We know that a carpenter or a nurse has many tools to use in their profession, but a CEO has only one tool. That one tool is meetings, and is the only mechanism that CEOs can use to get things done. So, if you’re a leader, it’s essential that you master meetings, the only tool that’s at your disposal.
We talk about how to become masterful at meetings, how to prepare, how to host and how to run meetings.
The CEO has only one tool
Episode 114 – The Growth Whisperers
The Growth Whisperers is a weekly podcast hosted by Brad Giles and Kevin Lawrence two advisors to mid-market businesses, one Australian, one Canadian, who each work with CEOs and Leadership Teams across the world with a mission to build enduring, great companies. Each weekly episode covers interesting situations and questions from the world of strategic planning, leadership development, talent and hiring in high growth entrepreneurial companies where real results matter.
The CEO has only one tool
Brad Giles 00:13
Hi there, welcome to the growth whispers where everything we talk about is building enduring great businesses. My name is Brett Giles. And as always, today I’m joined by my co host, Kevin Lawrence, Kevin, how are you today?
Kevin Lawrence 00:25
I’m doing great, Brad. As always, I’m always great. You know, that’s my default answer. But actually, I am doing really actually very, very good today.
Brad Giles 00:34
Oh, that’s good to hear. That’s good to hear. And so what do we have today? Today, we’ve got an interesting and perhaps controversial subject for some people. What are we talking about here today, Kevin?
Kevin Lawrence 00:50
We’re talking about how the CEO is a one trick pony, as we like to call the West, or the North, a one trick pony. And basically, the CEO only has one tool at their disposal. And unfortunately, it’s one that they often hate.
Brad Giles 01:08
Oh, yes. Yes, the CEO has only one tool. It’s an interesting concept. But when I’ve run it past CEOs, they’ve gotten it and then said, Ah, that’s it’s so unfair. But it makes so much sense.
Kevin Lawrence 01:28
And it’s good before we disclose this, because they didn’t start their careers. I’m hoping I get to do this all day, every day. It’s on no one’s I can’t wait to list. It’s not like, I want to be an ice cream sampler. I want to be a car test driver, or, you know, I want to build amazing houses or, you know, spectacular developments. This, this never makes it on the list of aspirations people have when they’re starting up.
Brad Giles 01:56
No. And for a lot of people, they walk out of a meeting saying, Oh, my God, what a waste of my time. A lot of people in any role, even the CEO role, they walk out and they go, what a waste of my time. And you and I’ve spoken about this before this subject of meetings. But here’s the thing, spoiler alert.
Kevin Lawrence 02:18
The one tool is meetings, just in case you haven’t caught on yet. And we’re talking about how meetings is the only tool that’s what that’s the one trick pony. It’s cold in meetings. Sorry. Continue on bread. No, no,
Brad Giles 02:29
no, that was the punch line. I was just about to talk about. Thank you. Oh. So
Kevin Lawrence 02:35
Well, usually when you’re delivering a punch line, you don’t like use the word before you get to it just that’s in Canada. Maybe you guys are backwards down. Everybody can that’s not how we do it.
Brad Giles 02:44
I’ll make a note of that one. Thank you. Okay. All right. So we know that if, if you are a carpenter, you’ve got what 50 or 100 or 150 tools in your tool chest. If you’re a bricklayer, you got 20 3040 tools, if you’re an electrician, you got 100 tools, but when your electrician when you
Kevin Lawrence 03:06
will, those numbers are correct, but we understand what you’re saying. It’s just my mom, I just there’s a little high to me, but I’m gonna go with him, right?
Brad Giles 03:13
Yeah. So as I build up more toward the punch line. Look, the key. The key is that a lot of people in different professions or roles have a lot of tools to do their work, yes, to make an impact to execute what they need to achieve. But the CEO has only one thing, and that is meetings. It is a meetings that they run, that gets things done. And their job is to get things done or to get other people to get things done
Kevin Lawrence 03:49
through meetings. So where can I maybe I was waiting for the punch line, but maybe we’re like, we’re like the carpenter that only has a hammer. Yeah, that’s it. We’re a carpenter that only has a hammer versus all the variety or rituals you might think they have and well, if you’re gonna have a hammer, you better love it and better be damn good and creative with it.
