Effective meetings, how to have them?

Effective meetings are a necessary evil.  They are fundamental for the growth of any business.

Meetings, everybody needs them, and at the same time hates them.  They have the potential to be a powerful part of any growth, innovation, or improvement strategy.  However, many times they turn into a waste of time.  Moreover, many times they are the reason why people allegedly have no time for other meaningful things.  As a leader, what can you do to ensure your business or organization have effective meetings?

Causes for ineffective meetings

Before discussing what to do to have productive meetings, let’s start with the common causes for ineffective meetings.  One thing that bothers most of us is not knowing the motive or objective of a gathering.  Lack of clarity regarding the purpose can lead to decline or not take it seriously.  For the organizer, the lack of a plan or objective leads to inviting the wrong people.  Maybe they will end with people that don’t need to be there.

Another cause for unproductive meetings is when participants arrive unprepared.  Preparation includes reading the objectives, search for backup information, read related reports, and others.  Lack of preparation leads to a repetition loop where players talked non-sense or repeat the same things discussed during the previous meeting.  Not being prepare also causes inefficient time management. Moreover, distractions, interruptions, and off-topic conversations cause lost time.  

There is no point in having a meeting without a record of the topics discussed.  Notes of the issues reviewed, ideas and opinions, action items, and decisions are critical for effectiveness.  Follow-up the progress on the action items and decisions enforcement is easier when there is a record.  It also eliminates different opinions or recalls about what happened.

Effective meetings require preparation

A productive meeting starts with the planning.  The first step is to define the objective of the meeting.  What do you want to accomplish with the reunion?  From there, you can decide what topics need discussion, how much time, and who should be there.  Avoid too many complicated subjects for one meeting.  Consider splitting the themes in more than one gathering if necessary.  

Second, prepare the agenda and list possible sources of information to facilitate preparation.  Third, separate a room big enough to accommodate the people you will invite.  If possible, avoid conference rooms close to areas with too much noise.  Also, ensure to have available all the tools or equipment that you will need.  

The fourth step is to send the meeting invitation.  Along with the invitation, explain the purpose of the meeting.  Also, send the agenda, scope, outcome expectations, and sources of information.  With this information, participants can prepare for the meeting.  Preparation will facilitate effective participation and better time management.  Communicate the rules for the reunion as part of the invitation email.  For instance, request to turn off mobile phones and refrain from using laptops or tables during the meeting.

To run effective meetings, leaders do the following.

  • Complete the adequate meeting preparation (objective, scope, agenda, and others).
  • Set clear expectations by opening the meeting summarizing the scope, purpose, and desired outcome. 
  • Continue the meeting discussing the points of the program.
  • Ensure that everybody on the table has a voice, promote participation.
  • Always take notes or have a designated secretary.
  • Respect the allotted time for the meeting by managing the time for each topic. 
  • At the end of the meeting summarize the outcome, decisions, and action plans.
  • After the reunion, send the minutes along with action items.  Ensure to include what, who, and due dates.
  • Set up time on your calendar for follow-up.

Meetings are a necessary evil to run a business.  However, they don’t need to be a waste of time.  A well-run meeting is fundamental for the growth and process improvement of any business.   Effective meetings are possible with proper planning, conduction, and follow-up.   

Innovation and continuous improvement

Promote innovation to strengthen your company.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, innovation is a new idea, method, device, or novelty. It is also the introduction of something new.  In this competitive world, innovation is crucial to the success of any organization.  Therefore, one way to strengthen the company is to promote innovation.  

Innovation and the company culture

An article in Harvard Business Review describes the behaviors exhibit by the most innovative organizations. Scott D. Anthony, Paul Cobban, Rahul Nair, and Natalie Painchaud are the authors of that piece.   The article, Breaking Down the Barriers to Innovation, explains them in detail.  Those behaviors are the following.

  1. Always assume there is a better way to do things. 
  2. They focus on deeply understanding customers’ stated and unstated needs and desires. 
  3. Collaborate across and beyond the organization, actively cross-pollinating. 
  4. Recognize that success requires experimentation, rapid iteration, and frequent failure. 
  5. They empower people to take risks, voice dissenting opinions and seek needed resources.

These five actions or attitudes are aligned with a continuous improvement culture.  

Innovation in a continuous improvement culture

A tenet of continuous improvement is to respect the people.  One way is by providing the environment and opportunities to learn new skills.  In other words, the team is empowered to improve their workplace. They would do it through innovation and continuous improvement.  

