Stop Connecting

I’m not sure this study needed to be done, but I’m glad the folks at Bain Consulting did it anyway. The precise numbers are dispiriting enough to ring true:

We recently studied 2,300 managers at an industrial company with 14,000 employees around the globe. As a group, these individuals sent and received more than 260,000 emails a month, just with one other.

On top of that, the typical manager devoted eight hours each week to meetings—for senior managers the figure was more like 20 hours—and the volume was growing. During the average meeting, about a quarter of attendees sent at least two emails every 30 minutes.

So we send and receive too many emails, have too many meetings, those meetings go on too long, and we send emails to each other during those meetings.

Seems about right:

In the industrial company we studied, for example, operating expenses were growing faster than sales—a sure sign of trouble. A survey showed that only 18% of employees thought that the company’s decision processes led to good decisions. As one respondent said, “There are far too many people involved with the decision making process…too many meetings and too much email being circulated.” And this company isn’t alone. Typically, people in a connected enterprise are aware of what’s going on, and many believe they should have a say in whatever issue is at hand. But no one seems to know who’s really responsible for decisions and actions. 

I’ve often wondered how much better some meetings would be if every laptop was shut and every phone switched off:

When a new CEO took over a struggling software company, he learned that people in the organization universally complained about unfocused and frustrating meetings, despite vast numbers of elaborate PowerPoint presentations. The new CEO quickly instituted a no-presentation, working-session-only rule, with printed documents distributed and no laptops allowed. The leadership team almost immediately noticed a change in energy level, focus and meeting effectiveness.

Clearly, after two decades of unbridled growth in communications and connectivity, there’s only one thing to do: we need to stop connecting and stop communicating.

  1. Bryan G. Stephens

    I agree with this. People ask me what I do. I say “I go to meetings”. Wednesdays are all meetings.

  2. Eeyore
    Rob Long: [W]e need to stop connecting and stop communicating.

    “Rob Long Finally Calls For End Of Ricochet!”

  3. Spin

    Meetings suck and everyone knows it.  But we all go to them anyway in the vain hope we’ll get 90 seconds to prove to everyone at the meeting that we are worth what they are paying us.  That is the point of most meetings in corporate america. 

  4. raycon and lindacon

    I have spared myself endless wasted hours by dropping out of the corporate culture and officing myself at home as a consultant.  When I did work at the upper management level, I discovered that meetings were primarily designed to avoid personal accountability for any decision.  To quote Maggie Thatcher; “Consensus is the absence of leadership.”

    As an independent consultant I was mostly immunized from meetings by the cost of airfare and hotels.  And when they did fly me in, they wanted their money’s worth, hence the meetings mattered.  I did a major project in Amsterdam for Billy Graham, and every meeting, including those here in the US, were really meaningful and fun.

  5. Frederick Key

    Bain is a gift from God.

    Sadly, a million managers will send out five million e-mails about this and hold three million meetings, and nothing will be done.

  6. Illiniguy
    Eeyore

    Rob Long: [W]e need to stop connecting and stop communicating.

    “Rob Long Finally Calls For End Of Ricochet!” · 18 minutes ago

    Yeah, which is it? Stop communicating or give Ricochet as a gift?

  7. Fricosis Guy

    Of course, one can use Ricochet as a way to stop connecting.

    Eeyore

    Rob Long: [W]e need to stop connecting and stop communicating.

    “Rob Long Finally Calls For End Of Ricochet!” · 31 minutes ago

  8. Percival

    Stand-up meetings, lest anyone get comfortable.

    Paper copies of documents are okay, I guess, but the digiscenti are going to prefer electronic copies because they are easier to search.

  9. Roberto
    Rob Long:

    When a new CEO took over a struggling software company, he learned that people in the organization universally complained about unfocused and frustrating meetings, despite vast numbers of elaborate PowerPoint presentations.

    That made me laugh.

