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Taking Internal Meetings from Good to Great

14 years ago, Jim Collins asked the question, “Can a good company become a great company and if so, how?” The answers were so surprising, informative, and inspiring, that the book remains one of the top leadership tomes of the last 20 years. Good to Great is all about the what’s and how’s that separate good companies from great companies.

As meetings are one of the key how’s companies use to get things done, I decided to examine the book through the eyes of someone looking to boost meeting success and see if the concepts hold up as it applies to meetings as well.

Collins lays out six differentiating factors for his Great Companies:

  1. Level 5 Leadership

  2. First Who, Then What

  3. Confront the Brutal Facts

  4. The Hedgehog Concept

  5. Culture of Discipline

  6. Technology Accelerators

Let’s examine these ideas to see how they can be applied to improving meeting success.

Level 5 Leadership: The level 5 Leader is described as someone with genuine personal humility with intense personal will. When you take center stage in front of your people, how do they see you? How do you come across? In the meetings world, personal humility can be easily expressed by presenters who are more concerned with what their participants have to say than what they are there to communicate. Personal will can be expressed by structuring the meeting as an opportunity to inspire great ideas and have the types of discussions that lead to disciplined action. This takes a lot more forethought than a hastily thrown together agenda and slides. It takes genuine care, preparation, and yes discipline on the part of you the leader/presenter.

First Who, Then What: This principle concept states that people aren’t your most important asset. The “right” people are. To take your meetings from good to great, the audience composition must be at the forefront of your mind. Will the ‘right people” be present to drive your agenda forward? If you can’t get the “right people” together, should you still have the meeting? What are the incentives for the “right people” to attend and actively participate? By incentives I’m not talking remuneration so much as an open opportunity and invitation to have a say in the proceedings of the company.

Confront the Brutal Facts: Good-to-great leaders confront the most brutal facts of their current reality, yet simultaneously maintained absolute faith that they will prevail in the end. When the business is not going so well, are the people punished and threatened, or are they presented with the challenges and inspired to come up with solutions? I cannot tell you the number of meetings I’ve attended where senior leaders are scared to death to deal straight with their people or so angered by poor performance that they play the blame game and threaten their people from the stage. Blame starts at the top, and should stop there as well. People need to know the facts and then be empowered to act.

The Hedgehog Concept: There are three questions that great companies constantly ask themselves: 1) What are we deeply passionate about? 2) What can we be best in the world at? and 3)What drives our economic engine? Once these three questions are answered, a big hairy audacious goal should be established to inspire the level of performance necessary to achieve higher. Meetings are the perfect venues for these types of critical questions. These questions should be asked at every internal meeting and progress should be continuously tracked and presented. When things go off track, leaders should present the brutal facts and then rally their teams to overcome these challenges.

Culture of Discipline: It is possible to have a high degree of discipline while maintaining an equally high sense of entrepreneurship. When it comes to creating this type of high functioning culture, the best companies are experts. Every meeting should spend a little time addressing challenges and the bulk of the time identifying, prioritizing, and analyzing opportunities. This is the rigor that must be built right into the meeting agenda and become a common thread in all presentations. Spend less time presenting strategies to your people and more time presenting opportunities and asking them to develop the strategy. This creates that environment of entrepreneurship, buy-in, and accountability that makes consistent great performance possible.

Technology Accelerators: Good-to-great organizations have a paradoxical relationship with technology. On the one hand they avoid jumping on new technology bandwagons. On the other they pioneer the application of carefully selected technologies, making bold farsighted investments directly linked to their hedgehog concept. You can accelerate the productivity, impact, and success of your meetings by applying the right technology as well. An example for meetings is technology that allows you to hear from your people, interact with them on a one-to-one basis, stimulate their best thinking, and capture all these inputs in real-time. There are many audience response technologies on the market today, but very few allow for full participant engagement. The fact is, most meetings use no technology at all, mostly because of the issues addressed in the previous Good to Great principles - leaders more concerned with their appearance, their strategy, their communication approach, and their marching orders, do not need technology for meetings. They’d be better off pre-recording all this and sending it out via e-mail. It would save a lot of time, money, and effort.

With that said, here are the 6 keys to take your internal meetings from good to great.

  1. Build agendas and presentations that allow more listening time than talk time

  2. Contemplate the audience composition carefully. Make sure the right people are present and actively engaged.

  3. Present performance results as transparently as possible.

  4. Ask the three hedgehog concept questions at every meeting and update on progress towards the big hairy audacious goals.

  5. Focus more on opportunities than challenges and empower the participants to build the strategy.

  6. Leverage interactive technology that will fully engage your participants.

If you need help driving these sorts of changes at your internal meetings, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Remember, the voyage from conducting good meetings to great meetings will start off slowly, but before you know it, you will start to experience the breakout results that are possible with this approach!

Last but not least, remember that meetings are about making decisions and moving the business forward. If you find that you are not making the sort of progress you'd like on your agenda - diagnose the issues in meeting management first, is my recommendation. How are you working to improve meetings in your organization? Do the recommendations above make sense? Let me know in the comments section.

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