How to Run Stronger and More Productive Meetings

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Welcome to the People-First Culture Podcast with me, Michel Falcon, where I share lessons I’ve learned and those of others on how to build a more purposeful business and career.

Hey everyone. Welcome to the People-First Culture Podcast. I’m thankful to have you listening. If you are a new listener, welcome and thank you. If you have come back for your second, third, fourth, fifth, or however many episodes you’ve listened to, huge gracious thank you to you and your time and your attention. My goal with this podcast is really singular in focus. I have done things in my career. What I’m going to talk to you about today is actually new, and I share lessons on what is working for me or what I’m currently learning, what I’m currently deploying, and how it impacts businesses, both on the employee side of things and their performance, how you manage individuals, customer experience, leadership, so that you can grow a phenomenal business, regardless of your industry. I’m in restaurants. However, I have consulted for many, many different industries, all using the same practices and the same lessons that I share with you on the podcast.

This episode is on a topic that we all participate within, but I don’t believe enough companies focus on refining and making better. I just spent close to two months evaluating how my company runs meetings. I knew I wanted to change it, but I didn’t want to change it unless I had something that I thought would be better. What I share with you today, I believe, is, in fact, better. And when were we ever taught how to run successful meetings? I did not finish business school, so I don’t know if they teach it there. Let’s assume that they do. How effective is what we have been taught, in practicality, in using it within businesses? I learned how to run meetings in about 2008, but of course, things change, things evolve. And sometimes we evolve before the change happens, and sometimes we’re laggards and we don’t evolve fast enough and we just stick with the same system and process, that actually doesn’t serve the business.

I read this quote in preparation for this podcast. “Large companies could save as much as 100 million a year by holding fewer unnecessary meetings and cutting down on their invite list.” And this is according to a gentleman named Steven Rogelberg, a UNC, I believe that’s University of North Carolina, professor and expert on meeting strategy. Now, you might not run a large company, but perhaps you run a small team or a small business or a medium size business. Regardless of size, I’m sure you have meetings, and I’m quite confident that you could probably be running them more effectively. I know I recognize that. Yeah, so that’s why I set out to learn who runs great meetings or who can I learn from, and I didn’t ask any other restaurateurs. I asked three people specifically, and they’re all my friends. Rhys Green, he is a partner in a consulting firm, that focuses on people management and company culture, and the company’s called Trailblaze Partners.

Myles Farmer, he was actually my former partner in a restaurant venture, who runs a wellness organization called Othership. And then, there’s Cameron Herolds, Cameron Herold was the COO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK. Funny enough, his last day was actually my first day, and Cameron wrote a book on this very topic. And the title of the book is very strong, and actually, I’m going to put a link within the notes to this podcast. If you’re interested, go and buy it. Cameron is extraordinarily sharp and very experienced, and the title of the book is Meetings Suck: Turning One of The Most Loathed Elements of Business into One of the Most Valuable. So go over and check that. I’m actually looking at my bookcase right now, and I’m looking at three copies that I have on my bookcase. So I read through the book again in preparation for this podcast to share some things with you all.

Some of the pain points in running an effective meeting is there are too many meetings and wasted time. We all can probably agree to that. There’s something that you’ll probably see online or on social media, Twitter, or wherever, where it says “This meeting could have been an email.” And that’s very true. However, to the contrary, that email thread of 47 replies probably could have been a meeting. Meetings aren’t effective when only a few people are talking. I will raise my hand and say, “I need to get better at this.” Something I learned earlier in my career, no agenda, no attenda. If there’s no agenda to the meeting, I’m not showing up. And that always stuck with me, not just because it was fun to say, but it’s true. I’m not going to go do something unless I know why I’m going to do it, because our time is valuable.

And that might sound like a cliche, but it’s true. Think of this. A 30 minute meeting. It’s not just 30 minutes. You go from one activity to your meeting, and then, that meeting’s 30 minutes. How do you get back to that same activity or a new one? You don’t go right into it instantaneously. It might take you another 30 minutes to go from that 30 minute meeting to actual productivity to get settled back in at your desk or wherever you may be working from. So that 30 minute meeting could actually be quite disruptive and be an hour of productivity or an hour and a half, because you have to start something, stop something, start something, stop something, and so forth. Pain points of meetings also includes no note taker or debrief notes. I am an advocate of having a note taker for debrief notes, so that we can circle back, if we have to, on what was said. “Who will do what by when?”

That’s something else I learned in meetings. So before you end your meeting or the discussion item, you ask, “who will do what by when?” And that’s the accountability measure of having a meeting. Jeff Bezos, some people like him, some people don’t. But nevertheless, I found something that was kind of paradigm shifting for me, in preparations for figuring out how to run better meetings. But he said, many years ago, they banned PowerPoint presentations at Amazon. And the reason that they did that was because often, the attendees would start asking questions when they’re on page three of the slide or slide three of the presentation, when that question’s going to be answered or preemptively discussed in page or slide six, for example. So the audience has a habit of interrupting the presenter. So they banned PowerPoint presentations. So instead, to replace the PowerPoint presentations, they found a new way of holding meetings, and each attendee would just sit silently and read a six page memo for the first 30 minutes of the meetings.

