The executive meeting is one of your most expensive business activities, yet in most organisations these meetings do not fulfil their objectives. Gautam Sethi identifies four key factors you need to implement to ensure your meetings stay on course.

In many organisations, executive meetings do not fulfil their objectives. We believe that a large number of executive teams today are grappling with the issue of ‘ineffective’ executive meetings – where the outcomes are not worth the significant cost of time spent by executives, where discussion prevails over decisions and the team finds it difficult to respond promptly to changing market forces and where the meeting drains the energy of the executive team making them feel disengaged and demotivated. Based on our research and experience at , we have identified four key factors to ensure that executive meetings deliver their intended outcomes.

Clarity on who ‘owns’ the meeting

More often than not, key staff ranging from the CEO’s office, CFO, Strategy Head, and HR Head play such an intertwined role in planning executive meetings that it becomes unclear as to who actually ‘owns’ the meeting and its outcomes. Inevitably, such meetings lack focus. Examples include: meetings where a bunch of diverse presentations are delivered by different executives; meetings with dubious ‘filler’ agenda items; meetings where there is little argument; meetings where nobody bothers to document outcomes.

Clarity on who ‘owns’ the meeting is critical because the meeting ‘owner’ drives the agenda and leads the planning and conduct of the meeting to ensure that the outcomes are worth the time spent. From our experience, executive meetings where there is a clear single ‘owner’ are more successful.

Clarity on the objectives of the meeting

For an executive meeting to be successful it is imperative that the meeting ‘owner’ states upfront what will constitute success, in the sharpest possible terms. In other words the ‘must-have’ objectives of the meeting should be clearly defined. Unclear objectives lead to unproductive meetings.

From our experience, executive meetings that focus on a single ‘must-have’ objective are more successful. ‘Less is more’ when framing the objectives. Focussing on a single ‘must-have’ objective and deprioritising other objectives eliminates agenda clutter and focusses executives’ effort on answering the key question most critical to the business. Such meetings also make the executive team feel more energised.

Nemawashi i.e. Engagement of key stakeholders prior to the meeting

The term Nemawashi comes from Japanese management practice. It refers to the informal process of quietly laying the foundation for a proposed change or decision, by talking to the people concerned, gathering support and feedback, and so forth.

We believe that given the complexities and sensitivities involved in critical business decisions, Nemawashi is an extremely effective practice in ensuring the success of executive meetings where such decisions are made. Our experience tells that the most effective executive meetings are run much prior to the meeting day and not on the day itself.

For executives to make important decisions, they must be engaged well before the meeting day. This allows them to raise any concerns in a safe setting, whilst also allowing the meeting ‘owner’ to test and refine proposed recommendations. Minimising the possibility of surprises during the meeting reduces the chances of it being derailed and creates the right conditions for having a rich discussion. This pre-work also helps the ‘owner’ to manage their expectations prior to the meeting so they go into the meeting with a much more realistic and pragmatic outlook.

Effective chairing

Chairing executive meetings is an art, and one that can often mean the difference between a successful and an ineffective meeting. The most effective chairpersons are those who ruthlessly drive the meeting towards intended meeting outcomes and do not let the meeting get side-tracked by non-essential discussions, hold attendees accountable for contributions, agreed decisions and actions and call out behaviour that is not in line with team norms and values. They also adhere to time and ensure that there is appropriate documentation of the agreed decisions and actions with accountabilities assigned.

These four factors outline simple things that executive teams can work on relatively quickly to significantly improve the ROI from one of their most expensive business activity – the executive meetings.

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