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Why CEO’s are Focusing on Wasted Meeting Time?

Updated: Aug 27, 2019

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Microsofts’ CEO Satya Nadella and Space X & Teslas’ CEO Elon Musk have recently voiced their frustration regarding wasted time in meetings in articles that have been reposted around the world regarding wasted time in meetings.

Intuitively, most people know that a lot of time and money are wasted in meetings so Nadella and Musk’s recent reference to meetings is not surprising.

What are the statistics regarding how much time is wasted in meetings? During the process of writing my recently released book Business Meetings That Work: 6 Steps to Increase Productivity”, I found it very hard to find exact and global statistics.

According to online research, $37 Million wasted is a statistic that seems to be quite common in online research for the US alone. In a Verizon Conferencing whitepaper prepared by Infocom there is excellent information about where this statistic comes from.

With or without exact statistics, wasting time in meetings is a fact that is very difficult to dispute. And yet, business is done with people and people need interaction (in person, on line and over the phone) so meetings are here to stay.

What can we do about making them more productive?

In my previous blog Are all Business Meetings Sales Meetings or Why is Sales a nasty word? I discussed the advantages of viewing business meetings as sales meetings and treating your attendees as customers – with the hope of making the meeting more relevant for them and bringing them value.

Before considering how you want to view and/or treat the meeting attendees – the first question is really – why meet at all?

It’s a simple and yet very difficult question. On a very personal note-- even though I fully appreciate the need to cut down on meetings, I still find myself frustrated at the depersonalization of ‘email-only’ contact with a vendor I am working with. There are times when picking up the phone for a quick phone meeting or sitting face-to-face will resolve issues much quicker. When working with clients around the world, I have often been in situations where we jumped on a plane for a 5 hour flight just to clarify an issue.

Today, when I suggest to STOP and rethink if the meeting you are planning is necessary – I take into consideration, among other things; the subject, the culture, the resources; and focus on the desired outcome. When the outcome is clear, I then suggest to Evaluate the best way to achieve it.

Outcome? I am using the word outcome in this post to include both the specific objective of the meeting, and the long term objective with the person/people you are meeting with (whom I will refer to as the customer(s).)

The specific objective refers to what it is you want to get out of the specific meeting. There are very few situations in business (and maybe in life) that all objectives are resolved at once. When deciding whether to have a meeting or not, the first question you should ask yourself is What do I want to achieve in this specific meeting and then – Is there any better way to achieve it?

I am not suggesting being over efficient. I love Peter Druker’s quote “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” For example, email communication may be the most efficient way for a business to communicate, but the price for miscommunication and cultural misinterpretation is huge. This is one of the reasons it’s a good idea to take the long- term objective into consideration. With a customer it might be “ to be the vendor of choice for repeat business”. When planning to have a meeting or not within a company, the long-term objective might be – “Continued collaboration to achieve company goals within budget and timeframe”.

In Elon Musk’s email to employees, quoted below, his focus is on internal (in-company) meetings as opposed to business specific meetings - and yet- the same concepts of treating attendees as customers and being focused on outcome apply:

Langa Township Boys - Capetown S.A.
Meetings start at a young age

“– Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.”

Bringing value is the #1 premise behind treating every business meeting as a sales meeting and your attendees as customers

“– Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.”

When your “customer”, whether internal or client, is unhappy – it can be considered an urgent matter – depending again on your long-term goals.

“– Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.”

Depending on the culture – if you are wasting your customers’ valuable time, they will walk out anyway or not meet with you again….

There is a lot to say on making meetings more productive. In the context of what Musk and Nadella commented on – here are some quick tips to make your meetings more productive:

· Clearly define your objective for the specific meeting

· Double check yourself – is the meeting really necessary or just habit

· Evaluate who the people are that must attend to achieve your objective

· Think of your attendees as customers – what’s important to them (it will help you get what’s important to you)

· Define in advance how you want to end the meeting

For more information on making meetings more productive, sign up for my blog at

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