How to Set Up a Meeting ?

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg sticks to a strict agenda.

Sandberg brings a spiral-bound notebook with her to every meeting. In that notebook is a list of discussion points and action items. “She crosses them off one by one, and once every item on a page is checked, she rips the page off and moves to the next,” Fortune reports. “If every item is done 10 minutes into an hour-long meeting, the meeting is over.”

Legendary GM CEO Alfred Sloan said little – then made follow-ups.

Alfred Sloan ran GM from the 1920s to the ‘50s. During that time he led GM to become the world’s largest corporation. Sloan is credited with inventing modern corporate structure.  According to leadership guru Peter Drucker, the follow-up memo was one of Sloan’s tools. After any formal meeting — in which he simply announced the purpose, listened to what people had to say, and then left — Sloan would send a follow-up memo with a plan of action.

Drucker’s take: [Sloan] immediately wrote a short memo addressed to one attendee of the meeting. In that note, he summarized the discussion and its conclusions and spelled out any work assignment decided upon in the meeting (including a decision to hold another meeting on the subject or to study an issue). He specified the deadline and the executive who was to be accountable for the assignment. He sent a copy of the memo to everyone who’d been present at the meeting. These memos made Sloan an “outstandingly effective executive,” Drucker argues, and you might say they were a key to GM’s dominance of the 20th century.

Google CEO Larry Page says no one should wait for a meeting to make a decision.

Page took over as CEO of Google in 2011. He immediately sent out a company-wide email. The subject: how to run meetings effectively. One of his tips is to designate a decision-maker for every meeting. But even more importantly, Page made the point that you might not need a meeting at all. “No decision should ever wait for a meeting,” the email reads. “If a meeting absolutely has to happen before a decision should be made, then the meeting should be scheduled immediately.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk demands that people be super prepared.

Musk has incredibly high standards. He has a reputation for firing people if they miss a deadline. So if you’re meeting with him at Tesla or SpaceX, you have to be ready. As one anonymous Musk employee shares on Quora: When we met with Elon, we were prepared. Because if you weren’t, he’d let you know it. If he asked a reasonable follow-up question and you weren’t prepared with an answer, well, good luck.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer aggressively vets every idea.

Mayer gets to the bottom of any proposal brought her way. Product managers or designers sitting down with the exec have their strategies thoroughly vetted through a series of questions, like: How was that researched? What was the research methodology? How did you back that up?

The late Apple CEO Steve Jobs kept meetings as small as possible.

Jobs led Apple to become one of the world’s most valuable companies, creating consumer-friendly products with sleek designs. He ran meetings with a similar minimalism. He hated when they were too big, because too many minds in a room got in the way of simplicity. At the core of Job’s mentality was the “accountability mindset” — meaning that processes were put in place so that everybody knew who was responsible for what. There was even has a name for it, the “DRI,” or directly responsible individual. Often the DRI’s name will appear on an agenda for a meeting, so everybody knows who is responsible. “Any effective meeting at Apple will have an action list,” says a former employee. “Next to each action item will be the DRI.” A common phrase heard around Apple when someone is trying to learn the right contact on a project: “Who’s the DRI on that?”

Jobs hated formal presentations, but he loved freewheeling face-to-face meetings. Every Wednesday afternoon, he had an agenda-less meeting with his marketing and advertising team. Slideshows were banned because Jobs wanted his team to debate passionately and think critically. “I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking,” Jobs said, “People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos likes to get  people arguing.

If you work at Amazon, you’d better be comfortable with conflict. Bezos is famous for hating “social cohesion,” that tendency people have for finding consensus for no other reason than it feels good. That distaste for agreeability is reinforced by Amazon’s leadership principles, one of which reads: Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Opsware CEO Ben Horowitz likes one-to-one meetings.

Ben Horowitz led Opsware to a $1.6 billion sale to HP in 2007. Two years later, he cofounded Andreessen Horowitz, probably the most sought-after firm in venture capital. Horowitz says that most important job for a CEO is to architect the way people communicate in a company. The one-to-one meeting is essential to that process, he says, as it’s the best place for ideas and critiques to flow up from employees to management.

Here’s his take on how to run one: If you like structured agendas, then the employee should set the agenda. A good practice is to have the employee send you the agenda in advance. This will give them a chance to cancel the meeting if nothing is pressing. It also makes clear that it is her meeting and will take as much or as little time as she needs. During the meeting, since it’s the employee’s meeting, the manager should do 10% of the talking and 90% of the listening. Note that this is the opposite of most one-on-ones.

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