by Jeff Mulitalo, Operational Excellence Consultant
Meetings are a routine and predictable part of organizational life. Meetings are so routine that they are often conducted merely because they always have been–becoming entities unto themselves. In some cases, meetings become like a boat having gone adrift–retaining the appearance of its designed purpose but ultimately “without motive power…and anchor or mooring” (Merriam Webster, Adrift). As such, it does not take long until our meetings distance themselves from the intended stream of utility.
Taking a fresh look at how we use our meetings–particularly executive leadership meetings–may reveal some surprisingly simple ways to get more out of leadership time and attention. Every executive should be mindful of meetings on at least three levels:
- Investment. In all likelihood, executive meetings are the most significant recurring investment in any organization. The time and cost (value of time by salary) alone merits special attention.
- Priorities. The substance and execution of meetings is a fairly quick way to determine what is actually important in an organization. Information download and/or merry-go-round agendas may also be indicative of meetings lacking substantive and practical purpose.
- Leadership. In the late 1970s, Antony Jay of Harvard Business Review found that “a meeting is very often the only occasion where…[an] executive is perceived as the leader of the team, rather than as an individual to whom individuals report.”
Suppose that our leadership were to be evaluated solely on the substance of our executive meetings–what would these meetings say about our agency? For government organizations, the demands we face may veer the focus of our meetings to political tides or policy decisions. While these aspects of our work are necessary and woven into our institutions, they may squeeze out our focus on operations–the very thing that may do the most good for us and our stakeholders.
Integrating operations into our meetings can be done in three simple steps:
- Show me the agenda! Meeting without an agenda can be like hitting the gas on a car that is high-centered. The agenda is “by far the most important piece of paper. Properly drawn up, it has a power of speeding and clarifying a meeting that very few people understand or harness.” (Antony Jay, Harvard Business Review)
- Review the Right Data. Every system should strive to have a measurement profile that is reviewed regularly. This would include a system measure (QT/OE) and operational data sets that empower Monday morning management.
- Manage the Portfolio. Portfolio management is a practice that brings focus and discipline to operations management. It is a simple practice of inventorying all improvement ideas, producing a business case for each idea so they can be prioritized, then limiting the number of active projects to those that are the highest priority. That way, the agency can remain focused until most important projects are successfully completed. Portfolio management is also an effective way to facilitate channeled collaboration which integrates the groundwork for effective change management. Opposition to executive decisions has more to do with lacking an opportunity to participate and feel ownership in the decision-making process than it does with final decision itself. Portfolio management does much to engage, integrate, and connect the leadership team to clear priorities.
These three simple steps can help any team prioritize and make optimal use of meetings with an operational focus and will also build staff engagement and ownership.