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Meetings of Value

Topic: Entrepreneur Evangelist,Managing Your Business | Comments (1)

Posted on February 3, 2010 by admin

Picture this: a room full of technology professionals, sitting around a large conference table. Project managers, business analysts, technical writers, network admins, database administrators, software architects, developers, designers and more.

Back in my Enterprise IT days, this was a common site. We’d all gather, sometimes multiple times per week, to put our heads together on our enormous multi-million dollar program. The kicker, though, was that 75% of the participants in the room were consultants.

One day, out of overwhelming frustration at how many hours per week I was spending in pointless meetings when I had real work to do back at my desk, I did a little round-the-table math, based on what I knew of the rates/salaries of the people in the meeting.

By the time I was done, I’d tallied that each team meeting was costing the company $1,500. Per hour. And not only did we have several of those large meetings per week, but subsets of that group would have anywhere from 5-10 additional meetings per week on top of that!

What was worse of all was the awareness that at least half of those meetings occured out of habit, and not out of an actual need to either make a decision or collaborate on the resolution to a problem. We were meeting for no better reason that so we could say that we met.

I was thinking back to his exercise when reading Barney Austen’s guest post on MyVenturePad, called “Meetings – A Total Waste of Time.” Of course, most of Barney’s points are long-standing reminders of the well-established rules of Meeting Management 101: have an agenda, make sure decision-makers are in the room, etc.

But as an entrepreneur what I am constantly struck with is the actual cost vs. value of a meeting. When someone else was paying my salary, this wasn’t something I was anywhere near as concerned with. But now, knowing that my consulting time is billed by the hour, I am acutely aware of the fact that any time I spend in a meeting is detracting from billable client work I could be doing. So that meeting time better be worth while, or I need to cancel it.

I have worked with some other consultants making the transition from employee to entrepreneur, and I’ve seen many of the struggle with the same thing: common patterns of behavior in enterprise environments are suddenly irresponsibly expensive in entrepreneurial ventures. And the new business owners who understand that are quick to adapt. But some struggle with it more, because it’s a common tool used to justify their job.

One of the best consultants I ever worked with once said to me, “I’ve been a consultant too long. If I don’t produce something tangible every day, I feel like I haven’t justified my paycheck.” As a result, she had the world’s greatest project documentation. It was always updated, it was always detailed and it was always extremely thorough. What it wasn’t was always necessary.

Bootstrapping a startup is a different animal. And finding the right people to work with is important, because the last thing a lean organization that is trying to be cash efficient needs, is unnecessary meetings burning through time and resources — especialy in the cases that those resources are paid by the hour.

A simple rule of thumb: only schedule meetings if there is a decision that needs to be made, and then only include the people needed to make the actual decision. Even more importantly, don’t let Outlook or Google Calendar’s default settings drive you to automatically scheduling it for an hour. If you think that getting a quick decision is possible, then keep it to half an hour. (Side note: new teams tend to love me, because I am the queen of the 15 minute meeting. No matter how long I schedule the meeting for, my goal is always to be done in 15. And I usually am.)

There are, of course, other types of meetings. But, as an entrepreneur, everything that I do in my business should be tied back to tangible, measureable results. So while a sales meeting, a vendor meeting or a team member feedback session could be extremely important, an entrepreneuer should always stop and do a time management inventory to make absolutely certain that the purpose of the meeting is clear, and that it can be served based on the list of confirmed attendees.

If it’s not, the answer is simple: change the meeting. Cancel it, reschedule it or just change whose coming. And if you think that seems like a waste, then I challenge you to add up how much that meeting is costing you. Then decide whether or not it’s worth it.

Alora Chistiakoff is an entrepreneur, blogger, content strategist and project manager who has been developing online business and technology for startups for more than a decade. She co-owns The Indigo Heron Group, Inc., a content strategy firm in Austin, Texas.