Making the Most of Meetings

Regularly sharing information guarantees that everyone is on the same page, and moving in the same direction.
Originally Published in HVACR Business Magazine.

You’ve owned and operated your business for several years, but are learning that keeping your management team informed, up-to-date and on track are difficult tasks.

You’re not alone. However, you are behind the curve in making sure that your internal communication plans are contributing to the high standards of performance you expect from your employees and the company overall.

While speaking to more than 100 hvacr dealers last year, I asked the following question: ”How many of you have company meetings on a regular basis with your team?” Believe it or not, only 10 hands went up among the whole group. So the next question I posed to the remaining 90 folks was, ”Why not?”

The Top Six Reasons Given Were:

1. I can’t afford it.

2. I don’t want to hear the complaints.

3. I don’t know what to talk about.

4. I can’t make people attend.

5. I don’t have the time.

6. I don’t see the value.

Frankly, all of those reasons simply are justifications for not recognizing the value of company leaders as top communicators. Meetings are essential. They are one of the most important ways that companies stay on track and execute a business plan. It’s a bit like going into a football huddle after every play to make sure that everyone knows what to do next. The simple fact is that informed people make better decisions.

Communication is required for a smooth operation, and the sooner you make minor adjustments to keep everyone in alignment, the better! Having a meeting is not always easy. It costs time and money when everyone could be doing something else. At McAfee, we schedule monthly leadership and employee meetings a year in advance to make sure that everyone can plan ahead. Setting dates makes it easier for everyone to clear their schedules on those days. We have also found success scheduling them on the same day each month, and making sure that everyone knows the meetings are important and mandatory. We pay our hourly team members for attending meetings.

Having an agenda for each meeting also makes it much more productive. Common sense says that there is no reason to have a meeting if there isn’t enough information to discuss, so don’t have a meeting just to say you had one. Your employees will start to dread them and won’t take them seriously. Meetings should serve to educate, team-build and help keep the company in alignment.

While working with other hvacr business leaders and owning my own company, I have learned that there are three things that owners expect most from their management team…and three things the management team expects most from the owner. They are as follows:

1. Owners Expect Managers to Think for Themselves

Managers should not need hand-holding. They are paid to think and make decisions for themselves and the company. If they do require more time and effort, then they are not effective. When challenges arise or a decision needs made, they should think it through and make the best decision.

2. Owners Should be Able to Trust Managers

When leaders are not around, they expect to be able to trust managers with running their departments and making good decisions. Owners should also know, without a doubt, that everything is running as expected. A company can’t and won’t grow without this kind of trust.

3. Managers Should be Dependable

No owner should have a manager that is not dependable. Leadership starts at the top and trickles down. If they are not dependable and reliable, then the team they manage won’t be either. Show me a manager that is always running late, and I’ll show you a team that will be running late, too. Showing up on time, finishing what you begin and keeping your promises are all ways of being dependable.

1. Managers Want Owners to Lead by Example

As I mentioned earlier, your team will only do what they see you do. If you expect them to be on time, be concerned with safety, show respect to customers and have integrity, then you should do all of these. Like it or not, you are the leader and the example you set is being watched and copied by everyone in your company.

2. Owners Should Follow Through on What They Say

Now this seems simple, but for some owners, it’s not. When we do what we say we will do, we build trust and confidence. A manager of a new company told me she was promised a pay increase after her 90-day probationary period ended. Her 90 days came and went, and she never received the increase. If you tell someone you are going to do something, then you should do everything in your power to make it happen. Your word should be as good as gold.

3. Managers Want to be Trusted on Decisions Without Being Micromanaged

All leaders have been guilty of micromanaging, but great leaders realize that they have not hired robots, but managers. So let them manage. They will make mistakes just like leaders do, but will learn from them and become better managers. But they must be given the chance to fail and learn. Otherwise, you will have employees that are discouraged, unhappy and unproductive. Some leaders think they are the only ones who can do it right. Unfortunately, most of them have very high turnover, or remain a one- or two-person shop forever.

When there is a breakdown in communication, the whole team suffers. Trust is lost and coworkers get frustrated. Know what your team expects, let them know what you expect and your company will experience years of success.

Eight Ways to Have a Great Meeting

1. Gather Information. There is never a shortage of useful information. Decide what data is important to the success of your company (sales figures, marketing trends, tickler file updates, and/or the productivity of employees, etc.). To help gather information, ask your management team to get involved and make them responsible for their departments. This will instill ownership for their work.

2. Create a Schedule. Once you have created a master calendar of scheduled meetings, make sure you send out a reminder a few days before the meeting. If you know that someone will be unable to attend, make special arrangements to give them relevant follow-up details. Also designate someone to take notes at the meeting.

3. Provide Materials in Advance. Send out the agenda and all necessary supporting documents before the meeting so that your employees are informed. Put the agenda in order of topics. However, if you get on a good team topic during the meeting, be flexible enough to know what’s most important and stick with it if it has value. Just decrease time on the next segment. This makes your meetings flow better and creates interest.

4. Location, Location, Location. Like everything, location is important. We schedule McAfee meetings in a variety of locations. Lets face it, meetings can get boring if the same format is used every time. Mix it up. Have meetings outside in warm weather or rent a private meeting room in a restaurant and buy everyone breakfast before it starts. This builds camaraderie and improves teamwork.

5. Insist on Action and Ideas. The very best meetings generate new and exciting ideas, and are action-oriented. Start with an icebreaker like a game or questionnaire. These tend to motivate and stimulate everyone prior to the meeting. At McAfee, our meetings last an average of two to three hours. If you have more information, save it for another meeting or run the risk of losing their attention. For example, the average television sitcom is 22 minutes, without commercials. That’s how long each meeting segment should last, with incorporated breaks in between. Anyone can ask a question or provide comments during a meeting, and we encourage participation. It’s amazing what you learn by asking questions from all of your staff – not just the leadership team.

6. Start and End on Time. If we say our meeting will go from 8 to 11 a.m., that is exactly when we start and stop.

7. Bring in Guest Speakers. A local consultant or motivational speaker adds interest. At McAfee, I realize that my team can get tired of listening to me all the time. They enjoy a new face and a different style. Its a good idea if the speaker is familiar with your company. If not, take an hour or so and tell them about your business. Use a good friend, customer or business associate. A business consultant of mine speaks to my team at least once a year, and employees really enjoy it.

8. Come to a Conclusion. Summarize what has been achieved or agreed upon and thank everyone for their contributions and support. Carry out your action points, do a quick review and ask if there are any other questions. Encourage your management team to review topics often throughout the next few weeks, and to file special notes for future reference.

Greg McAfee founded McAfee Heating & Air Conditioning Co., Inc. in 1990 when he was just 27 years old. More than 19 years later, he is a leader in the residential HVAC market in Dayton, Ohio. Greg now consults and teaches others how to succeed.