Should You Axe Your Meeting Agenda?

If you ask the smartest and most experienced leaders what’s one thing that makes their meetings successful — most will tell you it’s having a clear agenda. But contrary to this popular point of view, we regularly see off-sites, strategy sessions and team meetings being held hostage by an agenda — rather than liberated by it. Here’s why.

When a meeting is oriented around an agenda, the focus becomes making sure that all the topics listed are talked about in the time they have been allotted.

This means that if item X is scheduled to be discussed for 15 minutes, from 10:15 to 10:30, that’s what happens. But what if item X turns out to need an hour of conversation? What if the dialogue around item X is so engaging, compelling and important that people want to keep chatting about it beyond the allotted time frame?

In most cases, the discussion, regardless of how important or meaningful, will be tabled to a later date to make way for the other scheduled items on the agenda.

The opposite is also true. If item X is slated for a 15-minute discussion, but really only requires five minutes, rarely will the agenda be adjusted. In most cases, the team members will simply fill up the time talking about the less important aspects of the item until the designated time is up.

So instead of having your meetings be oriented around a set agenda, with topics and the time allotted to them, we suggest orienting your meetings around the outcomes and results you want to accomplish.

The difference looks like this:

In an agenda-driven meeting, you have 30 minutes allocated to discussing the budget.

In an outcome-oriented meeting, you declare the objective of having everyone agree on how to reduce the budget by 15%.

So the next time you want to have a powerful meeting oriented around results, ask yourself:

  1. What are the specific outcomes I want this meeting to achieve?
  2. What results do I want to come out of this meeting?
  3. What are the most important results I want to walk away having accomplished?

How have agendas impacted your meetings? I would love to hear your comments.

Balancing The Budget And Employee Morale

When times get tough, most executives move to cut costs, reduce resources and shore up company savings. And while focusing on financial issues in the short term is important, this is often done at the expense of the long-term health of the organization.

In a weak economy, it’s of critical importance that leaders practice “giving back” to the company culture, even as things are being taken away.

In our experience, it’s deflating and demoralizing to a workforce when things are only being taken away and nothing is being put back in. Leaders often underestimate the level of upset brewing among staff and even misread the fact that people are not complaining to mean that they are not bothered by the current state of the company.

Worse still, some leaders take the position that since the job market is tight, people cannot leave so there is no need to take care of them.

These conclusions ultimately lead to a situation where, when the market does come back and opportunities open up, employees — who are resentful of how things were handled during the difficult times — leave.

Even in the face of reducing expenses, you need to infuse conversations with energy, confidence, hope and a sense of the future.

One important thing you can do to maintain employee morale and balance things out as the budget gets rightsized is to rally everyone around the new strategy. Start by telling employees the truth about how things are — even if the news is bad, they can handle it. Involve them in the process of fixing and improving things, developing new products and finding new customers. By having the courage to be sincere and transparent, you cut rumors and speculation off at the pass and engage employees’ commitment to both deal with today’s reality and plan for tomorrow’s recovery.

What are you doing to strike a balance between budget constraints and employee morale? We would love to hear your comments.


How To Cultivate Strategic Thinking In Your Company

It’s very easy today for people to become paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. This places a greater demand on leaders to keep staff focused on the prospect of a brighter, yet plausible, future. This week’s post examines how managers can do this by helping their staff learn to think strategically about the company and their own careers.

We have found that encouraging strategic thinking from the top of the organization to the shop floor is largely a matter of executive action and intention. In our experience, when executives make strategy development an activity exclusive to the top members of the organization, they discourage strategic thinking.

Specifically, executives and managers stifle strategic thinking by not actively being open to others’ feedback, pushback and ideas. When people feel that their suggestions are not being met with receptiveness, they will not participate in a strategic discussion even when given the chance.

To overcome this dynamic, we advise getting everyone in the company involved in strategic conversations. If you demonstrate that you are committed to other people’s ideas by incorporating and promoting them, you will encourage people to think strategically.

One easy process is to pick several areas where you want to create a breakthrough in performance and form teams. Gather people from varying levels and departments, creating a blue team and red team for each desired area of breakthrough. Then have a friendly competition for ideas on how to achieve the desired leap forward.

To encourage maximum strategic thinking, tell the groups that you are looking for “out-of-the-box, yet plausible” ways to take the organization to the next level.

Another common contributor to hindered strategic thinking is asking your staff to always put forth their tactical ideas, but never their strategic ones.

Executives can encourage higher-order thinking by making sure meetings are balanced out between time dedicated to discussing long-term strategic issues and short-term tactical ones. One of the biggest complaints we hear in companies is that all the meetings are about tactical items. Employees complain that time is never spent having conversations about the bigger picture and longer-term issues.

What can you do today to encourage strategic thinking? I would love to hear your comments.