“It seemed like such a good deal. We were getting funded and getting all this free advice to boot. Now the money is gone and the advice seems to have been less than useful.”
Over the years, I have developed a habit that has served me well. I calculate the cost of the meeting by adding up the value of each participant’s time, the cost of the facility and any materials used and then compare that with the value of what is being produced by the meeting. It is a crude measure, I will allow. However, it does add a certain reality check to the proceedings. Here are some examples:
Example 1 – the Plastic Penae: I was in an all-hands meeting that was discussing branding. We had six people present. I calculated that their combined cost for the meeting was something over two thousand dollars an hour. That meant that the two hour meeting would cost the company over four thousand dollars. At one point, the focus became a particular option – and out came the plastic penae – I-Phones and Blackberries. As I watched in disbelief, the meeting descended into a disorganized ‘mine-is-faster-then-yours’ competition. ‘Research’ that should have been done well prior to the meeting, was being haphazardly pursued by a disorganized gaggle.
Example 2 – What’s the Point: This meeting was a bit more expensive than the first one – roughly thirty-five hundred an hour. The advance work had not been done and the meeting descended into a discussion of the agenda. After two hours of talking through what they should be talking about, time was up and there was no time to talk about what they should have been talking about. Subsequently, I discovered that this was, in fact, a planned result. A faction within the group did not want to talk about certain matters so they sidetracked the meeting onto an extended discussion of the agenda.
Example Three – The Right Way: I had engaged to facilitate a meeting for an organization that was more than marginally dysfunctional. The senior management had approached me with a request that ‘I help them identify and work through the issues’. My approach, prior to the formal session, was to interview each participant at least twice – and most three or four times. I also organized an online survey that gathered additional information. The first part of the meeting was a presentation of findings. I laid out all of the issues and presented the various interpretations of them. As a result, the meeting skipped the ‘what’s the problem’ stage and went directly to the ‘how do we solve it’ process. After the day-long session, the CEO complimented me on the meeting – “You laid the patient out before us. There was no debate over how sick it was or what ailed it. That saved us day or more”. The cost of that meeting was well over twenty thousand dollars an hour.
Businesspeople who routinely calculate the ROI for investments seldom apply similar analysis to meeting. Count the cost and ask yourself as you leave the meeting, ‘did we really get X dollars in value out of that?’
© Dr. Earl R. Smith II