A CEO Manage to Lead participant put it this way:
“It’s easy to make great progress when you aren’t doing much in the first place,”
when commenting on the lift in performance experienced after tweaking the approach to running his organization’s weekly Operating Meeting.
The motivation was to stop wasting countless hours discussing philosophical and theoretical matters that had little-to-nothing to do with operations and that kept them from getting important work done in their operating meeting up to that point.
The point of his Haiku-like phrase is that it is not hard to run an organization better…but you do have to work at it.
Every meeting needs to be thought through to get clear why it is being held, what it is to produce, how it will be accomplished, and what outcomes are to be generated (see: How to Run a Great Meeting).
A good approach for Operating Meetings is for the organization’s leader (e.g., CEO, unit leader, initiative leader, project manager, etc.) to have each functional leader (e.g., head of engineering, head of marketing, etc.) present in literally just a few minutes:
- An update on open items from the prior meeting.
- Key matters for the coming period.
- What is needed from top management and other functional areas to perform well this period.
- Any special “heads-up”, critical questions, or key concerns for the coming period.
For each area, there is a one-page handout (see Key Items Tracking below) that summarizes metrics, action items completed and open from the last meeting, and a summary of the key items for the coming week. The meeting’s administrative support person, or an electronic central repository, stores the summaries and displays or distributes them.
Operating Meeting Approach
Participants briefly, and briskly, speak to their area of focus in turn. Ground rules guide behavior and help participants operate as a collective leadership (i.e., where each adopts the mindset to help the entire organization, and not just their area, operate as well as it possibly can) and committed to problem-solving over politics (i.e., work the point, not the person).
Core Leaders, including the COO, President, and CEO, also present what is on their respective lists for the week though it is be best for them to go last so as not to upstage others. When all have spoken, the meeting is adjourned. The entire meeting should take about an hour and everyone should leave full of energy to attack what is on their plate to work oin next.
Following through on action Items is the responsibility of those who are assigned them. They and their manager make sure they are completed. The meeting’s administrative support person tracks action items in a central repository updated after the meeting and over the course of the week as items are completed.
Key Items Tracking
Each functional leader is responsible for his or her entire area. Within each area, there are likely a select few items of keen interest that its leader tracks and speaks to at Operating Meetings. Of particular interest in addition to key performance indicators will be:
- Items of significance because of their risk, potential leverage, or impact on the rest of the organization.
- Items that bridge between responsibility areas.
- Items of potential risk or weakness that have a good chance of occurring and a significant negative impact if they do and so must be mitigated against.
- Items that fall off-track in terms of schedule, cost, or quality.
Each leader maintains a display of the key items s/he is tracking that is forwarded to attendees, via the meeting’s administrative support person or a central repository, prior to each meeting. The list lets the leader know what each member thinks the group is counting on from him or her.
If what the meeting member thinks the leader and the group are counting on from him or her is not correct, the leader and the group’s members provide feedback and guidance. An advance look at what will be presented by each area leader also triggers discussion, questions, corrections, updates, and constructive action all prior to the meeting start.
During the meeting, attendees are invited to:
- Share relevant new information.
- Ask for clarification.
- Help determine who owns following up (a la RASCI).
- Agree on insights, decisions, action items, next steps, and timing.
If someone wants to say something, ask her/him to first verify that what they have in mind falls into one of the above categories; otherwise, it might not be necessary and increases the risk of prolonging the meeting and diminishing its effectiveness.
Do not use the Operating Meeting to “work” issues or to discuss philosophy, mission, vision, culture, etc. Use the Operating Meeting to inform and get on track to do what is needed in the coming period (e.g., week). If something needs to be “worked”, time to do so is scheduled for the appropriate people including whoever is to take the lead and be sure the proper preparation takes place ahead-of-time.
In-between meetings, the leader meets one-on-one with each Operating Team member to talk more broadly about actions taken, results, how things are going, and what is to be done next in the member’s realm of responsibility.
Effective leaders delegate responsibility for broad areas to specific Operating Team members while also tracking specific items in each area. If tracked items go well, then the Operating Team member gets a “check-mark”, adds to the level of trust they have with the leader (and their peers), and s/he gets more “rope”. If tracked items do not go well, the leader probes further to see what else is wrong and where help and development might be needed.
At least twice each year the leader calls for a full review of each functional area to see how it is performing relative to plan, progressing on its strategic initiatives, and laying the groundwork for next year’s performance plan. Topics related to mission, vision, culture, purpose, and the like, are fodder for the annual strategy offsite planning sessions.
Editor’s note: Post originally published September 25, 2012, updated June 27, 2020.