Published In, The Credit Union Times
By Stuart R. Levine

Time is one of your organization’s most valuable resources and meetings represent a significant portion of your employees’ time.  Harvard Business Review studies have shown that the best-performing companies in terms of return on capital, operating margin and revenue growth were those whose employees managed time most effectively, thereby boosting their productivity. These companies showed a 180% differential in total shareholder return over 10 years, compared to others in their industries.

On average 15% of an organization’s time is spent in meetings and that percentage has increased annually since 2008.  Numerous studies indicate that as much as 30% of time spent in meetings is wasted.  Our research indicates that people believe about 39% of their meetings are unproductive.  If you take all the salaries of employees sitting around the table, you will be shocked to see what this is costing your organization in terms of both money and lost productivity.

Time wasted in ineffective meetings decreases productivity, depletes energy and inhibits collaboration.   Well-spent time in meetings can help to grow revenue, encourage innovation and collaboration, make faster strategic decisions and implement more effectively.  By running effective meetings, more time can be devoted to customers and to productive, strategic, focused activities, learning and innovative thinking.

Yet few organizations work to ensure meeting management effectiveness.  Often times, no restrictions are placed on who is requested to attend a meeting, meeting organizers don’t think through the issues and timing, agendas are not sent in advance so that people can come prepared and there is no accountability for follow-through on agreed-upon next steps.   A recent Harvard Business Review article reported a case where the employees of a large company spent 300,000 hours annually in support of a weekly Executive Committee Meeting. At an average participant salary of $50 to $100 per hour, this one weekly meeting would cost between $15 and $30 million per year.    Think of the financial impact of not getting these meetings right.

Even the CEO can fall victim to this problem, as noted in the “Executive Time Use Project” in which a team from The London School of Economics and Harvard Business School performed detailed analysis of time spent by 65 CEOs.  These CEOs spent one-third of their time in meetings.  Even the CEOs reported that a portion of the meetings they attend were “ineffective” or “very ineffective.”

What then should the CEO do?  If unnecessary and ineffective meetings are part of the culture, then the CEO must act to change it.  Culture is the key to executing strategy and building an engaged, motivated and productive workforce.  Meetings are essential for fostering collaboration and making critical decisions.  The CEO is ultimately responsible for an adaptable, innovative, dynamic and productive culture that will meet customers’ needs and effectively implement strategies.  Ensuring employee productivity is the CEO’s responsibility and requires leadership.

One of our clients provides this model of leadership.  The CEO, upon learning that senior management felt that far too much of their valuable time was spent in unproductive meetings, instituted a learning program for anyone who facilitated or attended meetings.  The CEO made it permissible for people to walk out of a meeting if there was no agenda or if it did not start or end on time.   Standards of behavior were set throughout the company and the culture changed.  This program was implemented prior to the merger of their company to a larger entity.  Their valuation increased 30% prior to the merger, based upon the effectiveness of their culture and their strategic focus on serving their members.

The learning program established ground rules, common language and common practice.   Meetings were required to have a defined purpose and objective, a focused agenda, an established start and end time, the right meeting participants, respectful standards of behavior — including no checking mobile devices for emails or texts unless awaiting an emergency call or message — and no endless repetition, side bar conversations or grandstanding allowed.  Clear next steps were established with participants responsible for defined action items and timetables.

Now, with online training courses in place, companies can train their whole organization at significantly reduced costs, ensuring system-wide learning that saves time and increases both productivity and effectiveness throughout the company.   With the CEO and Director of Human Resources leading the charge, such an initiative can increase competencies around skills that will drive organizational results, strategic communication and energy at all levels.  As the research has shown, improving productivity through saved time and focused actions is a proven way to strengthen financial results.