  10. Paul Erickson

    Three thoughts:

    1. Wth good agendas, it’s amazing how few meetings you really need.

    2. Why are meetings arbitrarily scheduled for an hour?  Where I work we’ll set meetings for as short as 15 minutes.
    3. Does everybody need to be there?  Try estimating the hourly wage of all the meeting participants and multiply it by the length of the meeting to get a bottom line.  This is an eye-opener.

    Know what you want to do, get it done, and get out.

  11. Paul Erickson
    Roberto

    Rob Long:

    When a new CEO took over a struggling software company, he learned that people in the organization universally complained about unfocused and frustrating meetings,despite vast numbers of elaborate PowerPoint presentations.

    That made me laugh. · 26 minutes ago

    As James Taranto might say, “Fox Butterfield, is that you?”

  12. Cunctator

    Relying on monthly meetings for things to get done essentially is accepting that you will have twelve days a year to affect change.  Too many people think meetings are for discussing issues.  Those discussions should be conducted in advance of the meeting, and the meeting should be used to sell or consolidate the predetermined decisions.  I’m tired of listening to prolix quidnuncs.

  13. Skyler

    Back in my early, pre-internet days, in the Marines I was fascinated by how decisions were made.  Even though I was in the meetings and talked about what would be happening with the people supposedly in the know, it often happened that the troops would start a rumor contrary to the official word.  I would set the record straight but the rumors persisted.  And then, more times than I would have thought possible, suddenly the rumors became true even though the meetings are still going and the plan was still officially contrary to the rumor.  

    I’ve seen it in the civilian world too.  It’s strange.  Maybe the real reason is that a big joke is being played on me.

  14. Valiuth

    I think the conclusion is this. No one wants to take responsibility for decisions in case things go wrong. By holding meetings and making everyone part of the decision responsibility is spread out. In the past it was hard to keep in contact with all relevant people so much more delegation was needed. 

  15. Roberto
    Paul Erickson

    Roberto

    Rob Long:

    When a new CEO took over a struggling software company, he learned that people in the organization universally complained about unfocused and frustrating meetings,despite vast numbers of elaborate PowerPoint presentations.

    That made me laugh. · 26 minutes ago

    As James Taranto might say, “Fox Butterfield, is that you?” · 8 minutes ago

    No kidding .

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  16. Jon Gabriel, Ed.

    I worked at a Fortune 100 company that decided to end the practice of wasteful, unnecessary meetings. Their solution? Holding long weekly meetings to research the causes then to establish new meeting rules. I’m not sure how it turned out since I fled to a less bureaucratic company.

  17. Joseph Eagar

    I’ll take a contrary view.  In my (admittedly limited) experience, meetings conducted over chat are much more productive than ones conducted in person, or over the phone.  This may be an artifact of software development, though.

  18. JimGoneWild

    I took a class and as part of our mid-term and final we had to give a PowerPoint presentation. The instructor was very clear about limiting the presentation to 8 slides maximum, but 6 would be best. The rotten presentations were always over 8 slides. One student had 22 slides! Of course, one student had 4 slides, but each slide had so much stuff on it, the font was too small to read and it took her 5 minutes to cover each one.

    I had 7 slides, one had a joke on it.

  19. barbara lydick

    For some time now, ‘power meetings’ have been the rage. Planning and conducting them have been raised to an art form. 

    Me?  I look at that concept with much skepticism and as a general rule, counsel against them.

     (Power meetings: meetings with PowerPoint presentations, giving people a chance to take a catnap.)

     Look.  A real power meeting is when you’re able to get the whole thing over within the shortest time possible (10 -15 minutes isn’t bad), then shoo them the hell out of the room so they can get back to work. They’ll love you for it and will follow you anywhere.  Now that’s power.  Coffee and Danish are optional, depending on how fast they can inhale them.  For those who don’t believe this, understand that power meetings, as the term is used in today’s world, usually turn out to be meetings where people power among themselves – and I don’t have to tell you how pathetic that looks.

  20. Caroline

    Imagine the meetings and PowerPoint waste at a company with over 200,000 employees. Only 260,000 emails created by a couple thousand managers? Pikers!

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