What’s worse than attending a meeting?
Running a meeting.
I know! Your hard-earned reputation for incompetence makes it unlikely that you would ever be granted this level of authority, but let’s face it, considering the bunglers who run your company, nothing is impossible.
Fortunately, help is available. Should your meeting duties involve more than taking the leftover doughnuts to the break room — a mysterious and dangerous journey that very few doughnuts survive — Adam Bryant, who pens the “Corner Office” column in The New York Times, recently published a helpful essay entitled, “How to Run a More Effective Meeting.”
If you doubt Bryant’s credentials, I don’t blame you. Having “conducted hundreds of interviews with C.E.O’s,” it is reasonable to doubt his judgment or his sanity. Still, we should take advantage of what he has to offer — before he interviews one CEO too many and goes totally moo-moo-goo-goo.
Bryant’s first rule for a successful meeting is “Set the Agenda.” Apparently, not everyone who runs a meeting provides an outline explaining the reasons the assembled have assembled and what they are supposed to accomplish.
Meeting attendees, especially high-powered C-level types, like Annette Catino, CEO of the QualCare Alliance Network, won’t stick around if your meeting is agenda-free. “Give me an agenda or else I’m not going to sit there.”
You will immediately grasp your strategy here. Ditch the agendas, clear out the suits, and then you and your unfocused friends can have a first-class gabfest on the company’s dime.
Another attribute of a successful meeting is to start and end on time. You certainly don’t care if the attendees arrive on time, or ever. Besides, everyone knows that at any party the cool guys and gals arrive fashionably late. Everyone except Terry Lundgren, the chairman of Macy’s, who expects his employees to “discipline themselves to be there on time.”
Whether this discipline involves bondage, or HR kittens with whips, we don’t know, but we can hope.
Equally important to starting on time is ending on time. A hard stop, says Lundgren, means attendees must “force ourselves to carve through the agenda.”
Carve as you might, I have a better solution. Set the end time before the start time. That way, everyone will be late.
Assuming your meeting actually does start, you definitely want to “End with an Action Plan.”
Agreeing to never meet again is an excellent action plan, but meeting mavens, like Mark Toro of North American Properties – Atlanta, “uses a phrase to end meetings that has become a common acronym in office emails: W.W.D.W.B.W.”
It stands for “Who will do what by when?” though, for your meetings, “Who won’t do whatever by whenever” is better, since everyone in attendance will end your meeting by pawning off their assignments on everyone who didn’t attend.
Establishing ground rules is another tip for a holding a successful meeting. This rule I like.
Just think how much fun a meeting would be if there were a rule that before making a comment you had to say, “Mother may I?” Or that if you stood up to write on the white board, your chair was removed and a game of musical chairs immediately began.
While most of the rules in the article are slightly more mundane, Dawn Lepore, the former chief of Drugstore.com, used the following framework as “lighthearted shorthand for the goal of her meetings.”
Lepore ruled her meetings by classifying each new brainstorm as either a light bulb, to signify “this is just an idea I had, so think about it,” or a gun, which represented “I want you to do this.”
Of course, if threatening to shoot her employees if they don’t follow your rules isn’t sufficiently lighthearted, you could end your meetings by releasing a pack of rabid attack dogs into the conference room.
Now that’s lighthearted.
Finally, it is very important that you, as fearless leader of the meeting, let your attendees know whether the final decisions will be made through a democratic consensus, or will be dictated by you.
“There’s a built-in tension in encouraging people to share their opinions,” says Carl Bass, the former chief executive of Autodesk. “It may lead them to believe a decision will come down to a democratic vote.”
This is an overblown fear. In today’s egomaniacal business climate you’d have to be delusional to believe that your opinion matters.
It’s like mother always said — you can call a meeting, but it’s your boss who calls the shots.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at email@example.com.