Showing Up Isn’t Enough

Woody Allen famously said “80% of success in life is just showing up.”  Sometimes I wonder if he was talking about the conference rooms of corporate America. 

Show up in meetings.  Show up in client presentations.  Show up in 1:1s with employees.  Get on a plane and show up at panels, events, and major industry confabs.  Look at the calendar of a typical media or marketing executive and likely it is jammed with wall-to-wall meetings. (Mine is like this too on many days.)  A person can be forgiven for thinking that most executives get paid just to show up and perform in meetings.

I don’t mean to imply that all one needs to do to be a successful corporate executive is walk into the room and take your place at the table.  It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, expertise, and sacrifice (and more than a bit of luck if we’re being honest) to rise to that level. 

And make no mistake the ability to perform in meetings and other public settings is a real skill that many successful executives work hard to hone over a long period of time. Knowing what to say, when to say it and how to say it really matters.  Meetings are the forum where decisions get made and strategies are set in the corporate world.  The right word, said in the right way at the right time can make all the difference.  If you want to climb the ladder learning how to perform in those settings is essential to your success.

But as I look at how I plan my days and talk to friends in the industry, it’s clear that the shift to remote or hybrid work is forcing many to rethink the very notion of meetings.  The process starts by asking what meetings are for.

Here’s a quick test:  look at your calendar and count the meetings that are variations of a “status”, like 1:1s, project updates, or team check ins.  My guess is quite a few, maybe all of them.

Here’s the cold truth:  95% of status meetings are waste of time.  They are a productivity killer.  Be honest – how many people were multitasking – or were you – in your last status meeting? 

As good as it may feel to gather everyone in a room or on Zoom to talk status, “status” can just as easily be shared asynchronously.  The most obvious way is email or messaging platforms like Slack.  But workplace technology offers more creative ways to share information.  I’ve seen examples of executives using podcasts or videos (which employees can watch/listen to on demand) to update team members.  If done well it can be highly effective.

The advantage of asynchronous communication is that it gives everyone on the team the flexibility to engage the information when convenient.  No one needs to drop everything and interrupt critical workstreams just to sit and listen to other people talk. 

The times when information truly needs to be shared in person simultaneously are exceedingly rare.  Still the idea of replacing status meetings in this fashion is still resisted in many quarters, even though we know it’s not an efficient use of time.  (Truth be told I still have my share of status meetings.)

There’s a certain irony here.  As media and marketing executives we are very good at educating customers on the ways technology is rapidly changing the way people consume content -“anywhere, anytime on any screen” – yet we operate like dinosaurs in terms of using that very same technology to make our teams and ourselves more productive and efficient.

Some will say that the in-person contact, gathering even if it’s only to talk status, is invaluable.  In person builds culture and relationships. There is some truth in that line of thinking, but it’s also a bit lazy.  There are plenty of other ways to build culture and strengthen team bonds, even in remote or hybrid situations, besides regular status meetings, if you’re willing to put some thought into it. 

The best use of the meeting is for collaborative work, brainstorming or real time problem solving.  All the better if the meeting includes use of cloud-based software platforms like Google Docs or Sheets to leave the meeting with actual work being accomplished. If a meeting doesn’t move a project towards conclusion then don’t have it. To use a football analogy – it’s the difference between the huddle and running a play. (Ever notice how many teams operate better in a no huddle offense?) 

If you haven’t given this serious thought, you should.  It will be critical to staying competitive and recruiting.  The tension between today’s workforce insisting on greater flexibility and work/life balance and the need of employers to operate more productively will only increase, especially if the economy slips into recession.  Something must give in our schedules.  Continuing to jam our days with meetings is not the answer.  As leaders our success will hinge on how well we harness the power of asynchronous communication and leverage technology more creatively to reduce the load of meetings and increase productivity. 

Less meetings, better meetings…figuring out how to do that is worth showing up for.

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