So picture, you have your round table of people in the meeting. There’s this memo, and you read it carefully by yourself. I’m sure people are jotting down notes or questions that they might have about the memo. And then, once everybody’s done reading it, they discuss what’s within the memo. I found that to be, in theory, more effective than listening to somebody talk. Meetings are too expensive When you have 6, 7, 9 people, or however many, attending the meeting to listen to somebody just present something. You should be able to send a presentation deck ahead of time, say, “read this, come prepared with your questions.” Shopify, recently, I think in the last three months, canceled most of their meetings. I don’t believe having no meetings or saying declining meetings is the right thing to do, fully. I’m not trying to say Shopify doesn’t know what they’re doing, because they’re obviously a very impressive and innovative company.

It’s just not for me. I think we need to cancel bad meetings, but say “yes” to good ones. Now, define good. I am not going to claim to know exactly what a good or great meeting is. On this podcast, I’m going to share what we do as a team at Brasa Peruvian Kitchen. And keep in mind too that there is no one size fits all. You may have a different structure, because you’re virtually set up, versus in person. So with that all being said, let me introduce you to what we’ve got going on at Brasa Peruvian Kitchen. And again, this took me about two months of work to just see what other people were doing, what did I like, what could I extract, what I didn’t like, but most importantly, what I felt would be the best for our team. We don’t know yet. What I’ve said to my team is “we’re going to launch this daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly framework, and we’re going to just monitor it for 60 days. We’re not going to make any changes. Please do not arrive at any opinions right away. It’s going to be different.”

And settling in with change can be challenging for some people. So here’s the daily. The daily meeting is Monday to Friday from 8:45 AM to 9:00 AM. We all dial into a line. You’ve got your head of marketing, your head of operations, two additional operations people. We’ve got our finance person, me, and our head of people and culture. So you’ve got seven people dialing into this call, and we only have 15 minutes. So each person will have two minutes each, maximum, and it will be timed. So at nine o’clock, we’re off the call. Each attendee has to speak to one of these discussion items, share a piece of good news, or “what one thing could you do today to make your day impactful?” That’s it. So a good news piece could say, our head of finance could say, “Hey everybody, I’ve got good news.

I’m going to be sending the P&Ls to you all at 2:00 PM today. You all are going to be happy and proud. Awesome.” What a awesome way to start the day. We’re looking forward to that P&L landing in our inbox at 2:00 PM. Or “what one thing could make today impactful?” Our director operations could say, “I’m meeting with our produce supplier today, and we’re going to be asking for a 10% discount. Because we’ve been with them for X amount of years, or we’re purchasing a Y amount per week. And if we get that discount, we’re all going to be very happy.” So it’s just a touch base. Quick, 15 minutes, you dial in. And this works for us, because we have people that are remote. Some of our operations people are “in the field.” So that’s daily. Very impactful. Weekly is actually Tuesday from 5:00 PM to 6:30.

I don’t think we need an hour and a half, but I’ve allocated that time. Because just to have period of time allocated to it. I think we’ll probably get done after 60 minutes. But it’s this same group of people that I just mentioned. This framework was built largely off of what Myles Farmer had shared with me. I believe I like what they’re doing, and of course, I don’t want to say “I love what they’re doing,” because I haven’t tried it myself. I might hate it or I might really like it or I may say “I like elements to it, I’m going to change it.” This is the best thing about being within a business of any size really. Probably gets a little harder as you get bigger, but do something. And if you have to undo it a little bit, so be it.

Don’t be so fixated on deploying a system that you think can’t be undone, especially if you’re doing it just within your own department. So before Tuesday at 5:00 PM, what has to happen is each single point of accountability or an SPA. So Jay is our head of marketing, he’s our SPA for marketing. He’s going to record a Loom, that is no longer than five minutes long, sharing the KPI results from the week before. Now, Loom is, if you’re not familiar, it’s just a recording software to film videos, and you can download them to wherever you want. So in this case, picture, Jay records his loom. He talks about his KPIs, like “website traffic for last week was X. Our website conversion was Y and da, da, da, da, da, so forth.” He records that Loom, saves it, uploads it to a dedicated Google Drive, and he has to do that by 12:00 PM on Tuesday.

Tuesday at 5:00 PM is our meeting. So we, as attendees, must watch those videos before 3:00 PM on Tuesday. And if we have questions as we’re watching the individual Looms from each single point of accountability, so there’s a marketing one, an operations, finance, and people, so there’s four Looms to watch. And we must do that by 3:00 PM. If we have any questions for the single point of accountability, we go to a dedicated Slack channel and say “question regarding marketing, why did this happen?” Or whatever the case might be. And then, we put it in that dedicated Slack channel. The meeting host is responsible for gathering all of the questions from Slack and arriving at 5:00 PM with all of them bundled together. The meeting host kicks off the meeting. “Hey everybody, welcome. Thank you for being on time.” Being on time for meetings is a different podcast episode. If you’ve ever worked with me, you know how much it bothers me when people arrive late.

