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  The leader walked into the room – silently scanned the group assembled there. Then he pulled his billfold and counted out ten $100 bills and placed them in the middle of the table. A lighter emerged from his pocket and he set fire to the bills, slowly lifting each of the corners until the first tendrils of flame caught hold and began to blacken the tender. There was a collective gasp from the eight people seated at the table. The leader began to chant – then to do an odd dance as the flames rose. Each member of the audience sat there stunned; their eyes shifting from the bizarre spectacle at the front of the table and then back to the rapidly blackening currency at its center. As the flames flickered to an end, the leader ceased his odd cries and joined the rest in watching the last blackened remnant of the bills break quietly into an odd pile of refuse. The leader reached back to the table’s center – gently pulled the charcoaled wisps of the bills toward him. From a small carry bag that sat on his chair he produced 9 Styrofoam cups and with great care he pushed what looked to be equal amounts of the dark dust into each of the cups. He passed the first to the person to his right – and then the next, until each person in the room was holding a cup with a tiny vestige of what was once ten $100 bills. “Please carry this cup with you back to your offices. Place it in a prominent place,” he said. “It represents the most productive meeting we’ve had in a long time.” Then he turned and walked out of the room, leaving the eight attendees holding their cups and looking aghast – the faint aroma of smoke still wafting in the air. There’s a high probability that a good lighter and a few Styrofoam cups are needed at your company – whether you know it or not, you’re hemorrhaging money when it comes to meetings. BIG money. Pre-pandemic a great deal of research suggested that, for most industries, well over 50% of meetings were effectively a waste of time.(1)  Poorly planned, bloated people assemblies that took employees further away from effectiveness than toward it. And since we went “virtual”? 70%…and counting.(2) But as with a silent carbon monoxide gas, far too few of us recognize the poison that’s infiltrating our lives – we simply march forward with empty cups into the next meeting because…well, that’s what we do, right? Maybe not. The costs of not taking action will cripple some companies in the wake of COVID. Leaders focused on delivering on the bottom line will remain blind to the simple fact that if we burn time like it is an infinite resource we will walk away with only ashes. Our executive in the scenario above recognized a fundamental tenet of leadership too often ignored. It’s never ABOUT you – but it must BEGIN with you. And when it comes to the subject at hand, that should be seared into the psyche of every person tempted to “call a meeting”. We invest a lot of time at my consulting company talking about Time and Energy Management – and at its core there is usually a great deal of discussion on meetings. I believe the 70% figure cited above may be low. Virtual meetings abound – technology, with many companies, is like a great serpent wrapping around our necks and slowly choking us to death. So, what can leaders do – short of building a small bonfire somewhere in a conference room? Here are three things we recommend as part of our larger work on Time Management – quick fixes that can greatly enhance meeting effectiveness. • Step 1 – Never put together a meeting unless you have a clearly stated Purpose (the WHY) – one that’s communicated in advance. If you don’t know why you’re asking people to gather then you’re already setting fire to your company’s assets. A few years back I was working with an executive that balked at actually taking the time to share with the audience their Purpose for a proposed meeting. “I don’t have time for that,” the leader argued. So, instead we will pull a dozen people together and hope they figure it out? Hmmm… • Step 2 – Every meeting has Objectives (the WHAT) that are also provided pre-meeting to all participants. No exceptions. • Step 3 – Every meeting has an Agenda (the HOW) that goes out beforehand – again, no exceptions. Real leaders don’t just “call a meeting”. They call out the WHY, the WHAT, and the HOW of the meeting in one short, simple document. In fact, we encourage clients, as we build on the meeting models, to learn to say “no” to meetings without this clear P.O.A. The insight – leaders who profess frustration with poor meetings are challenged to look first in the mirror before pulling out the magnifying glass and questioning others. Five minutes of focused strategic thinking – thinking that also demands the leader consider the participants required to realize Purpose, Objectives, and Agenda – the length of time necessary to accomplish those pieces – and perhaps most important, what happens AFTER the meeting. But then again, we could do nothing at all. It is easier. Just call a meeting…and hope. But if you believe that your bottom line matters, consider the costs involved in burning your employees’ time – is it $100 per hour….$200….or much more? The Harvard Business Review in 2016 cited numbers from Bain and Company on a study of one organization that had a weekly meeting of mid-level managers.(3) Once a week – one hour per meeting. The estimated costs – $15 million dollars. The drama that played out at the beginning of this blog is apocryphal – but the argument could be made that the fully burdened costs of that 5-minute session might be as valuable as any meeting many of us will conduct this year. The first rule of problem solving remains (and I apologize for the pun) timeless. Get agreement that the problem actually exists.       1. Half of All Meetings Are a Waste of Time – Here’s How to Improve Them – Forbes – Nov. 25, 2019 2. Why Most Meetings Fail Before They Even Begin – Forbes – May 6, 2021 3. Estimate the Cost of a Meeting with This Calculator – Harvard Business Review – Jan. 11, 2016

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