10. (Decision) Is there agreement or validation of Agenda Item 1 (Yes / No)? If “Yes” go to #11; if “No” go to #8.
11. (Decision) Is there another Agenda Item (Yes / No)? If “Yes” go to #12; if “No” go to #15.
12. (Process) Discuss Next Agenda Item; go to #13
13. (Process) Summarize Next Agenda Item; go to #14
14. (Decision) Is there agreement or validation of the Next Item 1 (Yes / No)? If “Yes” go to #11; if “No” go to #12.
15. (Decision) Are there Action Items (Yes / No)? If “Yes” go to #16; if “No” go to #19.
16. (Process) Discus Action Items; go to #17
17. (Process) Summarize Action Items; go to #18
18. (Decision) Is there agreement or validation on the action items (Yes / No)? If “Yes” go to #19; if “No” go to #16.
19. (Decision) Will there be another meeting (Yes / No)? If “Yes” go to #20; if “No” go to #21.
20. (Process) Set next meeting date and time; go to #21.
21. (Process) End the meeting; go to #22.
22. (Process) Prepare the meeting minutes / notes; go to #23.
23. (Process) Distribute the meeting minutes / notes to the attendees for validation; go to #24.
24. (Decision) Are there any corrections or additions to the meeting minutes (Yes / No)? If “Yes” go to #22; if “No” go to END.
© Mark Lefcowitz 2014 - 2018
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