“How many of you have been to an unproductive meeting?”
That’s the question with which Kory Kogon likes to open her presentations. In an effort to educate managers and business owners on the importance of effectively leading a meeting, the response from the crowd overwhelmingly signals bad news.
“All the hands go up,” says Kogon, organizational development practice leader at FranklinCovey, which specializes in improving business performance through changes in human behavior. “At any sized organization, you need to get the most out of your meetings. You’ll save a lot of money and energy by getting a grip on them.”
Scott Cushman can attest to the “saving money” portion of that quote. As the owner of C&H Foreign Auto Repair in Spokane, Wash., he’s made meetings an important component of motivating his staff and driving improved KPIs over the past three years. Even his short, daily production meetings have a sense of purpose, which he says have improved efficiency and productivity at the shop over time.
Leading an effective meeting that pushes shop-wide improvements and motivates staff to be efficient and productive takes practice, discipline and a game plan. Both Kogon and Cushman lay out the essentials for leading an engaging meeting.
Have a Consistent Meeting Schedule.
You can kill a meeting before it even starts, Kogon says, when your employees don’t know what to expect. And the easiest way to set expectations—whether it’s a regularly scheduled meeting or a random one—is to have a set date and a time limit in place.
“If you don’t do that, people come knowing the meeting won't end on time,” she says. “And if people aren’t used to a certain time, people show up late.”
Cushman arranges for his production meetings to take place each day at 7:45 a.m., and for work to begin at 8 a.m. If the meeting approaches going beyond 15 minutes, he tables a discussion for the following day’s meeting.
He’s also sure to remind staff members of monthly and yearly meetings hosted at the shop, priming his employees to clear their work schedules to discuss KPIs and managerial improvements. That way, in the days leading up to the meeting, his staff can prepare questions and get in the proper mindset.
Prepare for the Meeting.
Ultimately, the goal of any meeting is to motivate staff to carry out your objective. But that leads right into the biggest misstep business leaders make, Kogon says: failing to even nail down an objective beforehand.
Before each meeting, she says to take the time—just a few minutes for a daily meeting or an hour for a monthly meeting—and determine the desired outcome. Do employees need to keep their work spaces tidier? Does the front office staff need to improve communication with customers? Have there been frustrations between technicians and service advisors? How will everyone fix these problems?
Nailing down the meeting’s theme should naturally guide its structure. You’ll know the problem or KPI that’s being addressed; the parties that need to be active in that discussion; any data you’ll need to research beforehand; and any visuals that will engage your audience.
Set the Tone.
Once he determines the main objectives for a meeting, Cushman then ensures his employees are on board as well. Prior to the meeting, he will inform his employees of the meeting agenda. Then, at the top of the meeting, he will relay the goals and focus of the upcoming discussion, and provide a brief outline of how the meeting will be structured.
And once the objectives are set in place, the next step is actively engaging the employees, Kogon says. FranklinCovey encourages the connect model, which involves connecting with your message, your audience and yourself. Your body language, your tone, your enthusiasm—all of it will translate to your audience and become the root of their motivation to carry out your goals.
“Being connected to the message is about stating your objective, being passionate about it, and showing you’re connected to that objective,” she says. “You need to have purpose for your employees to have purpose. You’ll find that it’s contagious.”
Once you’ve stated the main objective and inspired your employees to find purpose, then you can set short-term and long-term goals for everyone. Kogon says to offer employees tips for achieving the desired improvements (“Clear the pathway,” as she puts it), and to attach dates to achieving said improvements.
To aid with post-meeting goals, Cushman prints out articles from magazines and websites that offer tips and passes them out to everyone.
Facilitate the Discussion.
When he initially established regular staff meetings, Cushman says his employees rarely spoke up with concerns or solutions to problems. Thus, change was slow to occur at first.
That’s when he learned: While being an engaging host is certainly key, an active audience that participates in the discussion will stimulate change.
Before you can even expect your employees to be active during a meeting, Kogon says you need to set some ground rules that ensure everyone is paying attention. Simple little regulations—such as putting cell phones away and barring irrelevant side discussions—go a long way in guaranteeing everybody is focused on the main objective.
Once the meeting is rolling, Cushman involves everyone by addressing subjects on which he requires feedback. For his daily production meetings, he covers the cars on the schedule, and then asks about any parts on which technicians are waiting. By asking questions and addressing any problem childs, he can ensure all vehicles are inspected before noon.
“Psychologically, I get them to recognize that if we can inspect cars in the morning and call back the customers before the afternoon, they’re more likely to want to do the repairs,” he says.
Cushman is sure to take notes during this process, assuring his employees that their feedback is important. If a discussion deviates from the meeting agenda, Cushman will write down the new issue and table it for a future meeting.
“That way, they know we’re actually doing something about it,” he says. “Listening to people and putting a plan into action are two different things. Show that you're taking care of everyone by showing that you care.”
If time permits, Cushman will straight up ask his employees: How can we improve efficiency? What is holding us back? Where is there miscommunication? What are your biggest frustrations? This usually opens up the discussion, and highlights important issues to address in more detail at future meetings.
A great way to spark dialogue on needed improvements, Kogon says, is to shine the spotlight on a quality employee. Ask the person to speak on how he or she excels at being efficient each day. Then, encourage feedback from other employees and allow that to serve as a lesson for everyone.
Follow Up with Employees.
The final component to an effective meeting actually takes place after the meeting, Kogon says. Just because you’ve informed your employees on the desired outcome of a meeting doesn’t necessarily mean it will be accomplished. That’s why you should track the desired outcome and make its importance known.
It’s all about accountability, she says. If you’ve set a goal to have all bays cleared of clutter, set a deadline and make it clear you’ll survey the area at the end of the week. That way, everyone knows the meeting’s objective isn’t a suggestion—it’s mandatory.
“Then report back on accomplishments at the next meeting,” Kogon says. “Then they feel rewarded for carrying out your mission.”