How to Lead Better Meetings for Better Performance
Some of what I write, you will already say you know. But, the question is, do you execute it, or are you caught in the traps of procrastination and tangents?
Most accountants (particularly partners) complain about wasted time during meetings. I suspect this is because many, if not most, meetings in accounting firms are poorly managed. By improving meetings, your firm can increase performance with a focus on solving issues, rather than just identifying and discussing them. Open discussion is healthy, but resolution is what differentiates high performers.
Let’s begin with the basics of partner meetings because problems often start there. Develop and stick to an agenda. Doing so requires discipline and structure. Record decisions and assign tasks with due dates to people, even if they aren’t in attendance. Doing this ensures accountability and can be easily tracked with tools, such as Microsoft SharePoint and Outlook. Get rid of paper and utilize a flat panel or projection system, in order to keep everyone focused. Links to any relevant documents should be sent to attendees in advance; however, people do not need to bring paper to the meetings. Any relevant documents can be displayed on screen.
The following is a sample agenda for a monthly partner meeting that includes suggestions to reduce time and be more efficient:
Call to order
Start on time. No excuses.
Begin each meeting by asking each participant to share his or her most positive experience (or accomplishment) during the previous 30 days. This process sets a positive tone at the outset, so that issues can be discussed and solved. (Each person should spend no more than 30 seconds while taking a turn.)
Review previous period scorecard
The meeting director should present a brief summary of the firm’s scorecard. This includes important metrics that drive the economic engine. Limit the time for this, though, because accountants can easily get caught in the numbers.
Firm values & vision
Have a copy available in the event of discussions or decisions. Values and a vision make decision-making faster and easier.
Accountability – review unresolved issues from
Utilize technology and present a quick report of issues that are still unresolved from the previous meeting. Don’t be afraid to show names, due dates and seek a report on status.
Address each issue by order of priority. Define, discuss and solve. Do not allow people to go on tangents and procrastinate. Assign tasks, responsibilities and due dates. Utilize technology. When the meeting is over, it is over and there are no flip charters or papers to incorporate into minutes. More later.
Establish or confirm the next period’s "Big Rocks”
Great leaders hold partners accountable and keep them focused on the "Big Rocks.” They don’t allow them to get caught in the sand and gravel. Do not be afraid of being repetitive. Most people, including partners, do not hear it the first time.
Allow each person to assess the meeting and express if his or her expectations were met. Ask each person to grade the meeting from 1-10. Strive for 8-9-10s.
End on time.
Now that you have a format, let’s move on to improved meeting management and how to reduce time and accelerate results. Most partners are great at identifying issues. They are not as great at openly discussing the issues (especially the "elephants” or tough issues) and tend to get caught in the "tangent trap.” At your next meeting, I challenge you to count the number of tangents people take when trying to solve a single issue. Doing so is human nature and requires discipline, leadership and a culture of trust to overcome. With a high level of trust, the number of issues that make it to a partner meeting is few. Most will be resolved and tasks assigned by firm management. Procrastination is the other enemy.
Accountability is a process and not a slogan. It starts at the top by addressing issues head on and resolving them. Non-accountable partners tend to:
- Avoid specific measurements
- Demand equality
- Talk in abstracts
- Ridicule excellence
Accountable partners will:
- Strengthen standards
- Welcome measurement
- Take initiative
- Deepen commitments
While this list is not thorough, the tone is set during firm meetings. How your firm discusses and solves issues, is a process. Processes can be efficient or inefficient. Great meetings are not about the technology, but technology can be utilized to assist the leader or manager, and to hold participants accountable.
"Edge,” or the ability to make a decision, is one of the top criteria of a partner. Many in the accounting profession have a propensity to gather more information and organize it for presentation purposes. You can live with an issue, end it or change it. The decision is yours. Putting off the decision and justifying procrastination because you can immerse yourself in client problems is not an acceptable excuse. Napoleon Hill said, "Lack of decision and procrastination are the major causes of failure.” Your firm should come first, and resolving issues promotes confidence, clarity and the capacity to perform at a higher level. You must have accountability in order to get to the next level.
If your firm is having troubles in these areas, refer to Gino Wickman in his excellent book, “Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business,” which provides these 10 commandments for dealing with issues that apply to both your firm and your clients:
- Thou shall not rule by consensus.
- Thou shall not be a weenie (strong will, firm resolve & willing to make tough decisions).
- Thou shall be decisive. Don’t procrastinate.
- Thou shall not rely on secondhand information.
- Thou shall fight for the greater good.
- Thou shall not try to solve them all.
- Thou shall live with it, end it or change it.
- Thou shall choose short-term pain and suffering. Solve it now rather than later.
- Thou shall enter the danger. The issue you fear the most is the one you most need to discuss and resolve.
Thou shall take a shot. Propose a solution.