Here’s a simple way to cut 17 minutes from most meetings: Have a Statement of Achievement.
Recently, I did a survey of people coming out of meetings, and one of the survey questions was: Did the meeting you were just in accomplish its original objective? Survey participants were given three response choices: YES, NO, and I HAVE NO IDEA. Sadly, “Yes” wasn’t the most common response given. “No” wasn’t either. That’s right, the most frequently given response was “I have no idea.” The startling fact is that 90%+ of meetings fail to produce an identifiable achievement.
The reason why so many folks are sitting in meetings with no idea why they’re there is because they lack a clear objective. That’s what a Statement of Achievement is. It’s one sentence that says, “As a result of this meeting, we will have achieved _______.” The blank can be anything; it’s your meeting. But before you can go ahead and proceed with that meeting, you have to be able to fill in that blank and then share that Statement of Achievement with the people who will be in that meeting. You can do it in an email prior to the meeting along with the meeting agenda so people have a chance to prepare, or, less favorably, but OK in a pinch, you can stand up before the meeting starts and say, “Hey Folks, as a result of this meeting, we will have achieved _____. And once we achieve that, this meeting is over.”
Maybe your Statement of Achievement is “As a result of this meeting, we will have picked a price for the proposal we’re submitting to the Johnson account,” or “As a result of this meeting, we will have decided which of the three clinical safety protocols we’re going to move forward with,” or “As a result of this meeting, we will have decided who is going to be in-charge of next week’s employee lunch.” As long as you can fill in that blank with an intended achievement, your meetings are going to have a stated purpose and so get a lot more productive. And, your meetings will also get shorter.
If you remember physics class and Boyle and Bernoulli then you know that a gas will expand to fill the available space. For example, there’s not a little pocket of oxygen in the middle of your office right now; the oxygen is expanded, it fills your entire office. Well, in more ways than one, meetings are like gas. They will expand to fill whatever space you give them. And what we find is that when organizations implement a Statement of Achievement in all their meetings, meetings end, on average, 17 minutes earlier. Here’s why:
Most meetings, regardless of the company, industry, size, geography, type of meeting, etc., are scheduled with a calendar entry that says, “This is a 60-minute meeting.” So if you have 20 minutes of content in a meeting, but a 60-minute time block, how long does the meeting last? 60 minutes. If you have 37 minutes worth of content in a 60-minute time block, how long does the meeting last? 60 minutes. When our schedule says that we have a one-hour meeting, like gas, the meeting chatter expands to fill that 60 minutes and suddenly everyone is off and running talking about last night’s basketball game or the most recent episode of some reality series. And this happens because we don’t have a crystal clear objective that says, “As soon as we accomplish this Statement of Achievement, this meeting is over.”
Time is not a good metric for assessing the success of a meeting, but you know what is a good metric? Agreeing on a price for the proposal, or picking a color for the new product, or settling on a new location, or completing ten employee reviews. These are great metrics of meeting success and they are all viable Statements of Achievement. And they’ll tell you exactly when you’ve achieved success (so everyone can leave the meeting and go accomplish some other work).
It’s not too late to write a Statement of Achievement for today’s meeting. 17 minutes may not sound like it’s worth the effort, but when you average that 17 minutes out across the 20 meetings you sit in every week, now we’re talking about real time. And all you need to do is write one sentence that says, “As a result of this meeting, we will have achieved ________.”