In this blog, Tom Stimson shares some timely answers to common questions from owners. If you have questions you would like answered, email Tom.
Q: My team keeps telling me we need to have a meeting – I hate meetings! I think they are a waste of time. Talking about stuff isn’t getting things done, but you are going to tell me that we need these meetings. Why? – Frustrated Owner
A: Let’s start with the reasons that many owners and managers find meetings to be unproductive: They don’t know how to conduct them in order to get the most out of the time. Meetings need an owner, an agenda, and with the exception of strategic discussions – a concise schedule. Better meetings start when all participants learn their roles, come prepared, and stick to the subject at hand.
The meeting owner’s job is to keep the meeting on time, on agenda, and summarize the action items. You don’t meet to talk about “stuff”; you meet to share information and make decisions.
That brings me to the second reason many owners eschew meetings – they do not have or don’t understand the criteria for making a decision. When teams start pushing for more meetings, it is often an indication that the owner or manager is dodging decisions. That is, the team is asking for decisions and not getting answers.
If you are that owner or manager that feels put upon for decisions, then a meeting is a great way for you to not only define your decision criteria, but request the specific data that will help drive that choice.
Q: Can you describe a good meeting about approving a budget for a marketing promotion?
A: Good example. Let’s pretend your marketing team has an idea for a client event – an open house. As the owner, you question the potential value of getting customers to your facility – it’s a lot of work and you have low expectations for turnout and new business coming from it. These concerns have to be expressed before the meeting. You have to say, I have these concerns and if you will address those concerns in the meeting, then I will attend. Period.
The marketing team now needs to set an agenda and come prepared with data, a plan, and the expectation that they may get asked a question that will postpone the decision further. In other words, they need anticipate your questions. The marketing team leader should send out an invitation with an agenda and realistic timeline. It might look like this:
Discussion of Open House Proposal
- Needs analysis – 5 min
- Target audience – 5 min
- Program – 10 min
- Expected results – 5 min
- Follow-up plan – 5 min
- Budget considerations – 10 min
- Questions – 15 min
- Action Items or Next Steps – 5 min
So you receive this agenda for a 60 minute meeting. Ugh! I would not want to attend either. Your reply might be – send the needs analysis, program, results, follow-up, and budget in advance. Everyone can email their questions. If we still need a meeting, it can be a very short one.
Q: You often stress the importance of good data. I don’t think we have good data in our company. How do you know if it’s good or not?
A: That’s an important question. I would like to think that good data is self-evident, but I guess not. Let’s explore why you might not trust your data first. Is the source inaccurate? Is the provider untrustworthy? Is there a hidden agenda? Is other data being omitted? Is the sample too small? All of the above?
I approach data with the intent of triangulating data points in order to reduce my inherent mistrust. That is, I need to find the same or similar result or corroborating evidence from at least two other sources. If my operations manager says he needs two additional FTEs because overtime is up, I might ask to see data on overtime hours, total hours, total cost of labor and compare that to business volume. Even if the data shows that two new FTE’s would reduce overall costs, that doesn’t mean that new hires is the best solution. Are there processes that need to be reworked or entitlements that should be addressed? Do we need updated software or infrastructure? Is the problem really floor space or perhaps, planning?
I think the fundamental problem with data for most managers is that they don’t have enough. One data trend is not enough to drive good decisions. Find additional data points to support your theory or better, develop even better insights.
Tom Stimson MBA, CTS helps owners and management teams rediscover the fun and profit that comes from making better decisions about smarter goals. He is an expert on project-based selling and a thought leader for innovative business processes. Since 2006, Tom has successfully advised over two hundred companies and organizations on business strategy, process, marketing, and sales. Please send your questions to: email@example.com