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Meetings.  How many are you having a day?  Are they productive?  Has it moved from productive to routine?

It seems like many companies love meetings.  I have been part of more meetings than I care to recollect.  When I was working hard in college (or hardly working, depending on the day), I didn't think that my professional career would be marked by so many meetings.  It's not that I mind, really, but I often think about how fruitful these times are.

When The Cover Girls sing "Show Me," they be-pop the lyrics "actions speak louder than words."  I know we're familiar with this phrase and we think it's true.  We would want our businesses to be measurably action-oriented.  We measure ROI on new hires, training programs and marketing strategies.  We should.  What if we were to measure the ROI on meetings?  What would that show our companies?

If meetings are held just because, then what is it that we are demonstrating?  Our ability to sit in a room and drink K-cup coffee?  Are all meetings just brainstorming?  Complaining?  Or are they motivating?  Do we leave with a sense of purpose and a direction?  Do we leave with actionable items?

And let's add to the distraction.  Now we can have meetings without ever leaving our desks - GoTo Meetings or Skype.  They are convenient, no doubt.  Productive?  Maybe not.  How many times have you worked on two or three other things while you are online "attending" a meeting?  Perhaps the meetings are not productive because you are not totally engaged.  Perhaps you're reading this and thinking, "yes, John, but you don't know how boring the meetings that the CEO holds are."  I guarantee you, I do.

So, let's think productively.  What are some actionable steps that can be taken to improve the ROI on meetings?

First, train the people who are presenting.  Crazy, right?  But let me ask you, how many employees have been trained in this?  Employees of all levels may be required to present reports, charts, projections or processes.  It should not be assumed that all people can naturally hold the attention of a room and can plan accordingly to do so.  I have heard well-meaning people say that practice will help them.  If you are doing something wrong and keep practicing it, won't that just help you perfect your wrongness?

Have you seen the Volkswagen commercial with the dad teaching his son to throw a baseball?  Click to watch this.  It completely proves my point about practicing doing something the wrong way.  In the business setting, we would rather complain about someone who gives poor meetings rather than help him/her to know how to get better at it.  We seem to forget how valuable our time is and that the meeting is meant to be informatively productive.  We should leave the meeting with something practical - a new approach, tools to make a process easier or faster, or a task to complete that will enable other departments to do their jobs better.  Poorly equipped people leading meetings are torturous and costly.

Secondly, decide as to whether a meeting is necessary.  Is it really prudent to hold this meeting?  Can one meeting be held together with another to reduce time spent away from actually working on the tasks to complete?  There is benefit in holding a meeting with three veins of information in one hour than three different meetings of 30 minutes each.  Who can make these decisions?  Can we encourage that person to consider such a request?

At the end of the day, the ROI on meetings should show how these meetings connect to the productivity of the company.  Can an employee take what's offered in the meeting and see it have an impact on the work he/she does?

I should also mention something that some of you may be thinking.  What about the intangible things a meeting gives - camaraderie, interpersonal relationship development, unity development?  I get it.  I agree with this actually.  My question in return would be: is the camaraderie developed concerning how much time is wasted in having these meetings?  Is that what your attendees are rallying around - complaining?  If the goal is to join folks together in unity for an eye-rolling summit, then perhaps you've met your objective.  I doubt highly, though, that this is what a company is having meetings for.

As HR professionals, perhaps we should speak into this area.  Can we serve as a resource for training for managers, supervisors, C-Suite?  Is that too scary?  I hope you're able to have an honest conversation with your CEO about how to make meetings better, even if part of the issue is your CEO.  Your insight might prove valuable to him/her.  I get how risky that is and so I'd advise you to tread lightly.  If you can make this a business case showing ROI, then that will help tremendously.

Time is valuable.  Companies want employees to show them results.  If at the end of the day, you've attended five to six meetings, that may not be a great day.  Haven't you had those days where you say, "What did I do today?"  I have.  I don't like it.  I bring value each day to the work I have been asked to do.  I don't want my time manipulated or wasted.  I like meetings that allow me to do my job better and equip me to achieve.  Meetings held just to hold them are dumb.

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