The ultimate goal of continuous improvement is perfection.  That is to say that you always assume that there is another way to do things. Precisely, that is the first behavior in the article.  Other behaviors listed are collaboration, seeking improvements through experimentation, and learning from mistakes. All of them are part of a continuous improvement environment.

One of the CI principles is customer value.  The customer is who defines value.  Value definition is a critical piece to start your continuous improvement quest. For instance, you will use it to classify each process as value-added or non-value-added. Moreover, you need to understand it to focus your innovation efforts on the right place  

A CI culture is people-based. The focus is to create an environment that promotes learning and growth. When the company is mature enough, team members do not have to deal with repetitive problems. Therefore they don’t have to deal with the frustration that comes with them either.  A mind free of work concerns and frustration is a mind ready to create and innovate! 

Start with why while breaking the news

While launching a new project or initiative. always start explaining why you want to do it.

When a company is launching something new, it is common to have the CEO or the owner breaking the news.  Sometimes, the enthusiasm and clarity of the information given are not enough to guarantee success. People need to know why before committing to do something.

To get support, start with why

Sometimes it is not easy to understand the reasons for a change.  However, knowing what inspired it helps to get that understanding.  For the leader, that inspiration comes from a vision of the future.  That vision stems from a belief that it is possible to reach an unreachable limit or carry out that impossible idea.  The strong desire to make that vision a reality is his or her why.  

That inspiration comes from the heart, from their values and beliefs.  People connect through common feelings, ideas, and values.  For that reason, explaining why you want to do that is the best way to get support.

Explain why to achieve your vision success 

I learned about the power of starting with why from Simon Sinek in his book Start with Why.  He explained the human need to belong and the connection between that and the success of some companies.  Sinek defines why as a purpose, cause, or belief, the reason for the organization to exist.  Also, he explains that when a company communicates their why, and we believe in the same thing, we include their products or services in our lives.  We do that because they symbolize values or beliefs we share with them.  

It works also with any initiative or project

Using Sinek’s book as inspiration, I incorporated my purpose or vision as part of a new initiative or project launching.  Our team needs to know why we are doing what we are doing.  They need to learn or recognize the connection between the company values and the purpose of the new project.

Getting support for the new project or program is easier when team members can see how their work influences it.  In other words, how they can contribute to the company’s vision.  If your team believes in the company values, they will believe in that vision and will contribute to it.

The why of the project is the purpose for that project or initiative to exist.  What customers’ pain points the project address.  Explain the why simply so it is easier for your team to relate.  Once they understand the vision and see how it marries the company values and beliefs, they will commit.

The purpose or why is the true north.  It becomes the compass that will guide you and your team throughout the execution of the project.  Having this guidance during the entire journey will keep everybody focused on the end goal.  Also, it will ensure alignment with the company’s purpose or reason to exist.

Strategy time, how much do you invest in it?

Strategy time, do you spend enough time creating your business strategy?

Strategic work is one of the most critical that a leader has to do.  A strategy is how the business is set out to achieve its objectives and goals.  Therefore, to attain them, leadership needs to focus on the necessary long-term business actions.  Also, they need to make decisions and allocate resources to support the action plan to achieve those goals.  There is no doubt you need to spend time to make this happen.  The question is, how much do you invest in strategy time?  

Why leaders do not spend enough on strategy time

When you run a business, especially if you are a solopreneur, you wear various hats every day.  You start the day with the firm intention of completing your tasks for the day.  Perhaps, working on your long-term business plans is one of them.  However, instead of analyzing trends and thinking about a new product or service, you find yourself putting out fires. 

It is hard to let go of the day-to-day operation.    When you don’t have skilled people to handle it, it is almost impossible.  Nevertheless, success depends on how you manage the situation.  It is too risky not to solve problems before they are too big to handle.  For example, your customers are waiting for quick and satisfactory resolutions to their problems.

Thinking about and create a new strategy to achieve business goals is a huge undertaking.    If you choose the wrong one, you could lose market share, money, or even credibility.  Perhaps the fear of failure is what prevents you from spending time working on strategy.

What can you do to have more strategy time?

There are three things that you can do to have more time to work on your business strategy.  You can develop your team skills, delegate, and schedule strategic work.

Most of the time, the cause of firefighting is unstable processes that are lacking standards.  Therefore, you would have to work on stabilizing them.  Simple tools like 5S and PDCS will help with that task.  Later use problem-solving to start moving the needle in the right direction.  Using the 5 Why and Cause and Effect, you can develop your team skills.  Consequently, they can take care of solving day-to-day problems following a set structure.

