Monday, 29 July 2013

Meetings – how to have good ones!

Recently a client complained that all their meetings started late, took longer than expected and did not achieve what was intended. This made me realise that most of us are not taught how to hold a meeting – if we are lucky we pick up some relevant skills earlier rather than later in life.

Many people like meetings. It gets them away from their desk, and they have a chance to talk to people they might not otherwise spend time with. And since meetings frequently start late, there is time to chat about holidays, football or colleagues. Anything but work!

Here are a few key points to ensure you have good meetings. (And these points apply to all who attend – not just to the person organising the meeting.)
  1. Agree a mutually convenient time for the meeting
  2. Agree the agenda and the appropriate attendees
  3. Start on time
  4. Minute agreed actions– with timescales and who is responsible
  5. Review the previous minutes
  6. Don’t ramble on – listen, then leave

Make sure the meeting takes place at a time that suits all involved. If you are arranging the meeting, emphasise to the others that you are arranging it to suit them and they are expected to be there on time.
The agenda should be clear and concise – this helps to decide who should attend, and how long the meeting should take. As a minimum it should contain Minutes of the last meeting, Matters arising, Key items to be handled or reviewed, and Date of next meeting.

The attendees should include only those to whom the agenda is relevant. You may want to tell other people the meeting is taking place, but don’t invite them if they don’t need to be there. You can always agree to send them a copy of the minutes. However, if this causes any issues then make sure you handle them face-to-face, not by e-mail! 
How many people regularly spend 5 or 10 minutes sitting around chatting while they wait for meetings to start?

In order to start on time, handle this at a meeting which doesn’t start on time.

Before it gets going, when all the latecomers have arrived (and are still feeling a little guilty, or at least aware of the issue) say to everyone that you would like to ensure that future meetings start on time.

Ask them how they want to handle it. Should you take the chair if the chairman has not arrived? Should you handle minor agenda items until the key people arrive? No-one really feels it’s ok to waste others’ time, but most people will not speak out. If you do, you will find that your approach gets a lot of support.

And subsequently, when someone is late and finds the meeting has already started, you will find that they are better at turning up on time in future.

All meetings need a chairperson and someone (briefed in advance) to take minutes. (And make sure the minutes are sent out right after the meeting. One of my clients – when not persuaded otherwise – regularly sent the minutes out just before the next meeting. How was anyone going to remember what they were supposed to do?)

Minutes themselves are important. While not usually designed to record the discussion in full, they should cover the key items and record decisions taken.

Any actions to be carried out should be clearly allocated, with a timescale. In a perfect world actions should be allocated to only one person – having more than one name against an action ends up meaning that no-one is responsible. If more than one name is needed, clearly indicate the key person in charge.

If the person who should do the work is not at the meeting, make sure someone is delegated to inform them and get their agreement. (This itself becomes an action.)

Very early in each meeting, review the actions from the last meeting. If an action has not been carried out, decide why, whether it still needs to be done, by when, and what impact not doing it has had. (This helps people to understand the effect on the organisation or project if they don’t keep their agreements.)

Projects run late by people consistently not taking agreed action, and this costs companies millions.

Note – if an action has not been done, is it truly necessary? Is it being handled by the correct person?

During the meeting, try to ensure that you and your colleagues only talk about matters on the agenda, and do not ramble on. Also, do not use the meeting as an excuse to avoid going back to your desk. The number of people I know who moan about having too much work and then sit chatting long after the formal part of a meeting is over...! 

At the end, get up, thank the others, and leave.

And let me know how useful you find these points.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Plan before you purchase

Organisations purchase systems for a variety of purposes, usually to make a difference to the way they operate. They might want to save money, generate efficiencies of scale or provide better management information. 

If you intend installing a new system, the best way of ensuring you have a successful outcome is to be clear exactly why you want to change, and to plan appropriately.

Many managers purchase a new system simply because the old one is a bit long in the tooth, but they lack a clear vision about where they are going with the new one. The result is often that the new software barely performs better than the old, and after a few years it, too, is a bit long in the tooth and needs replacing. 

Before a system is selected, the organisation should have a clear idea as to why they are buying it. They should understand the benefits it is intended the new system should bring, thus justifying its cost.

Some time ago I met a manager who was about to spend a large sum of money on a new system. He felt it was time for a change, and he had been given a budget to spend. Various colleagues from IT and Purchasing were assisting him, so the technical process of buying the system could not be faulted. 


Yes, there were lots of new features he might implement, but he had not costed the resources required to set them up. The danger I saw was that he would commit his organisation to a large expense, with no-one having a clear view as to why this money was being spent.

Another customer, who bought an excellent system a few years ago, called me in to carry out an audit of their installation. It was apparent that the company was operating in much the same way as it had before they installed the new software. Adequate management reports were being produced, but few of the new facilities available with the new system had been implemented. 

The system had merely replaced its predecessor –it was faster and easier to use – but a wide range of benefits had been completely ignored. Managers were so busy with their day job that they had forgotten why they had purchased the new system. My main recommendation to this customer was to start using their system differently, getting true benefits from it including reduced costs and better management information.

If you are going to spend a significant amount of money then start with a clear list of benefits which you propose to get from the project. Prepare a plan so that the new features are implemented within an appropriate timescale. 

Then ensure that the project is managed in such a way that the anticipated benefits are achieved. And review the project at the end to make sure you actually did what you intended.

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