Brad Giles 04:10
Yeah, software. It doesn’t really. Yeah, sure. There may be software that you might use, but it’s not really a tool. It’s probably someone else’s tool, right. Yeah, machinery things. Yeah. machinery, probably for other people in the business to use not the CEO. Yeah.
Kevin Lawrence 04:30
So So you know, there is something we talked about in the episode last week, which is arguably another tool a CEO has which is thinking right we did a whole episode 113 That’s all about think time and you might want to take a listen to that as an other it’s not really a tool. It’s just a discipline but this tool is the CEO and basically, most senior leaders only tool and a lot of people say when they get into their house all the time And companies as they grow off, all they do well, I’m just in meetings all day long. Duh. That’s really your job description. For most executives and people, they should have a bit of time to thinking. But generally, they’re meeting all day every day, unless they have time blocked off for thinking or something else that is like it’s really as a senior exec or a CEO, you’re not supposed to, quote, do work, you’re supposed to review and debate other people’s work. So it is the most important part of a CEOs job, it is almost the only tool. And what we really want you to get today is yes, that’s the only tool I’m sorry, that’s all you got. And you should love meetings, and you should freaking hate them, too, huh. All meetings are not created equal. And you should learn to love some, the ones that are effective and use them as templates and models for others. And you should hate the ones that are time wasting or draining or ineffective, and then use those as catalysts to get them fixed. Because, you know, as companies grow meetings become a problem on a regular basis. It interestingly, even with my own team today, I reworked with one of my teammates, I like to collaborate or weekly meeting because it was getting stale, I could feel it. And we went and tweaked it. And we had a really effective, it was a notably better meeting today, because we’ve worked the agenda for a while to make it tighter. So point being, you should love them. And you should hate them. And we’re going to walk you through some things to help you to be what we call a meeting master today. That’s what we’re going to dig into some things that really maintain master wedding Master. You’re like a kung fu master, you can like kung fu your meetings? That sounds so cheesy. Yeah, it does kind of, we’re breaking it up into three categories. And the first one is the most important one. I think it’s the prep, how do you set up for a good meeting? Then how do you host a good meeting? And how do you close off and get the value out. And just as a side note, so I’m preparing for a two day strap planning meeting a CEO said, Hey, I really need your help. And I need someone to come in and kick some bass and realign some things in our company. And as I’m not a patient personality, I kind of like projects, we have to really come in and fairly quickly move through. But I’m going to come in and spend two days with this company, awesome people and I know some of them from other things in the past. I’ve already six or seven hours into understanding their situation and just building the agenda. Yep, I got another three or four to get ready. So just for our strategic planning meeting, which I have probably run Brad 1000 of these meetings, at least a couple of 1000. Yeah. You know, I’m already eight hours into preparation, a couple of you know, and no deep research and a bunch of but just just just the preparation of the agenda. It’ll be eight hours.
Brad Giles 08:15
Yeah, so no agenda. No attender, right. That’s the blanket rule. If you’re not going to give an agenda for a meeting, then don’t go. Here’s the worst thing when someone walks into a meeting and sits down and says, So what are we going to talk about today?
Kevin Lawrence 08:30
Yeah, I don’t want to be in those meetings. I don’t want
Brad Giles 08:33
to stand up. See you later. I’ve got other things today, if you’re not going to come prepared, if the people aren’t going to come to prepare to the meeting, it’s probably not going to be a good meeting. Okay, so you said before you gotta learn to love them. You got to learn to hate them. I’m going to apply a different lens to that, which is it’s a hell yes. Meeting or it’s a hell no meeting. Love it. And if people aren’t coming prepared, it’s probably going to be a hell no meeting. And so,
Kevin Lawrence 09:01
because they’re more likely to waste your time and make it ineffective. Yes.
Brad Giles 09:05
And it’s so easy to do, especially when you’re not prepared.
