Even in the COVID-19 world, meeting culture is going strong. Many companies believe it is important for teams to meet virtually or in person to discuss issues, solve them, agree on plans and define actions. This is a great approach — as long as the job actually gets done and there are results.
It is said that time is money. Nobody wants to waste time in non-value-added conversations or pointless meetings. Many companies are unaware of how ineffective some of their meetings are, and some hold on to an illusion that all meetings add some sort of value to an initiative’s end results. In actuality, sometimes an hour-long formal meeting could have had the same outcome as a 10-minute check-in.
Some professionals are especially time-strapped and spend their days in back-to-back meetings, so the meetings need to be purposeful and effective. In my own supply chain and sales and operations planning (S&OP) journey, I used to have my agenda full of back-to-back and sometimes overlapping meetings. Because of my company’s global presence, I sometimes would have meetings with teammates in Asia during the middle of the night. It was quite painful when any meeting ended up being ineffective — and this happened at least once a day.
Meeting effectiveness contributes tremendously to the success of a mature S&OP process. S&OP meetings typically are the place where relevant information is shared and decisions are made to close gaps in performance. As Lora Cecere, founder of Supply Chain Insights, has pointed out, 60% of the success of S&OP comes from behavior and culture change. Of course, it is important that companies ensure that their S&OP meetings accomplish the desired tasks. But beyond that, companies should strive to ensure that all of their meetings are productive and effective.
In order to evaluate the effectiveness of S&OP meetings, I designed a small survey that I use to rate the S&OP forums in which I participate. I then share my ratings with the meeting coordinators to support continuous improvement. However, this survey and its recommendations really can be applied to many different types of meetings in order to improve give key factors: preparation, attendance, content, timeline focus and behavior.
Meeting factor 1: Preparation
Efficient meeting preparation ensures that all participants can attend the meeting and arrive with the background knowledge they need to help contribute to the meeting and make effective decisions. For starters, meeting invitations should be sent out well in advance — sometimes a few months in advance for some of your busiest stakeholders or for individuals who will need to travel. Then, the meeting’s presentation and other pertinent information should be sent to attendees at least 24 hours in advance so that they have ample time to review the content, prepare any information they would like to contribute or make a list of questions they’d like to ask during the meeting.
Meeting factor 2: Attendance
Ideally, attendance should be mandatory for all stakeholders. However, if someone cannot attend, they should send a representative who can make contributions and decisions on their behalf. Only the most important meetings — such as the executive S&OP meeting in the S&OP process — should be postponed if a key figure cannot attend. All other forums should take place as scheduled. Again, this is why it is important to send out meeting invitations well in advance.
Meeting factor 3: Content
When I evaluate past meeting content, I consider
- whether the presentation previously shared with attendees was actually used or if surprise content was used instead
- if meeting leaders discussed the progress of previously agreed-upon actions
- whether participants worked to solve gaps in performance and adjust deviations from plans
- if a decision was actually made or if the decision was properly escalated to the appropriate party.
It is also important that all participants understand their roles in the meeting and their expected contributions to the overall process so that the team ultimately can produce the expected results and add value to the company. Content tends to be an area where many companies fail, particularly by compromising the decision-making process. This eventually affects the flow of relevant information and ultimately could decrease cash flow and return on investment.
Meeting factor 4: Timeline focus
Even when a good meeting structure is in place, failure to address the relevant time horizon can result in misleading information and ultimately affect the results of decisions made during the meeting. Some meetings might need to focus on the short term, such as the next three months, while others need to long farther ahead. To avoid confusion and to keep the focus on pertinent strategies, it can be useful to dedicate separate meetings to different time horizons.
In line with this, the level of detail discussed in the meeting should be in line with the pertinent time horizon. For example, medium-term S&OP meetings should focus on possible investments, production leveling, inventory buildup and the like. By comparison, meetings focused on the short term should make decisions about product mixes or short-term campaigns.
Meeting factor 5: Behavior
Although this factor is not discussed as often, the behaviour of the attendees plays a critical role in the meeting and its outcome. The meeting owner is responsible for creating a forum to assertively discuss the issues and challenges the company is facing and determine how to solve these challenges. The meeting should be a time to express concerns but also share ideas and suggestions for closing gaps.
The meeting leader needs to foster an environment in which attendees feel comfortable participating. They also need to curtail any finger-pointing or other behavior that detracts from meeting effectiveness. If needed, the leader also should enforce attendance, punctuality, commitment and accountability from team members.
If you are a meeting leader, it’s important that you consider these five factors in order to plan and host an effective meeting. As a meeting attendee, consider evaluating every meeting you attend based on these points and offer constructive feedback to meeting organizers. Attention to these factors ultimately will transform your company’s meeting culture so that each meeting is productive and worthwhile.