How to Avoid ‘Death by Meeting’
Why Having Meetings for the Sake of Having Meetings is Bad for Business
For many HVACR contractors, employee meetings are an opportunity to discuss business, provide training, address employees’ concerns, plan for the future, determine areas in need of improvement, and recognize those who deserve praise. But, for those who are not properly utilizing the time they have with their employees, holding meetings can have a negative effect on morale and productivity, said Nexstar Network business coach Jodi Peter.
“For the contractors I coach, this can be a problem,” she said. “They believe they’ve got to have these weekly staff meetings, but they can run the risk of death by meeting.”
Peter said the answer lies in setting a clear purpose for the meeting, planning it out ahead of time, and following through. And, she added, meetings should be held out of necessity — not just because it’s been a week since the last meeting.
“We don’t meet just to discuss; we meet to decide,” she said. “It’s important for [employees] to think about what the outcome needs to be of the meeting and be very clear about why they’re having the meeting in the first place and what they need to accomplish. It needs to be more about what they need to hear, not what you need to say.”
Structure and Goals
Before any meeting, ensure the meeting’s goal is well known to everyone in attendance. That means having an agenda prepared beforehand, Peter said.
“A lot of contractors need to set an agenda and an expectation for time,” she said. “More often than not, the meeting will run over because the time gets away from them. Sometimes, speaking the agenda — this is what we’re going to do and discuss today and when we’re going to be done — can help you stay on task and stay on time. Set a very specific agenda so what needs to be covered, and what the outcome needs to be, are known.”
Peter added, “I always tell them, at the end of the meeting, there has to be some action.”
When it comes to holding a weekly meeting, Peter said it is not always necessary, though she does recommend scheduling standing meetings at a frequency that makes sense for that group.
“For the most part, I do believe in consistently scheduled meetings because it sends a psychological message that it’s important, whether it’s leaders or technicians in a service meeting,” she said.
But, Peter cautioned, don’t hold meetings for the sake of holding meetings. “When you send the message that it’s important, it needs to be important. Again, there’s discussion in every meeting, but what does the outcome need to be?”
If a contractor is frequently calling meetings without having a clear agenda or goal in mind, he or she is likely wasting everyone’s time. “A lot of times, they’ll get the team together, and they’ll all just start talking,” Peter explained. “It’s not focused on what they need to achieve, what the challenges are in each department, or what we’re going to do about it. What are the action steps?”
Steve Moon, owner, Moon Air Inc., Elkton, Maryland, said he has weekly staff and leadership meetings that only last half an hour. And he “always [has] an agenda,” he said.
Rick Tullis, president, Capstone Mechanical, Waco, Texas, said he holds an executive team meeting every Monday, a management staff meeting every other week, and a company-wide meeting every quarter.
“We use an agenda as frequently as possible,” he said. “Most standing meetings have a page on our Intranet that participants can access to add items to the agenda, as needed. On our company-wide quarterly meetings, the management team meets specifically to pull the agenda together to make sure we’re maximizing that time.”
Ann Kahn, president of Kahn Mechanical Contractors in Dallas, holds weekly leadership meetings for the duration of each of its large projects. “There is also a weekly management meeting to determine project staffing for the upcoming week — usually Friday over lunch,” she said, adding that company officers meet as needed for financial and business planning.
Start and End on a Good Note
When conducting a meeting, Peter said to keep in mind that people are most likely to remember the first and last things they are told.
“You have to have a solid opening that is memorable and important, and then you close them with equal validity,” She said. “Meetings aren’t always positive, so I’m particularly conscious of opening and closing them in a positive way and thinking about what you want them to take away and what you want them to hear.”
Starting with something positive, even if the subject matter of the meeting may not be all good, is a good way to set a positive tone for the meeting, said Peter.
“When I had a team working for me, the first thing we started with was, give me one great thing that happened last week. Start with something positive because it keeps the meeting upbeat. If there’s nothing but doom and gloom, it can take a toll on you. Then, specifically ask them, what are you working on this week, and what could you use some help with? Invite the team to participate in solution building.”
Kahn said her meetings are “rarely boring,” and they will often start meetings with the question, “What good thing this week can you tell us?”
Moon also has his own ways of keeping his meetings engaging and upbeat. “I have a fish bowl that has numbered fish that equal rewards when folks make their goals, and I have a hula hoop for when they forget important actions. These keep it lively.”
Tips for a Successful Meeting
Tullis said Capstone spends “quite a bit of time and money to make meeting spaces as productive as possible.” Those spaces include comfortable chairs with wheels, modular conference tables with Internet, big screens and good projectors, blackout shades, and much more. And, he added, they have “top-notch HVAC.”
Kahn said they use a checklist they call the “7Tab,” which is an excel document with seven areas of concern that are discussed at each meeting: safety, one-week planner, six-week planner, budget, quality, opportunities, and submittal log.
All of Kahn’s management meetings have an agenda, she said, adding, “Some are written; others are understood.”
Greg Crumpton, president and founder, AirTight Mechanical, Charlotte, North Carolina, said he spends most of his time during meetings walking around and listening. He also likes to have a tight agenda. “Get and give as much info as possible prior to [the meeting], so at least some will be prepared,” he added.
Repetition is also a key part of a successful meeting, Crumpton said. “Tell them what you want to tell them. Then, tell them. Then, finally, tell them what you told them. After that, go around and ensure that all who have been given a task understand it, and put a fuse on it, meaning a time it needs to be completed by.”
Holding too many meetings can be detrimental to businesses, Crumpton added. “The larger the company, the higher the frequency of meetings, and the more people meet, the less time they get to solve problems for their customers,” he said.
Think Outside the Box
Some of the most effective meetings Peter has witnessed have included innovative ideas to help make the meeting more interesting while also encouraging attendance, punctuality, and participation. One in particular stands out in Peter’s memory.
“It was a service meeting onsite with a member,” she said. “They had a weekly service meeting in a very upbeat space with music in the room — just a really lively meeting space. They had a guy who came in late. Unbeknownst to me, they had a rule in place and a way to handle people who were late to the meeting.”
Peter said that, instead of being reprimanded in private by a manager, the tardy attendee’s consequences were much more public and immediate. “They had an iPod in the meeting room, and they made him dance like a chicken to the chicken dance song,” she said. “It was eye-opening to me that you can lean on other employees to dish out consequences. … The contractors and the owners tend to think they have to be the answer person, and leaning on the team to think through the answers is an important discipline.”
But, for any meeting to be successful, Peter again stressed that all meetings — whether scheduled or impromptu — must have a clear purpose. “The scheduled meetings are great for team-building and for brainstorming solutions; they have their place,” she said. “Impromptu meetings have their place, too, and it’s really important to communicate to participants why you’re calling that meeting. It’s important to clearly communicate why you’re doing it, and be very conscious of efficient and effective meetings.”
Publication date: 3/16/2015