Mostly whimsical reflections on life
Incessant meetings are the bane of corporate life. They also became the basis for my business plan.
When the time came to leave Tektronix, where I had a dream job as public affairs director, an endless series of meetings translated into my business ace in the hole. I figured I could fill in client work for every corporate meeting I didn’t have to attend. It proved to be a winning business proposition.
After we successfully spun out our business from Tektronix, we kept the technology giant as our bell cow client, but added four other significant clients. With few corporate meetings to attend, we had plenty of time.
No one sets out to spend so much time in meetings. It just happens. Like rabbits multiplying in a hutch, meetings are a law of human nature.
A big issue surfaces. You call all the interested parties to a meeting. But to make sure the meeting is successful, you assemble a small group to set the agenda for the big group. To be successful, that sometimes requires one-on-one meetings with the small group members so they will bend to your will on setting the agenda. Much email is required to follow up and keep the cats herded.
When the big meeting finally occurs, someone needs to take notes. Many corporations have developed meeting paradigms to ensure that all issues are covered, including a consensus outcome. Several post-meeting meetings are usually required to describe the consensus outcome reached in broad strokes at the big meeting. This is probably where the phrase “the devil is in the details” originated.
Once there is a consensus, you need more meetings to implement that consensus. First, there are meetings to distill the consensus into actions. Then come meetings to identify action steps. More meetings are needed to validate that the action steps will achieve the agreed upon consensus. This, in the hands of meeting amateurs, can and often does lead to dissonance between action and consensus. Dissonance, or failing memories of what was decided, can trigger the need to start over.
This is the world where meetings are the deliverable, not the vehicle. The process triumphs over product. Minutes come before profits. Ennui is the substitute for élan. You can measure a company’s growth by examining the overlapping layers of meeting cycles.
The pattern varies from organization to organization, though most of the variation is in the kind of presentations used at the meetings. Some meeting aficionados prefer charts. Others rely on PowerPoint. There are still a few geeks who use overheads. And the most recent MBA grads demand the use of tablets.
Presentations are supposed to keep everyone on the same page. In reality, presentations are intended to keep everyone on your page. They are perhaps the single best home-field advantage anyone running a meeting can wield. They also can be one of the best sedatives.
After leaving Tektronix, I went through a period of depression because my daily schedule was devoid of meetings. I just had lots of time to do work.
My anti-depressant was to call friends still in the corporate world and listen to their voice mail messages saying they were tied up all day in meetings. Some regard such messages as a blow-off. I knew they were telling the truth.
Occasionally someone asks if I miss corporate life. I always try to be delicate. I rarely mention incessant meetings. I never mention my inner glee at never having to go to incessant meetings any more.
Yes, I still go to occasional meetings with clients. But these meetings usually have a point and aren’t part of an ongoing and seemingly endless process. Clients pay me by the hour, so they have incentive to decide something at meetings. I like this system.
After 25 years of running my own business and avoiding incessant meetings, I would have a hard time settling back into a routine of meeting after meeting, in windowless room after windowless room. To avoid madness, I would have to take up writing poetry. The canon of English literature would suffer.
I don’t miss incessant meetings. But they do hold an affectionate place in my pocketbook.