Every organization has to figure out how to make meetings productive. It's a complex challenge. To be effective, each meeting needs to engage the individual talents of the people involved, work to achieve the organization's specific goals for the moment, and do so in a way that's both culturally relevant and contextually sensitive to the world around it. Not an easy feat.
It can be tempting to shy away from the task. Instead of embracing this complexity, many leaders fall back on simple blanket rules that no one really follows—like the leader that declared all meetings in the company could last no more than 20 minutes. Others delegate responsibility for success to others, even though they themselves are the most frequent meeting attendees. Many leaders claim that meetings are a waste of time, and therefore not worth the effort it would take for the organization to make them work well.
These are common traps that keep an organization locked in a cycle of underperforming meetings and endemic mediocrity.
Here are 5 ways high-performing organizations avoid that fate:
Set clear expectations for all meetings.
Meeting norms, ground rules, guidelines - these set the foundation for building an effective meeting habit.
They often include things like use of an agenda and keeping meetings on time. Whatever your rules, the leadership team must follow them. The way the leadership group meets sets the real standard everyone else follows.
Document and share meeting results.
Fear of missing out (FOMO) compels people to attend meetings they shouldn't. Organizers don't want to leave people out, so they invite everyone who might possibly want to weigh in. Having irrelevant people in the room de-energizes the conversation and disrupts productivity.
Documented meeting results are the fastest and easiest way to combat meeting FOMO. Before the meeting, document the meeting purpose and desired outcomes clearly. Then, send out written meeting results afterwards. When people can see in advance what a meeting is for, then see afterwards what happened, they can decide whether they need to attend. This keeps meetings more focused, and it keeps everyone more productive.
Define “The Way" to meet for all core processes.
There are 16 different types of business meetings, and each has a purpose. A regular team meeting is good for confirming progress and identifying problems, but it's a lousy place to make a big decision. Big decisions demand a dedicated decision-making meeting.
Similarly, the initial meeting with a prospective client (or funder) should look very different from the meeting where you ink the deal. Each of these pivotal meetings can be optimized to drive the results your company needs.
High-performance organizations know the type of meetings they need to run and how to run each one well. Each meeting gets a name and becomes “the way" that kind of work gets done. For example, the team's check-in meeting becomes “the huddle". The meeting to impress prospective clients early in the sales cycle becomes a “services briefing." Anything called simply a “meeting" isn't specific enough.
Leaders spend up to 80% of their work day in meetings, and yet many have never received meeting training. Meetings aren't just conversations with lots of people at work; there are skills and techniques to learn that radically improve meeting results.
High-performance organizations provide skills training to people leading meetings. They also train everyone how to participate in the meetings defined as “the way" to get their job done. Meetings represent an enormous salary investment, and high-performance organizations ensure their people get a good return on that investment.
ABL: Always be learning!
Once they have “the way" to meet, the organization can experiment. What happens when we meet on Monday instead of Wednesday? If we tweak the process, can we make decisions faster?
High-performance organizations have the process stability they need in order to run conclusive experiments and continuously improve their meeting practices.
Bad meetings are not inevitable. Quite the opposite: meetings can be a powerful embodiment of your company's culture and a driver of performance, when designed and run with intention. And the best news: you get to learn from the examples set by high-performance organizations that have already conquered this design challenge. When it comes to meeting design, the adage holds true: Well-stolen is half done!
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.