Time Is Wasted in Large, Theatrical Meetings

Business review meetings, when executives and stakeholders get project or performance updates from management and staff, are far too frequently conducted like theatrical presentations. It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to convey the idea that everything is fine and that any difficulties are quickly going away. However, there is little possibility that important issues and gaps will be discussed and resolved at these dull meetings.

Leaders must adapt their approach to review meetings in two ways to keep efforts on track and address the real issues that firms and their consumers face:

1) Make their objectives focus on the future rather than a recap of the past.
Structure the review session around specific, doable issues that can enhance performance in the future to produce a more fruitful agenda. The name "review" suggests looking backward, and it is crucial to understand what has transpired over the last month or quarter in order to draw lessons from it. But if you send that information ahead of time, the conversation can focus on why things transpired the way they did in the past and what, if anything, needs to be done better moving forward. Senior executives, who are the intended audience, must actively participate in establishing the agenda and concentrating on the most important topics that actually require discussion in order to help identify those crucial topics.

2) Create a safe space for robust dialogue
Make people feel comfortable speaking out, offering suggestions, and challenging one another in order to overcome their fear of coming across as insufficient. You must strike a balance between coming out as too passive on the one hand and too critical on the other in order to establish this type of safe place. If, as a senior leader, you act like a passive member of the audience, what you’ll get is a performance. At the other end of the spectrum, if you take over, dominate the conversation, put people down, and act like the smartest person in the room, you’ll also get a performance — but with managers on their guard, hesitating to enter into dialogue or raise tough issues for which they don’t have ready answers.

Last but not least, make sure to regularly evaluate and modify the process itself to prevent business review theater. There is none for ideal method to carry out a project or business evaluation. But, if yours have become staged performances, perhaps it's time to develop a new strategy. By making these few adjustments, you can turn your project reviews into forums for problem-solving that emphasize shaping the present rather than simply reliving the past.