Delegation is not as simple as asking somebody to do some of your tasks.  First, you need to identify what tasks you can delegate.  Second, see who from your team is a candidate to learn those tasks.   Analyze their current skills, education, experience, and interests to find the best fit. 

Schedule your strategic work

To ensure that you spend time on strategic work, put it on your calendar.  This activity is not for the end of the year only.  For instance, you should work on long-term planning throughout the year.  There are two parts, check on the current strategy performance and work on the future.

Set aside chunks of time to think about the future.  Whenever an idea pops into your mind, make a note. Then, work on enhancing them during strategic work time.  Imagine how those ideas connect with your current operation. 

Putting something on the calendar does not mean that it will happen.  You will need to create the habit to work on strategy.  For example, use a calendar reminder as your trigger for the creation routine.  Reward yourself with something nice that you enjoy.  After all, you will be one step closer to the goal.


You start with a dream, a goal, something big you want to achieve with your business.  To reach that goal, you have to create a map, a list of actions that the company needs to take.  Those actions or strategy is what would bridge the gap between goal and achievement.  

Visionary leaders take time to imagine the future and build ways to go there.  You can do that by thinking ahead.  Think about how the market would change and how the business needs to adapt.  Or what new product or service would help to solve a customer problem.  

Focusing on day by day is important, but the long-term approach is vital for business growth.  As the owner or top leader, the time you spend on strategic thinking is very well invested.  When you develop your team skills, you can step back from at least some daily tasks.  Whenever that happens, you can spend the much-needed time on strategic work.

Stop fixing and start improving

stop fixing problems and start improving

If you have a friend or acquaintance who is a business owner, I bet there is not one time you met that the conversation doesn’t gravitate toward business stuff.  As a result, you hear stories about the enterprise’s performance.  When things are not going as expected, you talk about things he or she want or should do in their business.  Moreover, they keep talking about problems and how they fix them.  The problem is that they should stop fixing and start improving processes.

Stop fixing and start improving

Richard is the owner and general manager of a chemical laboratory.  Every once in a while, I see him at a bar we both frequent. As we have friends in common, several times our groups get together to have a good time.  Inevitably, I heard Richard talking about the problems he had in the lab many times.  However, it took me several months to convince him to do something about it.

During the time that Richard was talking about inefficiencies, his business was suffering.  ChemTest was not releasing results on time or keeping up with demand.  Therefore, the customer service rate was declining.  Also, he was missing the opportunity to grow the business.  Every day, Richard and his team were working very hard to get caught up with the tests.  Richard thought he was fixing the problem by hiring a new lab technician.  

But the real problem is that he was not fixing this problem.  Even more, he did not fix the situation of running out of reagents by increasing the inventory level.  Neither the testing errors by hiring a laboratory helper to organize and label samples.  Richard was trying to fix problems by throwing more resources into the business.  In fact, instead of fixing, he should have been improving the processes.

This is the time to stop fixing and start improving

Like, Richard, many business owners or leaders are focus on fixing problems day in and day out.  But there are two problems with that approach.  First, probably they are only dealing with the symptoms of the problem, not the cause.  Hence, there is no such thing as fixing or solving the problem.  And second, they are not improving the business processes.

Process improvement using simple and common-sense solutions is the best way to eliminate waste and increase safety, quality, and efficiency.  It is also the best way to achieve the fastest delivery times without spending lots of money.  Continuous improvement is a people focus system.  Leadership takes care of the team and the team takes care of the problems.  Through skills development and lean thinking, the team learns to improve their work area and processes.

As a consequence, leadership would have more time to think about improvements, new products, and how to grow the business.  How long have you been thinking about doing something to change your business performance?  Have you considered a continuous improvement strategy?  These days, more than ever it is critical to building a flexible business capable of adjusting to market changes as fast as possible.  This is the time to stop fixing, and start improving.

Why did your strategy fail?

Your strategy failed, but why?

Why did your strategy fail? That is a question that you ask when things did not go as planned. During the last quarter of the fiscal year, entrepreneurs will take time to work on new strategies and plans. Those are the things that will become the compass to guide the business during the next year.  I am talking about the budget and the business plan. 

Action Plans are the reason why your strategy fails

Strategies for the areas of quality, cost, delivery, people development, and any other you feel adequate for your business are as effective as the action plans to achieve the objectives are.  Each strategy needs a good plan, a story that tells how you will attain the business objectives and goals.  Many companies fail to create a good action plan, and therefore the strategies fail.  Authors David Norton and Robert Kaplan indicate in their book The Balanced Scorecard that ninety percent of organizations fail to execute their plans successfully.  The following are the top three reasons why action plans, and therefore strategies, fail.

