PwC’s new meetings regime: A good idea, done badly
Thursday, May 17, 2012/
Luke Sayers wants the accounting professionals and partners at PwC to focus more on clients, according to a newspaper report. The incoming chief executive has instructed his minions not to hold internal meetings between 10am and 4pm and, instead, to spend that time attending to clients.
Sayers also wants people to stop frigging around, or, in Sayer’s reported words: “I also ask that all meetings are chaired with purpose and are scheduled to be respectful of the time taken and the circumstances of those invited.”
Sayers’ focus on purpose and time are wise moves says Tristan White, CEO of ThePhysioCo, and meeting efficiency proselytiser. White presides each morning over a 12-minute staff meeting at his company, which provides physiotherapy services to the aged, known internally as “the huddle”, during which the participants all stand, and some contributions are restricted to 30 seconds, and the longest is about three minutes.
“Everything we do should have purpose and be respectful,” he says. “I don’t agree with restricting when meetings can be held. Staff should be empowered to manage their own time and be coached to make this happen effectively.”
Ken Hudson, founder and chief “starter” of the Speed Thinking Zone, says he likes the general principle of Sayer’s edict. “One of the things I like is him saying, ‘Guys, we are spending too much time on internal meetings talking to ourselves,’ and the idea of limiting that seems like a good idea,” Hudson says.
It is tempting for people to get busy with internal meetings, he says, at the expense of doing more useful work. “We can’t afford that any more. Are we really creating value for clients by talking to ourselves about what we might or might not do? That seems like a dumb thing.”
Hudson thinks the times specified by Sayer, however, raised problems. He worries about staff frittering away creative peaks on internal meetings. “I know myself, I have the most energy in the morning, and other people are better at night. I would challenge having internal meeting in the morning when I, and others, are at their creative peak. I want to work by myself, and be innovative and arrange my day.”
Meetings throughout the day would find participants in a more administrative, more collaborative frame of mind, Hudson says.
Hudson supports Sayer’s thrust of challenging the fundamentals of meetings, which become habitual, a bad habit, “like smoking”.
Hudson has invented a new type of meeting, called a Blitz, which involves a small group on a day-to-day problem spending 15 minutes on practical solutions. This kind of meeting can substitute for other, longer meetings, eliminating the need for some. “It is shorter, sharper, more day-to-day,” he says.
A client of Hudson’s consultancy has instituted three new rules around meetings:
- Do we really need a meeting? (Or would a blitz be more effective?)
- Does the meeting have an explicit purpose?
- Can we stick to meeting etiquette: start on time, finish on time, and stay focused; for example, no mobiles or laptops unless the meeting requires them.
White says precision is a more important element of meeting times. “In my experience, scheduling meetings at unexpected times, like 12:08pm, having a clear agenda and always sticking to the very purpose for having the meeting in the first place are the best ways to decrease the length of meetings.”
Challenging the “default” meeting length of one hour also improves efficiency, Hudson says. “I have tested in two case studies reducing meeting lengths to 45 minutes. I have got much better feedback than cutting it to half an hour. You get an hour’s worth in 45 minutes and people are more willing to start and end on time.”
Other benefits of a 45-minute meeting is that it allows participants:
- To get to the next meeting.
- Be better prepared.
- Check emails or catch up with colleagues.
- Get coffee or go to the bathroom.
Hudson’s research reveals that when people solve a problem quickly, they feel energised and their mood lifts.
Standing up during meetings is another way to shorten them and make them more effective. White uses this technique daily, and Hudson says he receive good reports from standing meetings. “People say they are more productive, and participants get more done in a shorter period of time.”
A more effective solution to Sayer’s leadership imperative would be agree with staff and partners on a target of time spent with clients and time spent in internal meetings, say 50:50, and then review it month by month. Hudson says. “Then if consultants are spending 80% of their time internally, we want to talk to that consultant.”