Kevin Lawrence 09:11
Yep. And so as an example, today, one of the execs that we work with sent me a note, Kevin, I need clarity on this thing we’re implementing. Here’s what it is. Here’s what I wasn’t sure of. Can we chat for a few minutes? So we had an amazingly effective five minute meeting, because he had one question. He also had the head of HR sitting beside him. We went through it, but it was crystal clear what we’re covering. And it was all so there’s so this goes into short and next one is short and long, the short and long. Have it set the minimum time needed. Like I love a five minute meeting. And I think a lot of meetings can be handled in five minutes like that. What I had today was an excellent five minute meeting and sometimes Do you need a three hour meeting or a two or three day meeting, depending on the topic, sometimes you need a lot of debate and to work through things. So this is the art short enough tactically to get it done. And then sometimes you need more time or a different forum, when you’re really good and debate and to get to something core. That’s either a critical decision, or you need to get alignment and buy in or something
Brad Giles 10:22
else. Yeah, but you it’s a part of the agenda, it’s a part of the preparation for the agenda. If you’re not thinking about the agenda beforehand, you’re probably not going to have a good meeting. And part of that thinking and establishing that agenda is we need to have an hour to talk about that subject. And to do it properly, so that we can come up with the answers. And in terms of prep, one of the keys is that you’ve got to know what is the decision that we need to make? Yes. Like, we’re going to have a meeting, not because we like meeting, because we need to make decisions, like what are the outcomes of this meeting that we’re going to get up to? Yeah,
Kevin Lawrence 11:11
so the other next one is that, you know, if it possible, don’t have a meeting, like you don’t always need a meeting, you can chat with somebody for a couple of minutes, you can say, hey, this stick behind for a couple of minutes in the house, or, you know, send an email or whatever it happens to be in your culture. But sometimes you don’t need a meeting, you just need a quick call or, or a one on one conversation.
Brad Giles 11:34
Yeah. And think about the return on investment for the attendees, you get five people in a meeting, or two or three of them not really going to add any value, and how much is each person going to cost each person it might cost 234 $100, for them to come in for an hour or two. And they’re going to be sitting around, they’re going to on four occasions, you know, say something small like that, you’re not getting the ROI from those people.
Kevin Lawrence 12:01
And then there’s the opportunity cost because they can be doing other high value work. And they often slow down the meeting. The more people in the meeting, generally, the longer it takes to get stuff sorted. And there’s a balance there, right? Enough people to get the right decision, but also enough to have enough alignment and buy in to get it done. The other thing to consider in these meetings, is knowing who the decision maker is. And a lot of people use like RACI. We did a podcast on racy in the past, but responsible, accountable consulting informed, yeah, sometimes there’s people that are on the informed list that want to be in a meeting. And that’s not a great use of time. So basically discipline on curate the list, let’s say,
Brad Giles 12:47
Okay, so next one is pre work or reading, often times, you can actually have a more effective meeting, if you send something put someone to read or to do. If you go to a board meeting, for example, you will be expected to read the board pack beforehand, there’s no reason that shouldn’t apply to another meeting in your organization that doesn’t need to be
Kevin Lawrence 13:13
except for the fact that it normally doesn’t work. Most companies have, you know, that are you know, that I’ve seen that are in the dozens or, you know, hundreds of employees don’t have that kind of operational discipline most to read the pre-reading. Some do. It’s you know, and so that’s why some companies and I think it’s Bezos at Amazon, that they have a reading slot in the beginning of the meeting people write a four page memo, they read it in the meeting before they discuss it. So hey, best case scenario. Have people read it in advance that is the best and most disciplined but you might need a plan B in case it doesn’t work in your culture.
Brad Giles 13:58
I’ll move on timekeeping, timekeeping, finish, start on time finish on time. Yes. Routine will set you free if if your meetings aren’t going over. It’s not appropriate and you running your poorly running meetings. Let’s move on to the second key point I want to
Kevin Lawrence 14:21
say one thing back on one note, though, even like it some people feel it’s rude to start a meeting before everybody’s there. Our team meeting which is Mondays at 5pm Pacific at five colon 00. I start doesn’t matter who’s there who’s not that I don’t wait. Because if you wait next thing you know before you know what everyone knows you’re waiting and meeting starts at 505. You got a hold the discipline and hold the standard. Hi. All right. Let’s move on. Sorry, about I had to throw that in there.