Lack of clarity

The goal or objective sometimes is not clear, is open to different interpretations, which leads to confusion and lack of accountability.  While stating your business goals, make sure to say what you want to achieve in simple words.  Be specific and never assume people know what you are talking about.  Make clear who is responsible for getting the results.  Name a person, not a department, or a group as the responsible party.  Finally, make crystal clear time expectations for completion.  

Unrealistic goals

Another problem is that goals are not SMART, specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based.  Unrealistic goals are often the result of the leadership process of setting goals without any involvement with the people who will be responsible.  There is no doubt that many leaders know their operations, but not better than the people working in the trenches every day.  By making your mid-level managers part of the planning process, you can make sure that objectives are clear, goals are realistic, performance is measured with the right metric, and the time estimated for completion is attainable.

Broken communication

The three C’s of Effective Communication, clear, collaborative, and consistent are indispensable for planning execution effectiveness.  Specific, crystal clear plans are critical to avoid confusion and ensure accountability.  Regardless of how good people in your team is, they need help to achieve the company goals.  Collaboration between team members is critical for success.  Not taking the time to listen to each other, not to judge or blame but to learn and help each other is a big mistake that will lead to not achieving the goals.

Effective communication has to start from the moment the plans are being drafted, continue once they are published to ensure everybody is aligned, and keep going during the year to revise performance and reflect on actions and results.  Make a routine of asking for progress during regular meetings, ask for challenges, what is working, what is not working.  Be on the lookout for changes in assumptions, the market environment, or any other change that may affect performance.  Talk about how to adapt or change the plan, is the goal still attainable, or does it need revision?  

What to do to avoid that your strategy fails

To be in the ten percent of organizations that execute their strategies successfully, make sure to define the strategy and state SMART goals.  For your planning process, identify all the action plans that are necessary to achieve each strategy.  Be clear, realistic, and communicate effectively with the right people while designing the action plan.  Once completed, ensure to be clear about who is responsible and the timing for completion.   Talk about the goals frequently, revise performance, assumptions, and results.  Reflect upon those things and adapt the plan if necessary.  Success is not easy, but it is possible by not losing sight of your destination and using your compass (action plans and goals reflection) to get there on time.

Do you need a quality strategy?

I know I’ve said it hundreds of times, but I’m going to repeat it. The continuous improvement goal is to deliver the customer the highest quality, at the shortest lead time, at the lowest possible cost. For that reason, the focus of your CI activities is quality, cost, and delivery. We also know that continuous improvement is a people’s system. For that reason, the most influential job of a leader is to develop himself and develop the team. With those things in mind, your business should have strategies for each of those areas. A quality strategy is a must.

You need a quality strategy

Without customers, businesses would not exist, and yet, many do not have a quality strategy. Unfortunately, business owners or leaders wait until they have a customer crisis on their hands to create a quality strategy. While practicing continuous improvement, the customer defines value. There is no way to have a CI culture without a quality strategy. This strategy will provide a clear path to create products or services with the highest quality possible.

Given how important quality is, it deserves to be considered a key business strategy. The first step to create a strategy is to assess the current state and establish a vision. Part of this assessment is to understand the customers’ specific needs and desires. What do they value? What is important? Use the concept of “Go and See” to answer these questions. Visit your customer, or at least have a conversation about this. Nobody can answer what does the customer needs better than the customer itself.

Changes in mindset, be clear about your quality strategy and goals

If currently, the organization emphasizes cost over quality, leadership needs to highlight the change in mindset as part of the culture change from traditional to continuous improvement.  During the period leadership seeks to understand how the current culture would affect the CI implementation, they will have to look for understanding how the company views and understands quality.  Do people outside the quality department feel any responsibility for the product or service quality?  Do the team members understand how their work affects quality?  How their actions affect customer satisfaction?  Be crystal clear about this while creating or improving standard work.  

Customer needs and quality

Translate the customer needs into your business language to establish the performance indicators and to create breakthrough objectives.  Your quality strategic plan will tell people how to close the gap between the actual and goals.  While this plan cascades throughout the organization, make sure to use the appropriate KPIs and internal language for the tactical level.  PDCA is a tool that helps to create, deploy, and implement the plan as well as reviewing its effectiveness and adjust it when necessary.

