As FP&A Professionals we spend a lot of time in meetings.
A quick review of your Outlook - and you will barely find a day that is not filled with at least one meeting. Sometimes we have days where we go from meeting to meeting and don’t even see our team or have a chance to call or speak to our loved ones at home. This process only gets worse the higher up the corporate ladder you move (ever tried getting hold of the CFO or CEO?).
Is this normal? In some organisations it is. They are rife with meeting after meeting. Sometimes we have to attend a “meeting before the meeting” so we can ensure we are all on the same page and have the information we need. And then once the meeting is finished we fall into the “meeting after the meeting” where we discuss what we really wanted to say with who we really wanted to say it rather than disturbing the “real meeting”.
Add to this people who turn up to meetings “a couple of minutes” late, or at the other end have back to back meetings and have to leave “on time” and you have environments that make getting anything done, quite challenging.
So how do we fix this meeting culture within our organisations? Below are 3 rules I try to stick to, that can help to ensure an effective meeting and allow the relevant decisions to be made and actions to be taken.
Start on time, utilise pre-reads
As simple as it sounds starting on time is key to finishing on time. I have worked in many organisations where it seems acceptable to turn up for a 10 o'clock meeting, 5 minutes after the start time, put your papers down, grab a drink of water, have a friendly chat and then get into the meeting. At 10.15. That’s one quarter of the time gone. Not to mention the frustration it gives to the people in the room who have respected the start time or have a “hard finish” for another meeting which this will now probably eat into.
If your meeting only needs 45 minutes, book 45 minutes. If it needs an hour book an hour. But start it on time so it can finish on time. Busy people prefer to finish early than start late. Have you ever noticed how excited some people get when a meeting finishes early accompanied by a comment like “great some time back in the diary”.
In order to help with this pre-reads are a good way to circulate information to people beforehand, so that the meeting time can be used to make decisions or discuss. If you do send around pre-reads, don’t then revisit the pre-read in the meeting. It will be expected it has been read beforehand not in the meeting so you can get straight into what you are there for.
Start with an agenda
In any good Sales Training the importance of an agenda statement or an opening statement can not be overemphasized. It sets the scene for what you are there for and keeps people anchored so they are not distracted with other things.
Likewise an agenda statement for an FP&A professional at the start of any meeting will set the tone for what you are there for and what you want to get done. It should be clear: is this meeting information sharing, decision making, etc along with what the objective of the meeting is so that when you get to the end of the meeting you will know if you have achieved what you set out to.
If the conversation goes off track from the agenda you will need to use the judgment of your audience. Do you keep the conversation going that is off agenda but may be productive, or bring people back? Only the FP&A professional can judge this and you may need to take the lead from the people in the room. Do be aware this can also lead to “meetings after the meeting” to discuss how you didn’t get what you needed out of the meeting.
Keep minutes of decisions and action items
Just like an agenda statement, keeping minutes of what was discussed and more importantly what was decided is critical to keep things on track for not only this meeting, but the next meeting. Minutes also need to be sent out as soon as possible after the meeting so that actionable items can be actioned. It is not uncommon for meetings I have attended to send the minutes out before people have even left the room.
A simple spreadsheet can be used to do this. Don’t take handwritten notes and go back to your desk and type them up and resend them. That’s wasted time and can lead to minutes being circulated a week later. Keep the minutes open during the meeting and keep notes as you work through the meeting. If you are unsure, ask the audience “do you want to capture this in the minutes?”.
Keep track of a description of the issue, what was discussed, who is responsible for actioning and the timing. A simple column that has open, closed and in progress is also helpful so that you can keep track of history and what had been discussed previously.
As an FP&A professional we are all very busy and the majority of the business partners we work with are to. Staying disciplined to meeting etiquette is critical if you want to be efficient and effective and will help you avoid those “meetings after the meetings”.