How do I measure meetings effectiveness?

I am implementing a standard way to run meetings. This is based in part on the awesome MT advice. Our meetings are currently awful, no agenda, don't stick to schedule etc Management is getting on board. We have 800 employees out our site and multiple departments.

I am wondering  how I can measure the effectiveness of our training initiative. I created the standard and am going to do the training classes. At the end I would like to show some type of measurable progress. How have others shown this? 

Do I measure # of meetings? Meeting duration? % that finished on time?

I am also interested in how far to go with the site standard? Do we create one set of ground rules for all? Do we force people to use the same agenda template?

I am a big proponent of standards but I don't want to be so rigid that it becomes suffocating.


mattpalmer's picture

What you measure should depend on what it is you want to change.  You should measure whatever it is that you actually want to change.  Do you want the number of meetings to change (either up or down)?  Then measure that.  Do you want all meetings to finish on time?  Then measure that.  Do you want the length of meetings to be longer or shorter?  Then... well, you get the idea.

Be careful with what you measure, though -- very often people measure what they think they want to change, when in actual fact their measurement is just a symptom of the real problem.  For example, take agendas.  I'm quite sure that many poorly-managed meetings have written agendas. People may even stick to them.  But the meeting is still an ineffective waste of everyone's time.  Thus, simply measuring the percentage of meetings that have written agendas is unlikely to really fix anything.  You'll almost certainly have a very high rate of compliance with "does this meeting have a written agenda?", but you won't necessarily see any great improvement in meeting effectiveness.

You're certainly starting from a good place, though.  Providing training to everyone on how to run effective meetings and then measuring that is far better than the usual standard of "we're going to measure how well you do X... but you get to work out to do X better".  So you're certainly ahead of the curve there.

The big risk with any measurement is people "gaming" the metric.  Basically, there are thousands of ways you could satisfy a metric.  People will very quickly work out the easiest way (for them) to make the metric look better.  For example, if you measured the percentage of meetings that end on time, people will just say "time's up" and finish the meeting at the appropriate time (which is a good thing), but people won't necessarily have changed their behaviour in the meeting to make sure the meeting's purpose is satisfied.  Or, if you measured number of meetings, and you wanted less meetings, people will stop having "meetings" but will just talk amongst themselves to make decisions (which may be a good outcome, or it may be bad...)

To try and account for people gaming the system, I'm a fan of compensating metrics.  You try and work out ways that people could game your measurement, and you measure things to make sure that isn't happening.  It can turn into a game of whack-a-mole (people game the system, you add another metric), but with some judicious planning in advance and then some feedback, it doesn't go too badly.  Primarily you just need to make sure the culture doesn't devolve into one of "managing by numbers" -- your metrics should always be a guide, never a goal.

If it were my meeting-mangling organisation, I'd probably setup a few metrics:

  • Purpose/Agenda: Count the number of meetings which have a written purpose and agenda published prior to the meeting.
  • Start/end on time: Count the number of meetings which start and end on time.
  • Purpose achieved: In the opinion of the participants of the meeting, was the initial purpose of the meeting achieved?

The first two there are relatively easy to count.  The third one requires a survey or similar meeting participants, which can get a little time intensive.  If you can, having someone go up to each meeting participant sometime the same day and asking, "Hey, Charlene, that 2pm meeting you just had with Alice and Bob, do you think it achieved its purpose?" and calling it "purpose achieved" if (say) two-thirds of participants (rounded up) said "yes".

If it isn't practical to ask people directly (for either logistical or political reasons), you could create adjust the measurement to be a proxy for "purpose achieved".  I might suggest, "How many meetings are covering issues that were on a previous agenda?".  That's a lot messier, prone to misinterpretation, and time intensive (you've got to go through a lot of past meetings to see if there's duplication), but it might be the least worst way of doing it if you can't measure things more directly.

GlennR's picture

Don't over think this. If you want to improve the quality of meetings, zero in on Matt's bullets. As a nonprofit manager, my first boss drilled into me, "If nothing changes as a result of the meeting, the meeting was a waste of time."

