Trylon Communications  - October 2004

What's on your company's agenda?

Some changes in the way management teams develop agendas and structure meetings can make a big difference in your company’s bottom line. A recent Harvard Business Review article (see abstract here) by Michael C. Mankins entitled “Stop Wasting Valuable Time” contained some great tips for making the most of valuable time and resources.

Understanding where we tend to go astray is the first step:

  • Members of top management teams spend relatively little time together and the time spent is often not used wisely - they spend too much time discussing issues that have little or no direct impact on company value.

  • Agenda setting is unfocused and undisciplined - agendas can tend to be the same from meeting to meeting or driven by the crisis of the moment. At times, the agenda may have too much on it to focus on the key issues.

  • Too little attention is paid to strategy - top management meetings aren’t structured to produce real decisions (they are usually held for information sharing, group input, etc.).

These problems can be fixed by improving teamwork at the top. In “Stop Wasting Valuable Time,” seven common techniques are identified for getting control of the situation:

1. Deal with operations separately from strategy - hold separate meetings for each purpose. This will prevent day-to-day operations from dominating the agenda and free up time for strategy debates.

2. Focus on decisions, not discussions.

3. Measure the real value of every item on the agenda - prioritize the items and focus on making a decision on one item that is top priority before moving on to the other items of lesser importance.

4. Get issues off the agenda as quickly as possible. Now that management has the right issues on the agenda by adhering to rule number 3 above, it needs to quickly resolve the items remaining on the agenda.

5. Put real choices on the table - once the priorities have been established and a timetable set, viable options must be presented to reach good decisions.

6. Adopt common decision-making processes and standards - to make solid decisions, good companies use a common language methodology and set of standards for making decisions. Develop a decision-making process within your organization that is well understood throughout the company.

7. Make decisions stick - many times, the most challenging task of all is getting top management teams to agree on what was agreed to in a meeting. Strategic decisions need to be translated into something tangible. Be clear about what the final decision is. If ambiguity exists among the management team, get the issues on the table until all are on board and agree to the decision and all its consequences.

When companies recognize that top management’s time is one of their most precious resources, and they adopt these types of meeting practices, strategic decisions that will positively affect the bottom line will become commonplace. No more “unfinished” business!