Every successful company watches its progress. Either quarterly or monthly, managers attend ‘results meetings’. But do these meetings actually produce results? Or are they conducted in a way that waste time and miss opportunities?
A typical meeting
Typical results meetings last hours and are made up of a series of presentations. Participants present the results from the previous period. Considerable energy – hours and even days – goes into preparing the presentations. The detailed presentations include spreadsheets, graphs and explanations. Each last half an hour or more communicating in detail what has happened in the past and giving reasons why the performance has been below or above expectations. Takeaways from the meetings can be put into three categories: communication of performance to the boss; sharing of synergistic information with peers; and conversations about actions to improve results.
What is wrong with this?
If the purpose of the meetings is to communicate information on past performance, it could be more efficiently accomplished by sharing data electronically utilizing software most probably already in place in your organization. If the purpose is to build synergies across functions, many of the details of current presentations are redundant. If the purpose is to communicate actions or urgency about performance, this could be achieved much more effectively through one-on-one meetings with the boss. We have found that most often these meetings use too much valuable time of the participants listening to details that are mainly relevant to the boss. By dwelling too much on the past, future opportunities are often neglected or ignored. The destructive silo orientation that exists in most organizations, where each function strives for excellence often ignoring the overall health of the company as a whole and at the expense of other functions, is reinforced.
A Better Way
Dramatically reduce the time spent sharing information by preparing and circulating a summary one-page performance data and send it out ahead of time. Avoid long presentations on past performance in meetings where detailed information is not relevant to all participants. Focus on solving problems for the future. Build synergy across functions by allocating a short section of the agenda to the review and discussion of information that impact other functions rather than detailed reports: such as what assistance do you require from other areas or what are you doing that is relevant to others.
To improve results, focus on performance exceptions – areas that missed their targets and those that excelled. Require participants to bring solutions in hand instead of excuses for missing targets. This approach requires them to prepare by developing a solution rather than devoting time to prepare the best way of presenting past data in a favorable light – a practice that occurs now in many organizations. Review the actual action plans already developed for those exceptions. Be sure the action plans presented are based on analysis identifying root causes, solution alternatives, action items with deadlines, and individuals responsible to meet those deadlines. When action plans are presented, attendance by those not presenting could be optional, thus saving the time of many executives.
Re-inventing the results meetings
While the above approach will help your meetings become more productive, a drastic improvement requires a new mindset. We recommend defining unique performance indicators for every manager in your organization. For example, the CEO’s indicators are different and more strategic than his or her directors, and the indicators for every manager would be different than those of his or her direct reports. Utilizing the indicators, the meeting is redesigned.
Each natural team reviews the results of the boss’s indicators rather than those of the collaborators. By turning the meeting ‘upside down’ it becomes much more focused and creative. Participants actively contribute to both analysis and a search for solutions related to their boss’ indicators. The meeting is more focused on the future than the past. Participants learn of business processes at a higher level of the organization – processes that embrace their own functions. As they better understand how their function fits in the big picture, the silo mentality diminishes.
This new approach to results meetings changes the assumption behind the existing culture, namely that the role of the manager is to control, direct and manage and even micromanage execution. The new mindset is the opposite. The boss receives input and advice from below to shape his or her view of the course of action to follow.
When the top team reviews the results of the CEO in this new model, the whole team becomes engaged in brainstorming and action planning. In the current model, the top team reviews the results of each individual and other participants are passive listeners.
You might ask how the new model allows for the boss to become aware of the results obtained at the next level. The boss conducts one-on-one meetings with each of his or her direct reports. Not only can they discuss what happened in the previous period, but also review the action plan that the collaborator has already prepared for the meeting – one which has had the benefit of in-depth problem analysis and solution.
Re-inventing the traditional results meeting converts that meeting into two spaces with fewer participants – the team review where the results of the boss are reviewed, and downward one-on-one or vertical review, where the results of the direct reports are reviewed. These twin meetings take place at the CEO level and then cascade downwards to lower levels in the organization. Our book, Total Alignment explains in detail how to establish these twin reviews and greatly increase the effectiveness of results meetings. Visit our website at: www.totalalignment.com.