3 min read

Ready to stop wasting time & money?

Every year, companies waste $100 million in unproductive meetings. So why aren't you starting meetings with a written document?
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Photo by Gary Chan / Unsplash

(Building a writing culture part 2)

What would you do with $100 million a year?

You probably wouldn’t waste it sitting in pointless meetings that don’t actually go anywhere. But every year, it is estimated a company with 5,000 employees wastes $100 million in unproductive meetings. This was the finding of a recent study by Korn Ferry. Couple this with the fact that Microsoft found we each spend an average of 18 hours per week in meetings (many of which could have been avoided) then we have a problem.

If these meetings are driving meaningful results, great. But if they aren’t and end with someone saying “I think we need another meeting”, isn’t it time we changed things.

I’m going to assume that a large majority of these meetings either had no agenda, were focused around a presentation, or could have been an email…This was one of the fundamental reasons why Amazon shifted to narrative-based meetings back in 2004.

We explored a little about why PowerPoint isn’t a great tool for driving decision making in a previous blog: Writing a narrative doc is better for business than PowerPoint. In essence, the messaging during a presentation is largely one-way; presenter to audience. The presenter is in control. They control the pace of information transmission, the level of depth, and where to put the emphasis. Presentations usually take up the majority of a meeting, with little time for questions. Plus, slides are notoriously a way poor way to transfer information. They either have little more than a picture or a number, or they have so many tiny words the people at the back of the room feel they need to book an eye test!

So why do documents drive better decision making in meetings?

In a narrative driven meeting, a well-written document is shared at the start. The author of the document has thought about the message that needs to be shared, who their reader is, what they need to discuss, and ultimately what is needed to drive a decision. The writer has done the heavy lifting prior to the meeting. They have done their research, scoped possible solutions, and weighed up the risks. Most importantly they are giving the reader the context and background required to get up to speed quickly. The document is easy to read, so the readers can get to discussing as soon as possible. The writer(s) of a document can spend hours writing, but in my experience, this time investment is far less than the cumulative hours spent in the cycle of recurring meetings.

The key decision makers are in the room (virtual or otherwise). Everyone reads. Then they discuss. Information transmission is in the hands of the reader. It doesn’t matter if they skim read or read every work, they control the pace. They bring their knowledge of the subject with them, annotate as they go, heck, they can even flip between pages 3 and 6 without disrupting everyone else! Then when everyone has read the paper they discuss. Questions are asked, comments made, dialogue exchanged. Towards the end, the meeting is drawn to a close, and next steps are decided.

Meetings with a document at the centre generate better discussion, and help drive faster decision making. It’s not just Amazon that has found this. Reckitt, the parent company behind Vanish, Strepsils, and Finish, together with Board Intelligence, has worked to improve the quality of their board meetings. Through shorter, more focused documents (6 pages rather than 30) and no lengthy presentations, they have saved time in both paper preparation and meeting frequency and duration.

Have I convinced you yet to write more?

In the next blog I’ll be looking at the concept of Tenets and how they can help you jump off the merry-go-round of repeated debates…

If you have enjoyed reading this, why not buy me a coffee to fuel future blogs :)