Big, Theatrical Meetings Are a Waste of Time

Most organizations spend a lot of time and energy on business review meetings. Some of these include key projects, others top-notch, and others on the overall performance of the company or unit. In any case, the aim is to create a dialogue between senior executives and executive managers about how the business or project is performing relative to its strategic goals, what gaps may exist and what is needed to bridge them.

When done well, business reviews are powerful tools. Without them, initiatives can go astray, projects that should be killed continue to take up resources, poor performance goes unnoticed and unrepaired, excellent people still go unnoticed. acknowledge it, and you will be surprised by problems that should have been resolved much sooner.

Unfortunately, many business review meetings are more indicative than substantive, becoming what I call a “business review theater.” Here’s just one example: Several years ago, I worked with the CEO of a diversified manufacturing company. Each business unit spends several weeks of the year preparing quarterly reviews, in which managers present current performance metrics, highlight anomalies in the numbers, provide explanations and describe what they’re doing to get things back on track. Whenever the CEO or CFO asks a question, the managers respond in a way that demonstrates their complete control over the business.

But the chief executive officer and chief financial officer were unimpressed. While most businesses are doing well, there are worrying signs for the future: An aging customer base, changing macroeconomic conditions, new competitors entering the market. them, and developing and innovating new products is not enough. There never seems to be time to dig into these issues at reviews, and questions about them are almost always dismissed with a description of how the business has dealt with it.

In my experience, this is not an isolated case. Many business reviews tend to overlook actual conversations, important questions, or follow-up actions. So, how can companies stop wasting precious hours preparing reviews of the past and instead create conversations that help prepare for the future?

Why do we include business reviews in theaters?

The first step is to understand the root of the problem. There are two basic reasons why business review theater is so popular.

The first reason stems from the failure of senior leaders to establish an appropriate agenda for review meetings. Without direction, managers naturally focus on areas that are doing well or will try to look at every aspect of the business.

Second, managers of business units or projects fear that reviews will reveal inadequacies in what they are doing, which could make them look bad or cause them to suffer. supervision or intervention by senior executives. This anxiety is exacerbated when senior executives have a history of embarrassing people with gotcha questions or berating them in front of colleagues for doing something wrong.

To drive more effective business reviews, you need to address these two issues. From my work with hundreds of companies over the years, here are three key steps you can take.

Focus on the future

To create a more productive agenda, structure the review session around specific, actionable topics that can improve future performance. The word “review” implies a look back and really, it is important to know what happened in the past month or quarter to learn from it. But that information can be sent in advance so the discussion can turn around why things happened a certain way in the past and what, if anything, should be done differently in the future. To help identify those key themes, senior leaders, as intended audiences, must be actively involved in agenda setting and focus on real-world priorities. need for discussion.

For example, take the project scorecard used by speech recognition software company Nuance in its reviews. CEO Mark Benjamin requested that the scorecards not only highlight current performance, but also mark progress on three strategic questions: How do we increase scalability? How to take advantage of the use of the cloud? How do we overinvest in opportunities that can become inflection points for company growth? His teams can then use the assessments as working sessions on how to improve current performance while addressing these important questions.

The same shift in focus makes a big difference in an international aid organization I’ve worked with. Annoyed at being asked to consider only fully realized projects, the board created a forum to review projects in the early concept stage and emphasized that employees subordinates and managers participated in project presentations. This provides an opportunity for the board to provide input and guidance on future projects rather than the established ritual rubber stamping projects.

Based on the focus you want, also consider the invite list for your reviews. Participants must be fit for purpose, chosen not just for their status or title, but because they can make a real difference in moving the project or business to the next stage. next paragraph.

Create a safe space for powerful dialogue

To overcome your participants’ fear of appearing inadequate, you need to make them feel that they are free to speak up, offer ideas, and challenge each other. To create this kind of safe space, you have to find a balance between being too passive on the other hand and being too important on the other.

If, as a senior leader, you act as a passive member of the audience, then what you will get is a performance. In a pharmaceutical company I worked with, the top executives, many of them scientists, had to learn to be tougher on team members by watching dig deeper into the data and ask the group to ask challenging questions about its meaning. to continue – instead of accepting whatever was presented.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you take over, dominate the conversation, put everyone down, and act like the smartest person in the room, you’ll also get a performance – but with the actors (who managers), they will hesitate to engage in dialogue or raise tough issues to which they do not have ready answers. At the aid organization I worked for, the board began to join staff in brainstorming sessions. It takes a few meetings for employees to feel comfortable with a group they are more accustomed to doing assessment with, but over time they learn that combining their technical expertise with political acumen the value of the board leads to more viable projects.

One way to strike this balance is to ask questions, not just give opinions. One production executive we worked with was used to being a hierarchical boss and liked people delaying her authority. But acting this way discourages her people from having a real conversation about what to do. As she learned to ask questions, managers began to be more open about their thoughts, leading to much stronger dialogue, problem solving, and learning.

Review your review

The third step to avoiding the business review theater is to periodically evaluate and adjust the process.

For example, at Augury, a fast-growing IoT machine healthcare company, Keren Rubin, head of people and culture, is involved in organizing many business reviews. In keeping with the company’s agile philosophy of “build, measure, learn,” she collects data after each one to determine what works and what can be improved. When one of Augusty’s executives invited 40 people to participate in a quarterly sales review that included too many slides, too much data, and not enough time, Rubin worked with the director. administer it to refine the scope of the assessment, deliver materials ahead of time, rethink participants, frame key questions to be addressed, and redesign the process so that the follow-up assessment become a much more constructive dialogue.

There is no one right way to conduct a business or project review. But if yours has turned into staged performances, it may be time to shape a different approach. These simple changes can turn your project reviews into problem-solving forums with a focus on changing the future, not just re-emphasizing the past. | Big, Theatrical Meetings Are a Waste of Time


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