Bad meetings: Analysing the cost to business

Written by Kevan Hall and Alan Hall on 21 September 2017 in Features
Features

Here's the first extract from 'Kill Bad Meetings' by Kevan Hall and Alan Hall.  

 

Today, meetings consume about 40% of working time for managers and professional people (our most expensive people).

  • Our research shows that managerial and professional people on average spend two days per week in meetings
  • Bain and Company studied the time budgets of 17 organisations in detail and found that, on average, senior leaders devote two days a week to meetings and 15% of an organisation’s collective time is spent in meetings
  • A 2012 survey by salary.com found 'too many meetings' to be the number one time-waster at the office, with 47% of votes, up from number three in 2008

For organisations, this is a huge cost. The typical managerial or professional person in Europe or the USA costs around $100,000 to employ (at 2017 prices). Some $40,000 of this is spent directly in attending meetings. Preparation for meetings is in addition to this, and internal meetings are also a major driver of business travel costs.

Because the salaries and expenses of people who prepare for and travel to meetings are spread across the whole organisation the total cost of these meetings is often not visible.

Too much collaboration can drive your best people away. It also makes you wonder what the rest of the people are doing in these meetings.

One of our clients with 80,000 people worldwide calculated that the cost of unnecessary meeting attendance alone was $500m per year and this drove an additional $400m of travel costs. If we add in an assumption for preparation time, then we are looking at over $1bn of wasted cost every year for just that one organisation.

We may have full-time professionals managing budgets or spends of a tiny fraction of this, but anyone can call, run, and attend meetings just about whenever they want. The same individual who would need to get approval from three managers for their $200 flight can happily spend $40,000 per year of their time in meetings.

Meetings are probably the largest unmanaged cost area in large organisations. A 2016 Harvard Business Review article, 'Collaborative Overload' by Cross, Rebele, and Grant, claims that over the last 20 years the time spent by people in collaborative activities (meetings, calls, emails etc.) has increased by 50% or more and can take up 80% of the week for many employees – leaving little time for other work.

In this article the authors identify that the collaborative load falls most heavily on a small number of high performers. In most cases 20–35% of value-added collaborations came from only 3–5% of employees.

Worryingly, the study also finds that the people who are the best sources of information and in highest demand as collaborators have the lowest engagement and career satisfaction scores, which can lead to them leaving, or becoming apathetic, or less effective.

Too much collaboration can drive your best people away. It also makes you wonder what the rest of the people are doing in these meetings.

As products and services become more complex and organisations become increasingly connected, the need for more collaborative work increases. At the same time as we need to be more connected, we also need to be effective and productive – we can’t afford to spend our whole time in meetings, conference calls, video, or web conferences.

Technology is turning out to be a mixed blessing in our meetings. There is no doubt that virtual meetings reduce costs and make communication with remote colleagues easier. Video and web conferencing tools have reduced the cost of travel and time away from the office.

At the same time as the number of meetings is increasing, there is a great deal of dissatisfaction about the quality and relevance of those meetings.

However, reducing cost and improving ease of use have led to more meetings in total. It is much easier for a manager with a virtual or global team to call a quick video or web conference than to arrange a face-to-face meeting – so they do it more often.

Open-plan offices mean that it is far easier to walk up and interrupt someone and bring them into an ad hoc discussion or meeting. New office buildings are actively designed to encourage communication and provide areas for spontaneous meetings.

Because these types of meetings are more common and more spontaneous they can offer real value; however, they are also usually less well-planned and can be time-consuming. At the same time as the number of meetings is increasing, there is a great deal of dissatisfaction about the quality and relevance of those meetings.

  • 4,000 participants in our training programmess tell us that of the two days per week they spend in meetings only half of it is relevant and necessary for them to do their jobs.
  • In the Bain study of 17 large corporations, leaders said that half of the meetings they go to are 'ineffective' or 'very ineffective'.
  • Virtual meetings bring additional challenges in creating participation and engagement. In many cases, people have used these tools to bring boring “page turning” PowerPoint monologues at lower cost to a more distributed and uninterested audience.
  • Dissatisfaction with meetings is nothing new but, as the number of meetings increases, this becomes a very significant cost.
  • At corporate level, it means that our people are spending a day per week in unnecessary meetings – an average of $20,000 waste per managerial or professional employee every year.
  • At an individual level, it means busy individuals are frustrated and disengaged at having to spend a day a week doing completely unnecessary work – this adds up to each of us wasting eight years or more of our working lives.

The remainder of the book 'Kill Bad Meetings' focuses on how to cut out unnecessary face-to-face and virtual meetings, overcome cultural resistance to change and radically improve the meetings that remain. Find out more about the book and associated training programs at www.killbadmeetings.com

Kill Bad Meetings is published by Nicholas Brealey on 21 September.

 

About the authors

Kevan Hall is an experienced CEO and consultant working with major multinationals around the world to inspire and enable people to succeed in connected global organisations. His previous books include Speed Lead and Making the Matrix Work.

Alan Hall is a millennial manager with experience working in sales, sales operations and key account management in the packaged goods industry and now specialising in meeting management.

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