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Managing Meetings – How to Increase Your Effective Staffing Level by 25% … Without Adding Any Staff!

How many of us dread those needless conference calls where the first ten minutes are spent re-capping what was just said to those that dial in late, and the host asking time and time again, “hi, I heard another beep, who just dialed in?”? And how many of us have thought “I just spent an hour in a meeting that could have been handled in an e-mail?”

Meetings, whether in-person, on conference calls, or the hybrid Skype or WebEx call, take up an enormous amount of any risk management professional’s time. Here’s a rough estimate:

You average four, one-hour meetings a day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year. That is 1,000 hours of your time. If your risk management team is made up of 100 people, all with roughly the same experience, that is 100,000 hours of your risk management time spent in meetings and on conference calls, leaving 100,000 hours for really managing risk.

If you could eliminate just one of those four daily meetings, and reduce two of them from the standard one hour to 45 minutes, and reduce the fourth to 30 minutes, you’d add 50,000 “real work” hours to your team’s year. That is the equivalent of increasing your effective staffing by 25%, without adding any staff.

“Time is a large company’s most poorly managed resource”, writes Michael Mankin of Bain & Co. in a May 2014 Harvard Business Review article titled “Your Scarcest Resource”. Mr. Mankin also writes that while all organizations carefully manage their capital and liquidity, most organizations do not manage their time, which is often squandered on long e-mail chains, needless conference calls, and countless unproductive meetings.

Mr. Mankin offers some wonderful ground rules for how many people to have at a meeting. He writes that meeting size depends on purpose:

  • Weighing a problem – 4 to 7 people. Each person should have a purpose, and neither spectator nor color commentator count as being purposeful
  • Making a decision – 4 to 7 people. And Mr. Mankin admonishes the reader to follow the Rule of Seven: for every additional meeting participant over seven, the likelihood of making a sound decision goes down by 10%
  • Setting the agenda – 5 to 15 people. These should be limited to huddles or stand-up meetings (less than 15 minutes) are best for setting an agenda for a project or initiative. There is no need to get comfortable
  • Brainstorming – 10 to 20 people. Also huddles or stand-up meetings

In an article posted online, Leda Glyptis writes “we spend time calculating how much time we will need to do things we haven’t spent the time understanding. We spend time to question our colleagues’ good intentions. We spend time (heaps and heaps of time) to discuss and mitigate risks, syndicate decisions and allocate resources. We spend time as if it wasn’t money, doing the one thing that is not irreversible for fear of doing a dozen things that are. We squander the one resource that can never be replenished to protect those that can.”  (https://www.bankingtech.com/2018/04/waste-not-want-not-time-as-the-most-undervalued-resource-in-banking/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=fintechweeklycom, “Waste not want not: time as the most undervalued resource in banking”, by Leda Glyptis. Accessed April 12, 2018).

What can you do to squander less time, become more productive, and start enjoying your work more? Here are some ideas to help with meetings and with the main focus of meetings, the dreaded PowerPoint deck:

Meetings

  1. Only accept meeting invitations where there is an agenda, purpose, and you have a defined role. Otherwise, you are a spectator (or, even worse, the dreaded color commentator) to your own loss of that time. By the way, sending a note or calling a meeting organizer to question the purpose of the meeting and your expected role and deliverable is a tough thing to do … but it’s worth doing. I once sent a “decline” response back to a meeting organizer with a note that I was declining the meeting for me and one of my team members because (1) another team member was invited and could speak for the entire team, and (2) I had no discernible role. The meeting organizer angrily called me up, accusing me of being disrespectful of his meeting: I told him that I was simply trying to be more efficient and, with fewer people cluttering his meeting, making his meeting better. He had no response.
  2. If there is more than one person from your team invited to the meeting, look very closely at whether both (or all) of you are required participants. If not, decline with an explanation that X can handle it for your team. This also empowers your team members: they’ll appreciate that the boss has put them in charge, even if just for that meeting!
  3. Why are most meetings an hour long? Make all of your meetings 15, 30, or 45 minutes long. If you can’t solve something in less than an hour, you’re not going to solve it. And, as a host of a meeting with some or all of the participants on the phone, remind participants before the meeting that it will start on time, and anyone coming in late will simply have to catch up on their own. Avoid the trap of having the first 10 minutes of every call spent re-capping the first 2 minutes for the people continually dialing in 2, 4, 6 minutes late.
  4. End your meeting 5 minutes early – people will love you for it. And don’t be afraid to end a meeting 10 minutes in if you’ve accomplished what you need to accomplish, or necessary participants aren’t there.
  5. Your meetings should be true to the Mankin Rule of Seven. I’ve tried this – it works.
  6. Don’t invite anyone without telling them the purpose of the meeting, his/her role, and what is expected for preparation, and the deliverables expected to come out of the meeting. People perform better if they are prepared, have a purpose, and know their role.
  7. Look at your calendar: back-to-back (and back-to-back-to-back) meetings are less productive than meetings spread out enough to give you time to prepare before the meeting and act after the meeting (and get to, or dial into, a meeting). So avoid back-to-backs when you can.
  8. Standing meetings are generally less productive than ad hoc meetings.
  9. If you’re a slave to your Outlook calendar, block off time to think each day. Don’t allow yourself to be backed into the back-to-back-to-back days that are becoming all too common.

“Decks” or Presentations (PowerPoints)

  1. PowerPoint may be one of the worst ways, or at least one of the most inefficient ways, to communicate. What takes 10 pages in a PowerPoint deck can be reduced to 1 page in Word.  And in Word, people tend to use things like sentences, and express complete thoughts. We’ve all read that meme about “if Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was done in PowerPoint” … https://norvig.com/Gettysburg/ is the best one I’ve found.
  2. Instead, follow the Amazon/Bezos rule, where it/he has banned PowerPoints for executive meetings and uses narrative-styled, 6-page maximum memos (2017 Annual Report shareholders’ letter, Bezos writes “We don’t do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of ‘study hall.’”). At worst, impose a 10-page rule on PowerPoint presentations. And, when possible, print double-sided and in black and white: help save the planet.
  3. Insist on an Executive Summary that has a problem statement, presents at least two and no more than four options, and a suggested solution. And then understand that few people will go beyond that summary.

The Paretto Principle, or the 80/20 Rule, tells us that 20% of our time provides 80% of the value … which means that 80% of what you do provides very little value. So begin to track what you do, how much time you spend, and whether it really adds value and makes a difference.  But pay special attention to the time you spend in meetings. My guess is that if you worked at it, and gave discipline to your team and those using your team’s time, you could be much more efficient, effective, and happy.  Try it!

(another good resource for learning how to better use time is Laura Vanderkam’s book “Off The Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done”)