Brad Giles 14:48
Yeah. You’ve only got one tool, if you’re the CEO starting on time means that that’s a discipline to make that a more effective tool. Okay. So that was the premise. And now we’re moving to the hosting or chairing of the meeting. Okay? So don’t just come together and talk BS. Okay. Well, who would have thought, right? So we want to the objective of the meeting is to produce decisions and actions. That’s why we come together no matter what it is. So the beginning of the meeting we’re talking about, you’ve got to have what we call the who, what, when, who is going to do what, by when only last week, I was talking with a team that I work with, and I was saying, Well, are you doing what wins in your weekly meetings? Or in those meetings? No, that might be a good idea.
Kevin Lawrence 15:45
Well hear it all the time. Well, then what the hell are you doing? What are you doing? You just come into singing or chatting, you might as well go across the street to the coffee shop, and have a nice cappuccino. If you’re talking and you’re not recording decisions, like, what do you expect? Like it drives me nuts. It doesn’t work.
Brad Giles 16:07
No, big and your frustration is expressed? Because you know that it’s wasteful. Right? It’s time that’s not effective. And it’s wasteful. I propose
Kevin Lawrence 16:21
it’s a very nice way to say it, it is not effective, and it’s wasteful. wasteful, you’re so nice. I agree. And yes, it’s so you gotta follow those. You got to capture the actions. But at the next meeting, you’re saying you got to review them? Make sure the stuff got done. Yeah. And yeah, yeah, you got it. All right. And even like, again, simple things, at the end of the meeting, review the actions that we’ve that have all been committed to. And then someone sends it out to everyone relevant. So for today, and our weekly meeting, we do a pretty damn good job. We got someone on our team and Jess and she, she captured all the actions we reviewed today for a minute, she reviewed them. And then there’s an email that goes out because there’s people who aren’t at the meeting all the time. So then they get to see all the actions and the links to the stuff that we discussed. That’s relevant, okay. Meeting conduct is the next thing. Many companies have conduct for meetings or a set of rules, some people have a talking stick or raising of the head, they have, they have certain things to bring order to the chaos. So that helps a lot. And I recommend that to the top of the agenda, and often reviewed, it’s kind of instead of Robert’s Rules of Order used in boards, it’s just, you know, our rules of order and how we work. I mean,
Brad Giles 17:39
one of the other things is you got to finish on time. I mean, I can remember maybe 15 or 20 years ago, when I was in the Entrepreneurs Organization, the president at the time was the best at running meetings I’d ever seen. And we would allocate one hour, he would start it on time, and it would finish on time. Now that sounds like normal, but at the time, I was just stunned because it was 58 minutes past the hour. And then he would say, Okay, so we’ve got two minutes left, what’s your closing summaries and actions
Kevin Lawrence 18:13
that’s like that is that as I get started on time is one thing. finishing on time, I have a lot of respect to people that can do
Brad Giles 18:21
it was classy, and that what it did is it gave great. It gave great respect to him as the chair to follow his agenda, because we knew every time from then on, he finished on time, and we could go into our next meetings,
Kevin Lawrence 18:40
lower. Nothing is to use timers as a mechanism to do that. And they use them in chess, and they use them in lots of other environments, in sport, obviously. But I always have learned to use timers, especially more in the last few years, even during COVID and all these virtual meetings. So if it’s a 60 minute segment on a meeting a debate in a bigger strategic meeting, I set a timer for 40 with a 20 minute buffer, or if it’s a today we had one of our team members teaching stuff, it’s a 20 minute segment, I set a timer for 18 minutes and a two minute buffer shows there’s a warning. So whatever it is using timers is a key thing. Secondly, is breaking down discussion slots. And again, for a lot of our strategic meetings, it’s longer discussions, we’ll have an hour to talk about our pricing strategy. Well, if you leave it up to most executives, they will just present for an hour. They can’t help themselves. They got 47 slides they got from the consultant than they want to tell you a story but each one I recommend is it we say okay, you’ve got 10 minutes to present the most important stuff or 20 maximum and then a whole bunch of discussion time so that it’s not all blah, blah blah, because the value is the discussion not so much the presentation. So whatever it is timers parameters are all that stuff. Next bit,
Brad Giles 20:01
someone noting that who what wins someone who’s writing down the actions as we go through pretty self evident. But if you’re writing them down, then you can summarize and people know that there’s an accountability loop that you can create and people can follow up with. And then the next one is managing the traffic and the chaos. There’s always people who want to go off into a rabbit hole. And it’s like, Oh, what about that? And then someone, and oh my god, can I just speak off the record a little bit here. Yesterday, I ran a workshop, and there was someone in there, I’m not going to say which workshop or which team it was, or which person but every 10 minutes, this individual would want to go off and just bring in a completely random subject. Hey, by
Kevin Lawrence 20:47
the way, thanks, Jack. Um, let’s come down to the question at hand. Like, you have to learn how to, I don’t know the right word, but wrestle the agenda. And there’s those people that love to hear themselves talking. It’s just drives me bonkers.
