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.

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Members have made 25 comments.

  1. Profile photo of Bryan G. Stephens Reagan

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

    • #1
    • January 16, 2013 at 9:06 am
  2. Profile photo of Eeyore Member
    Rob Long: [W]e need to stop connecting and stop communicating.

    “Rob Long Finally Calls For End Of Ricochet!”

    • #2
    • January 16, 2013 at 9:17 am
  3. Profile photo of Spin Inactive

    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. 

    • #3
    • January 16, 2013 at 9:20 am
  4. Profile photo of raycon and lindacon Member

    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.

    • #4
    • January 16, 2013 at 9:34 am
  5. Profile photo of Frederick Key Inactive

    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.

    • #5
    • January 16, 2013 at 9:35 am
  6. Profile photo of Illiniguy Member
    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?

    • #6
    • January 16, 2013 at 9:36 am
  7. Profile photo of Percival Thatcher

    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.

    • #8
    • January 16, 2013 at 9:57 am
  8. Profile photo of Roberto Inactive
    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.

    • #9
    • January 16, 2013 at 10:18 am
  9. Profile photo of Paul Erickson Member

    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.

    • #10
    • January 16, 2013 at 10:44 am
  10. Profile photo of Paul Erickson Member
    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?”

    • #11
    • January 16, 2013 at 10:46 am
  11. Profile photo of Cunctator Inactive

    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.

    • #12
    • January 16, 2013 at 10:46 am
  12. Profile photo of Skyler Member

    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.

    • #13
    • January 16, 2013 at 10:51 am
  13. Profile photo of Valiuth Member

    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. 

    • #14
    • January 16, 2013 at 10:53 am
  14. Profile photo of Roberto Inactive
    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 .

    6845_strip.gif

    • #15
    • January 16, 2013 at 10:58 am
  15. Profile photo of Inactive
    Anonymous

    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.

    • #16
    • January 16, 2013 at 11:00 am
  16. Profile photo of Joseph Eagar Member

    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.

    • #17
    • January 16, 2013 at 11:23 am
  17. Profile photo of JimGoneWild Member

    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.

    • #18
    • January 16, 2013 at 11:56 am
  18. Profile photo of barbara lydick Member

    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.

    • #19
    • January 17, 2013 at 2:14 am
  19. Profile photo of Caroline Thatcher

    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!

    • #20
    • January 17, 2013 at 5:33 am
  20. Profile photo of BKelley14 Inactive
    Eeyore
    Rob Long: [W]e need to stop connecting and stop communicating.

    “Rob Long Finally Calls For End Of Ricochet!” · 9 hours ago

    Not funny.

    • #21
    • January 17, 2013 at 7:26 am
  21. Profile photo of BKelley14 Inactive

    I work in an office where five of us are in one space, each in our own cubicle. When I started a year ago I learned that the proper way to communicate with your office mate, on the other side of the cubicle, was to send an email. Pretty much about anything, including that fresh coffee was available in the nearby kitchen. I was appalled and saddened. What a way to build relationships in the office — not.

    • #22
    • January 17, 2013 at 7:30 am
  22. Profile photo of David John Inactive

    I’m reminded of a meeting of a dozen or so technical guys, led by a former Space Shuttle Flight Director, a can-do, will-do guy. He sought our opinions.

    At one point, I leaned into my neighbor’s ear to whisper something. Our leader abruptly swung his gaze to us and forcefully said, “There’s one conversation going on in this room, and I’m having it!” 

    He was a great leader, and a pleasure to work for.

    • #23
    • January 17, 2013 at 7:42 am
  23. Profile photo of Walker Member

    I can’t tell you how many meetings with management have been disrupted when “they” (the managers, not staff) are caught up in emails unrelated to the meeting, or text messages from THEIR bosses cause them to jump out of their seat with a quick apology, out the door, and then coming back after 15 minutes during which time the meeting was on pause, or we had to regurgitate what was discussed (but not decided since the decision maker was out of the room).

    Or hows about some worthless managers who use email/texting to appear to be important — until you get the idiotic emails that they are sending!! e.g., “no kidding?!”, or “Yeah, how about that?”, or “What’s the answer — management needs to know ASAP!!” (even though you’ve been spending precious minutes responding to their stupid emails/text messages so that you haven’t had a second to find the answer!! PHOOEY! Glad I’m now officially retired! (ah, I can breathe again!). 😉

    • #24
    • January 17, 2013 at 12:13 pm
  24. Profile photo of BlueAnt Member

    This underscores one of my critical realizations from years of IT projects:

    Communication is a cost, not a goal to be pursued.

    Managerial resistance to this mantra is absolute, and will drive productive people mad.

    This isn’t the usual Dilbert-style moaning about bureaucracy, it’s a scientific reality. Apply network theory to your place of business: have 1 person == 1 node, then map out the lines of communication between each, then assign a cost (time, money, etc) to each line. You’ll notice that beyond a certain small number, costs spiral exponentially while reaping very little additional benefit. And that’s before you start incurring extra cost to break assortative behavior.

    So anytime someone says (in a workplace context) that the key to solving a problem is “more communication”, or “a better communication process”, ignore their advice. Isolate them if possible, or task them with writing reports that have no meaning but keep them happy with busywork.

    • #25
    • January 17, 2013 at 12:45 pm