But the meeting host starts off, welcomes everybody, and then, says, “Vanessa, you had a question for Jay, your question was X. Jay, can you speak to that?” So Jay fields all the marketing related questions first, and then, the operations SPA fields any questions that they might have, and so forth. There, I believe that’s going to be more impactful than just listening to people talk about their numbers. Just give it to me beforehand. Put in a five minute video, and I will watch it. Now, the Loom, it’s important that you do share your screen while you’re presenting, so that we can actually see the data visually and listen to it in auditory fashion. People learn in different ways. And one of the good things about Loom that Myles told me is that his team members can watch it at 1.5 speed. So that five minute video could actually be three minutes, let’s say.

After we’ve gone through the Q&A part, let’s just assume the Q&A part’s like 30 minutes, then we go into a round table. And each person is asked one question, and they’re all asked the same question. “What’s one thing your department will do this week to continue success or course correct? What’s one thing you are honing in on right now to improve?” And everybody comes with that one thing and bum bum, bum bum. That could take an additional 15 minutes. So in fact, this meeting actually might only be 45 minutes, but what have we done by consolidating it all? Not only do I think it will stop other meetings from having to happen, because we’re all talking about our data points at one meeting on a Tuesday at the beginning of the week.

I also, it’s valuable for our operations team, our finance people, and our people department to listen to what marketing’s doing. And it’s valuable for marketing to listen to what our people department are doing. That way, I think it’s just we’re going to communicate better. So that is our weekly meeting. Each department has their set of KPIs that they have to come and present, which I’ve outlined, because these are the certain KPIs that I want to see for the company. But also, I want to be kept up to date with on a weekly basis as the founder and CEO of the company. From there, we have our weekly one-on-ones. So Jay, our marketing person, reports into me. I can’t just attend a meeting with others, with his peers, and when am I going to give him feedback on how he’s performing? So him and I are going to have a 30 minute meeting, outside of this meeting, sometime during the week.

But that 30 minute meeting isn’t metrics driven, because we’ve already talked about the metrics with the others. So this one is going to be kind of relationship based, and we’ll have feedback shadowing. So he’s going to give me feedback on how I’m leading, and I’m going to give him feedback on how he’s performing and showing up for the company. It’s more free flowing, without an agenda, per se. And I like that, because imagine if I went into my relationship with my fiance and I came with KPIs. “Hey, by the way, you showed up seven minutes late for our coffee dates.” That would just be so bizarre. We get together, and we do it to have a relationship that’s based on something that isn’t metrics driven. So I believe I’m going to like this, but you never know. You got to try something. But I know myself and I know the company and I know my team.

I think this is going to be valuable for us. And guess what? If it doesn’t, we’ll iterate. The monthly meeting is in person, non-negotiable, and it’s an exhaustive review of our P&L. I don’t believe, there might be some other discussion items that come from the P&L, but we’re going there, P&Ls are printed out, I want a pen in my hand or a highlighter, and I want to be able to look at it. So this is where we’re going to borrow something from Amazon, where we’ll come, we’ll sit down, we’ll have P&Ls in our hand, and everybody’s quiet and reviewing it together. Then we will discuss what have we observed. I believe that monthly meeting will be an hour, and then, our quarterly meetings are in person offsite. And it’s a full day planning session to review the last quarter and plan for the upcoming quarter and “what’s our strategic plan going to look like?

What are we going to try to accomplish? How are we going to move the needle?” And I’m excited for that one, because that will be inclusive of having some team building programs implemented within it. It could be as simple as, “okay, we’re having a full day meeting and then, we’re going to go for dinner.” Or “we’re going to have a full day meeting and go for wine tasting,” or whatever the case might be. And my big recommendation is your quarterly meetings should not be in your place of work. I was taught early in my career that, when it comes to quarterly meetings, you’re obviously trying to solve something big, over a decent period of time. Do not try to solve problems in the same environment of where they are created. I hope I can say that again word for word.

Do not try to solve problems in the same environment in where they’re created. For me, I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but I need to have my meetings where critical thinking needs to happen, in a place where there’s a lot of natural light and high ceilings. Maybe because I’m slightly claustrophobic too. I don’t feel creative when I’m in a place with poor lighting and low ceilings. I want to be able to be somewhere where I feel good, and natural light will do that to me. And I’m sure it could impact you and your creative thinking as well. That’s how I’m going to be running my meetings. I will come back to you all in 60 days and give you an update in how it’s working and how I may have changed it. So let me know. Reach out to me. I’m Michel Falcon absolutely everywhere.

So whether it’s on LinkedIn or Instagram, tell me something about your meetings. What lessons you have found that have helped you run better meetings, and what type of impact has it had for your team, and because of that, the business? So thank you all so much. I really appreciate you even listening to one minute of this podcast. If you know somebody that you think would enjoy listening to this, there’s probably something on your phone right now or wherever you’re listening to this, to be able to share with them to their email, through text, or whatever. So thank you, and I will see you on the next episode.




Michel travels the world speaking at annual conferences and company events. His speaking topics are focused on customer experience, employee engagement and company culture. To have him speak at your event, contact him directly.