Brad Giles 21:03
Oh, I’m just I mean, I did all day yesterday, I’ve been doing it for 15 years, right? I get it, I can handle these situations, as you know, but there are people in as a CEO, if you’ve only got one tool, you’ve got to be able to rein those people back in you do quickly.
Kevin Lawrence 21:21
And so I’ve got some key phrases, and I even do things like I will stand up. Which pull changes the energy in the room? Yep, I’ll raise my stand. I’ll walk over to the person when you’re, you know, and put my hand on the shoulder or something, if that’s appropriate. All the phrases, hey, two minutes left, I would just in the middle of them talking. I will, like I did with you. How does that relate to the discussion? Hey, back to the question I had, like I did. Hey, by the way, jack and jack, can you take that offline? I don’t think this is relevant to what we’re doing right now. Hey, and see us on the break. If you want some help. Oh, hey, let’s add that to the parking lot. Squirrel. Random thought? Let’s write that down. Hey, well, and one of my favorites. Hey, can you just re say that in one sentence? Because you got one of these Ramblers, and it might there’s probably something relevant in the point but no one’s listening anymore. Now, so somehow, you have to come back to the agenda back to the agenda.
Brad Giles 22:24
Good. So can you say that one sentence? No, that’s, I would it would be remiss of me not to to hang shit on you for that? Course. So I think that’s our key points. Really, at the end, in terms of the second point, we’ve got the prep, the hosting, and then we’ve got the closing. So in closing, like you want to do it on time. Okay. You want to clarify and repeat the who, what, when. So Jack, you’re going to have a report back to us this time next week on that new marketing option? Or whatever that is? And then so who’s going to do what by when? And then always better? How can we be more effective next time? So if this was good meeting today, what can we do better next time continually getting better and learning as we move on?
Kevin Lawrence 23:21
Lovely, can you say that in a sense?
Brad Giles 23:28
Yes, the CEO has one tool, make sure that you’re a master of that tool.
Kevin Lawrence 23:34
Exactly. Prepare very, very well. When you’re hosting it, actively run the meeting, you’re in the driver’s seat, drive the darn thing and deal with all the obstacles that come up. And then closing, make sure you wrap up the meeting so people know what’s going to happen, and ideally, some ideas to improve. So great chat, Brad, this is very important. So love them and hate them. Learn to love the good meetings, learn to hate the bad ones and do something actively to eliminate them. Last technique, you know, one company came up with no meeting Fridays, interestingly, to give people space to do other things. And other companies have set the default to being 15 minute meetings, not an hour meetings. Others turned meeting rooms into standup rooms instead of sit down meetings because stand up meetings are faster than sit down meetings, endless endless ideas. So this has been the growth whispers thanks for listening to Brad and myself sharing what we learned from the great companies that we get to work with on our own studies. If you haven’t subscribed yet, hit that subscribe button and we’re happy for you to give us a rating especially if you enjoy the show. For the YouTube version, go to YouTube for the video. You can see it if you want to see Brad and us talking about these things for Brad and to subscribe to his awesome newsletter which I read every week. Evolution partners.com.au and for Kevin’s subscribe to his newsletter that’s me at Lawrence and go.com We both have lots of resources and we wish you a very good week and hope you have some awesome meetings that you love this week
Or watch it on YouTube