That means start with the objectives or purpose of the meeting. List those on the agenda. Use a timed agenda to assist in starting and ending on time. Start exactly on time, even if the room is only half full. People will soon get the idea. Generally, put the most important topics first. Sometimes this is waived if someone has a scheduling issue.

The standard format should list name of meeting, date, goals or purposes, and agenda topics. As to whether meeting leads want to use Roman Numerals, arabic numerals, or bullets, leave that to them.

Where I might depart from Matt's suggestions is that I think you can get more immediate feedback by asking attendees yourself if they think the meetings are an effective ROI. Do that verbally or in an IM or email exchange if the opportunity lends itself.

Yes, have norms. Let the team or department set them.

Finally, never be afraid to throw the agenda out and start over if "breaking news" renders the topics irrelevant. Just grab a flip chart, white board, or Powerpoint and create a new agenda. Then follow that one. The agenda is your tool. You are not its slave. Depart from it or modify it when necessary to keep the meeting relevant.

dmb41carter36's picture

How far do I push a senior executive to get him to stop using his laptop during meetings? When do I chalk it up to the 10% "Uncontrollable"?

I had a conversation with a very senior person today who steadfastly refuses to give up the laptop during meetings. He claims he can "Multi-Task" unlike other people. Reason being is that  he doesn't need the question he is asked "Re-explained". He mentions he is often not an active participator in the meeting, perhaps adding 2-3 minutes worth of content in a 2 hour meeting. I then told him, in kind words, "Then why are you even attending the meeting?". A couple minutes later, I don't think he will agree to the "No laptops" rule (unless special permission give by the facilitator).

Long story short, I still don't think he wants to give up the laptop. I am concerned that if I push too hard, it will be unprofessional. The issue is that if other employees see the top guys not paying attention and being on the laptop, then it's preceived as "Okay". So when I run a meeting without the top guy, I'm being unreasonable and a hardass by banning laptops.

For background, I have a unqiue position in that I work for the process improvement part of the company which includes lean administration. I am trying to standardize our meetings (they are awful and a huge waste of time). This gives me a bit of a unqiue direct access path to senior management. I don't want people to think that I am crazy enough to go after someone way above me in the company.

mattpalmer's picture

There's only three ways you can get anyone to do *anything*: ask as a friend, persuade with logic or expertise, or threaten/promise consequences.  You can't threaten a senior exec (because you have no role power), and I'm guessing you don't have a relationship, so you've got to persuade.  There are two things you can try:

  • Groundrules.  If you're doing meetings "by the book", you will have started things off by setting groundrules.  Make sure someone suggests "no phones, tablets or laptops" (priming a trusted accomplice is a good trick, if you can, but you can suggest it yourself, too), and get everyone to loudly support it.  Then, the groundrule is in place, "everyone" has agreed to it, and there's a bit of "social shaming" going on if the exec pulls out the laptop.
  • Ask as a favour.  Attack the problem from the other end.  You've already identified a negative consequence *for the organisation* of this guy banging out his e-mail in a meeting.  So why not take it to him on that basis?  "Hey Fred, you probably don't realise it, but when you're multitasking on your laptop during meetings, other people, who aren't able to multitask, take that as permission to bring *their* laptops into meetings, and they lose effectiveness.  As you know, Bob Bigwig has tasked me with improving the effectiveness of our meetings, and this is one area I'm trying to get under control.  It'd make my life easier with everyone else if you didn't have your laptop in meetings."  It's a risk, and if you don't know this person from a 200lb slab of meat, it probably won't have much of an effect, but it won't be any more damaging than trying to fight him head-on.


Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

That senior guy is a jerk, and others won't emulate him.  If they give you grief, tell them, sorry, but he outranks me.  If a senior guy wants to flout our ground rules, there's not a lot I can do.  This is my meeting, and we have a no laptops rule.

Let the senior guy (multi-tasking - yeah.  What a joke) make a fool of himself to everyone else.  

Seriously, how valuable  can a  guy be who sits through a two hour meeting and only offers 2-3 minutes of input?  He's an arrogant insecure jerk, and sooner or later it will show.