1. Show the cost
It’s worth exposing the cost of meeting so people understand the value of improving them. Our rule of thumb is that around 25-40% of your organizational payroll is likely to be spent on the hours people spend in meetings. However, the cost of meetings does vary widely across organisations. We’ve built a meeting cost calculator to help you figure our roughly how much your company is currently spending on meetings. And you can track this even more scientifically with our meeting diagnostic.
We think meetings are the biggest hidden spend category in every organization. And only a few organisations are actively managing the effectiveness of meeting spend. Highlighting the costs of meeting to your organization might focus minds. A few effective meeting chairs we know use the phrase “There are a lot of salaries round this table” to concentrate minds on the need to make meetings more productive. Add these salaries up and the huge investment you’re already making in meetings becomes clear.
2. Expose bad practice – with tact!
We measure meeting effectiveness with automated anonymous pulse surveys built on our evidence-based question set. But it’s definitely possible to create simply feedback surveys to gauge how a handful of your meetings are going. Be careful to ensure that people are full and frank in their feedback by really protecting anonymity.
Whatever you do, don’t guess how good meetings are by only asking chairs themselves. We’ve found that meeting chairs systematically rate their meetings more positively than attendees. This is partly for the same reason that around 4 in 5 motorists in the US think they are above average drivers. A bit of over-optimism when it comes to one’s own abilities seems normal – and we call this the fundamental attribution bias. But it’s also because people who set up and lead meetings naturally see them as having at least some relevant to their work objectives.
However many surveys our software runs, we still also love stories. Who could forget that 40 person, 3 hour meeting in which only 4 people actually spoke? Or that time that you actually had exactly the same meeting 3 times with 3 different people? Collect a few annecdotes to highlight the scale of the challenge and how often meetings are currently undermining company culture, wellbeing and productivity.
3. Start small – and show what is possible
Few would disagree that meetings are costly and could be better. But we find that our partners often aren’t confident that they can actually improve things? Change is always daunting but starting small can help. When we work with top teams on consulting projects, we often narrow in on just one regular, high value meeting and start to drive improvements iteratively to get transformational results. Once leaders have felt that meetings can be better, they are much more likely to spread what they’ve seen working. If you lead a team, you can go a step further and build your own meeting sub-culture that starts spreading effective meeting practices by stealth.
4. Scale good practice and create a platform for change
We think our Meeting Lab software and support as the gold standard in scaling effective meeting disciplines across your organization to strengthen culture and productivity. But you can do quite a bit without us if your teams can invest a bit of time and passion. One thing we recommend to all our partners (and often design with them) is a meeting playbook that sets out how you want to approach meetings as an organization. Simply creating some ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ that you then try to spread and stick by will help everyone to realise that meetings are something that all staff need to focus on to make sure work is productive and rewarding.