Four Steps to Holding the Ultimate Meeting

Bridget Stallkamp
Bridget Stallkamp,
Managing Director,
Root® Inc.
Sam Need
Sam Need,
Data Manager,
Root® Inc.

Welcome to 2015! If you’re like most of us, you’ve probably set a resolution or two in honor of the new year. After all, it’s a time-honored tradition. Eat better. Exercise four times a week. Call Grandma more. Power down during family time. Well, we’d like to take this opportunity to declare 2015 as the year of the workplace resolution. We’re challenging all you managers out there to lead better meetings. If the thought of honing your meeting planning skills seems unnecessary, boring, or just lame, please hear us out because we assure you – there is great power in learning how to hold an effective meeting.

At Root® Inc., we’ve spent the last few years studying high-performing managers – across all types of industries, including retail, financial services, telecommunications and more – who are producing dramatically better results than their peers. We’ve identified what these star managers are doing differently and are teaching these behaviors to middle performers to improve performance across large organizations. Managers are excited about this because they are receiving specific practices to immediately implement and thus having more control than ever over their “work destiny.” Organizations love this because they ultimately end up with more high-performing managers.

One common thread in high-performing managers (the top 10% in the business who consistently perform above the rest regardless of the industry) is that they’ve all mastered the ability to hold supremely effective meetings. These meetings take up less time, engage more people, and yield better outcomes than other meetings.

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Meeting Secrets Revealed

The next time you’re planning an important meeting, simply follow these four key steps and you’ll be on your way to becoming a high-performing manager who uses time more effectively, engages employees, and reaches goals faster:

Step 1: Invite the right people. When it comes to meetings, getting the right people in the room can make all the difference. Most of us tend to invite the same people over and over to our meetings – direct reports, supervisors. This keeps things simple, and it’s definitely in our comfort zone, but it’s not really that productive. It’s time to start thinking about the people you’re not inviting – the people with competing priorities and different perspectives – and add them to your next meeting notice. Is there a part of your organization that you think is making your job harder? Invite them! When in the same room, you have the opportunity to directly overcome differences and arrive at solutions that help build a cohesive organization. Best of all, you’ve cut out the back-and-forth emails and voicemails – all the noise and mistrust that blocks real information sharing and collaboration.

Sure, inviting the right people might feel awkward and it will likely (ok, definitely) make for longer meetings while you get to know each other, trust each other and learn how to work together. But, your efforts will pay off because these are the meetings that give people the tools to do their jobs better, connect them to the big picture and get more done in less time. Who doesn’t like that?

Step 2: Gather your data. Once you’ve determined your guest list, it’s time to get ready. You definitely don’t want to kick off your meeting speaking arbitrarily (“Okay, team, 2015 is the year of the customer!”) This kind of broad statement leaves too much room for interpretation or misunderstanding. If the customer is the top priority, explain what this means and show what this looks like with descriptive examples. What are the exact, detailed steps that should be part of each customer experience, and how does each attendee play a role? Lead your people through the specifics. People never complain about a meeting that delivers valuable information. A tactical meeting – one that truly gives people new tools to do their jobs better – will always be appreciated.

In order to be specific, you need to avoid “winging” meetings based on your gut instinct. You need proven data. Generate and use the data available to you – observe the front line, read performance feedback from customers, speak with managers in other departments. Your efforts will give you the insight to move the conversations from theoretical to practical. Your use of data will also win the respect of your team, because you will maintain objectivity about what is happening on the ground level.

Here’s a great example of data being used in a meeting to drive specific actions: A retail chain asks store managers to hold a five-minute meeting each morning where the staff sets a daily sales goal. Average managers keep it that simple. But high performers go further and assign each team member a specific individual goal. Now each person understands his or her role as it applies to the big picture, feels engaged in the mission toward success, and is ready to work as a part of the team to accomplish the goal.

Step 3: Set your agenda. Seems obvious, right? Surprisingly, this step is often skipped. And it’s an important one because leading a good meeting with good data and the right people is a big task. Without a clear agenda, managers risk fatiguing the team with tedious spreadsheets or by reading the data they’ve worked hard to obtain verbatim. This is a big no-no. You want to use your data to develop the agenda, and this needs to happen before the meeting even starts. You might include a trend you’ve noticed, a story of a really good customer experience delivery and what that team did that was above and beyond, a hypothesis as to why the sixth floor continually has poor housekeeping, etc.

The best managers also make sure there is enough time during the meeting to actually get through the agenda. If a particular topic will take a lot of time, they extend the meeting time in advance. Or they push housekeeping items along to ensure they get to the “meat,” and they make adjustments so a meeting doesn’t get cut short just because the next team needs the conference room. They expect people to come prepared as well.

If this is a reoccurring meeting, you should lead the meeting the same way each week. Include time to brainstorm as a group and solicit feedback, giving everyone a chance to share their opinions with one another. And always provide kudos. Recognize people across all departments and provide the opportunity for them to recognize each other – this can be very motivational.

Step 4: Define the action items. If you’ve taken the time to invite the right people, gather and evaluate data, and plan an agenda, then you need to make the most of your efforts. Always conclude your meeting by reviewing what happens next. Throughout the meeting you should be generating action items and then hold yourself, and everyone else, accountable by reviewing these to-dos at the next meeting. High-performing managers don’t “noodle” and they don’t “place things on the back burner.” Nope. The most effective managers explicitly detail who is doing what, when, and for how long. This helps to make each meeting count.

Time to Kick Butt in 2015

With all of the time Root has spent observing managers in the workplace, we can assure you that everyone goes to work hoping to be excellent. They want to be part of the team leading their organization to success. Learning how to hold a kick-butt meeting is part of the secret to being a high-performing manager, and now you have the tools to do just that. It’s in your hands – are you ready to accept the challenge and make 2015 the year of the stellar meeting?