Implementing Strategy? Try Holding Meetingless Meetings

Meetingless Meetings

What should executives do about their strategy execution problems? Here’s a simple idea: schedule time to execute strategy with Meetingless Meetings.

The idea is a simple one. After leaving a strategic planning retreat and assigning each project to an individual, block out time in each executive’s calendar for strategy execution. Using today’s scheduling tools, it would look like a meeting request from the CEO, set with the highest priority.

Except for one thing… there actually wouldn’t be a physical meeting or even a virtual one. Instead, each executive would be free to engage in whatever strategy execution activity they deem fit for the duration of the “meeting.” It would be a non-negotiable commitment of time – an absolute requirement for every member of the team.

For example, a CEO might decide to have a Meetingless Meeting on Monday mornings from 10-1145 AM, immediately following the weekly executive meeting from 9-10 AM. Before 12PM, she could ask each executive to leave a short note describing what was accomplished during the Meetingless Meeting. They may have summarized a white paper while sitting alone at their desk. Or chaired a meeting in which a decision is made. Or coached a direct report whose performance is flagging. Whatever the activity is, the short note would describe the activity and explain the link to the aspect of the corporate strategy they were working on.

Why is such a meeting required?

According to the McKinsey Quarterly January 2013 article “Making time management the organization’s priority,” there are some powerful reasons to set aside specific time for strategic activity. Frankki Bevins and Aaron de Smet argue that “leaders who are serious about addressing… challenge (of not having enough hours in the day to get things done) must stop thinking about time management as primarily an individual problem and start addressing it institutionally.”

They are specific about the solution: “Senior teams can create time budgets and formal processes for allocating their time.” Not only should they treat time like money, but it must also be managed collectively. That is, it’s also a finite resource to be carefully allocated to high priorities.

They have observed something quite similar to Meetingless Meetings in a global chemical company. The top administrative assistant “allocates time of the CEO and the top team to specific issues and stakeholders.” She happens to “own the master schedule for corporate officers and uses it to ensure that the executive team meets on important topics.”

Furthermore, she “regularly checks to ensure that calendared time matches the stated priorities.” If there’s a mismatch, she asks rather pointed questions such as “Do we need to clear the decks to make more time for strategic priorities?” and “We haven’t been to Latin America yet this year – is that an issue?”

If she sounds like the kind of administrative assistant you would dream of having, read on.

She also “create(s) ‘quiet zones’ of minimal activity ahead of significant events” that require prior preparation. This is the germ of the idea for a Meetingless Meeting, which shines an even brighter spotlight on activities that otherwise would not occur. The added benefit of all executives working at the same time is that they can’t schedule meetings with each other during that time. Plus, they all benefit from seeing a buildup of weekly momentum.

According to the authors of the article, a recent study at a professional services firm shows that “senior partners were spending a disproportionate amount of time on current engagements, to the exclusion of equally important strategic priorities.” This problem afflicts all senior management teams I have ever worked with, but you don’t need a heaven-sent administrative assistant to get started. You probably don’t have a lot of time to train executives in better time management skills. Just go ahead and schedule the time to work psychologically together, but physically apart, on your highest priority but non-emergency activities. Call it a Meetingless Meeting if you will, but make sure that strategic progress is made by scheduling it in advance. It’s right in line with the words of Peter Drucker: “Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed.”