Do Your Meetings Sabotage Your Profits?
By Don Schmincke
another weekly management meeting. Everyone shows up, sits down, and
takes their turn in reporting progress on assigned projects. At
first glance this looks like a great way to ensure accountability
for performance, but could it be sabotaging your company’s future
this be? Surely something as simple as meeting to track performance
is basic MBA 101 on how to run a company, right? Well, some CEOs
disagree. By challenging the assumption about these types of
meetings they’ve found something remarkable – competitive advantage.
that tracking performance is wrong, but there are other ways to
issue status reports on projects more efficiently. Email, intranets,
and old-fashioned paper can allow data to be absorbed more quickly
than verbal presentations at meetings. Why not use the invaluable
time in management meetings for what we wish we had more time for –
sounds great except for one snag – the problem is we don’t like
revealing problems! We’d rather reveal our “great performance.”
Divulging our problems could make us look weak or incompetent, or
diminish our demonstration of “brilliance” to those who could
promote us. More so, it could open us up for retaliation or
course there are organizations where these could be real fears, but
cultures like these have deeper problems than ineffective use of
management meetings. For the rest of us, using meetings to share and
solve problems versus displaying our “great performance” may offer a
better opportunity to improve such performance.
of organizational successes using this methodology are buried in the
literature, from examples of “skunk-works” projects to the recent
success of Toyota. For example, one manager at the Toyota Georgetown
plant used his time in management meetings to demonstrate his good
performance on projects he was assigned until plant manager Mr.
Fujio Cho (now the Chairman of Toyota worldwide) said to him, “We
all know you are a good manager, otherwise we would not have hired
you. But please talk to us about your problems so we can all work on
them together.” Of course, the rest is history now that Toyota has
surpassed GM. Could it be that Toyota’s meetings were different than
Meetings on Problems Versus Performance: Meetings which focus on
problem-solving versus reporting on good performance seems to offer
companies key benefits such as:
More efficient use of time: Time is scarce and
getting scarcer. Companies that use face-to-face time for
problem-solving exploit the power of human dialogue versus wasting
it on monologues. They create solutions and address decisions on the
issues that matter. Project status reports are important but this
one-way data can be transferred using other more efficient means.
Time is money. Where do you want to spend it?
Higher motivation: Solving problems generates
more positive energy than status reports do. Celebration and
acknowledgement of good performance should be done, but in more
meaningful ways then self-proclamation in short slots of meeting
agendas. When a strong staff is free to expose real issues and work
on them it pulls the team together and lessens the effect of
demoralizing egos on the organizational agenda.
Profits: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to
figure out how Toyota got to the top. Continuously seeking
improvements by finding and resolving problems enhances competitive
advantage in any market. Tolerating a culture that avoids this in
order to “look good” or satisfy personal interests guarantees a
dramatic financial failure. This has toppled the largest of
companies, some whose executives are now facing prison time.
it Happen in Your Company: Shifting your company’s culture to
embrace problem-solving meetings can be tough. It takes more than an
e-mail announcement or a speech. Some ideas include:
Assess management meetings you are now attending and
determine if they really are necessary. If not, distribute data or
information from those meetings using other methods.
If the meeting is important, shift the agenda from
focusing on performance accolades to sharing and solving problems.
Challenge those who “don’t have problems.” Are they
playing hard enough? Are they holding their cards too close to the
Notice the level of defensiveness in the culture. Are
people coachable? Can they disclose issues easily? Can they take
feedback without it seeming so personal?
Start leading by example. Surface your problems first!
This last idea could be difficult, but it shows you are serious. And
it allows you to start challenging the group. Start asking questions
though we are performing well, what’s not working or can be
improved in your department?”
is your greatest personal challenge or concern we should be
talking about today?”
in your area are you having the most problems?”
doesn’t mean that project performance status shouldn’t be on the
agenda. A few accolades can be appropriate, but surfacing and
focusing on problems and projects which are off-course so that the
group can work together on resolving them is critical for sustaining
competitive advantage and profits.
something that everyone is ready for? No. It requires a strong,
confident staff. Only solid teams thrive in an open and supporting
culture. On the other hand, weak teams don’t have the courage to
disclose their issues and accept help. But then, if that’s the case,
perhaps you have another problem.
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