Leadership needs to learn and teach how to shift their mindset from production planning and cost decision-making to a quality driven decision-making process.  The success of this new way to frame decisions rides on leadership modeling of the new behavior, just like with continuous improvement and lean Thinking.  To answer the initial question, yes, you do need a quality strategy.  Quality does not happen by magic; it needs to be part of your business strategy.

How to align Kaizen and business objectives?

When you have specific business improvement goals as part of your Business Plan and strategies, it is easier to identify where you should focus on kaizen activities.  But even if you don’t, you can still align your kaizen to your business goals.  Let’s take a look at how you would do it under each scenario.

Objectives, Strategies, and Action Plans

As part of the Business Plan, you have goals and objectives. They represent what you want to accomplish. The strategy is the way you choose to achieve those objectives. The plan is what tells you how you are going to do it. In other words, the strategy gives you the framework for decisions, and the action plan tells you the specific actions to achieve each goal.

For example, one of your objectives is to increase sales from x to y. The strategy or way to do it is by growing the business by 10%. Before making decisions, you would ask yourself how it will affect or support your goal. The action plan to achieve this objective is to increase brand awareness or introduce a special sale. These are specific steps that detail how you are going to accomplish the objective.

Kaizen as part of the action plan

Most entrepreneurs analyze the current year’s results and then develop next year’s goals. Achieving those goals means achieving the desired conditions for profitability, delivery, quality, and people. From these statements of intent, you move to develop specific objectives, a clear target, or destination.

The next step to build your business map is to establish a strategy, the way or process to achieve the objective. At this time, you can identify in what department or area this activity will have more impact on the KPI’s. Use this information to create a detailed plan of how to accomplish the target. Now you can incorporate continuous improvement or kaizen events as part of that plan. The kaizen events will help to achieve the objectives. These events will close the gap between the current state and the future state.

Continuous improvement or kaizen is not part of the business plan

When the business plan does not include the improvement plan, you can still align kaizen with it.  Under this scenario, your team is dealing with problems without a map to guide their actions with the business goals. Their actions impact productivity, quality, cost, and delivery.  Daily kaizen, and events, can help to overcome those challenges by improving the process and solving operational problems.  With daily kaizen, your team will tackle many pain points. However, some recurrent issues with high impact in the business deserve a kaizen event.

Before planning your events, understand the problems first. Engage your team in talking to key players and customers to learn about their pain points and needs. The same group can generate ideas for possible kaizen events. After this, validate those ideas to see if they align with the objectives or drive business KPI’s. With a refined list of kaizens, the next step is to prioritize. Do this based on the effort vs. impact or benefits level. After this, you are ready to start planning kaizen.

The critical of kaizen and business objectives

The critical part of both processes is to align kaizen with the business objectives. Maybe, it is easier to start with the target followed by the strategy, plan, and kaizen. But creating a pool of event ideas followed by validation and alignment with the objectives is efficient as well. The critical part of each scenario or method is to choose and target the right KPI’s. Your KPI’s should measure customer satisfaction, quality, delivery, and cost. Let’s keep improving!

How do I prepare to reopen my business?

We are preparing to return to some kind of normalcy in our lives, including reopening our businesses. When we open the doors, the business situation will be very different from what it was before the pandemic crisis began.  You had a vision for your business and a plan to drive you there, but now everything is different.

It is time to sit down and reflect on the future.  The starting point will be to understand the challenges that are coming right to us.  With the help of your team, answer the questions below and then update your business plan.  Things like the sales forecasts, costs, and other assumptions will change.

  1. Reopening implies changes, what needs to change in your operation?  
  2. Do you need to invest in protective equipment, such as acrylic panels or floor markings? 
  3. What new recurrent costs you will have to fulfill new safety requirements?  
  4. How the market will change?  
  5. Do your customers would need something different? 
  6. Does your value proposition need to change?  

After adapting the business plan to the new environment, establish your new objectives and strategy.  Rethink your business strategy carefully, how you guide your decision-making process from now on can be your competitive advantage. 

Your business plan is your guide to the future you envision, but you also need short-term plans to prepare the operation for the new requirements.  What processes have to change?  Do you need to implement new processes to ensure your team and customers’ safety?  Does the work area need changes to adapt to social distancing?  How will you control traffic and flow?  

Many tools will help you to analyze, design and test solutions, PDCA is one of them.  To ensure everybody does the same thing standard work and visual management are important.  Sometimes there is no time for a long analysis, but you can still practice continuous improvement.  If you are not doing it already, build the habit to have daily meetings with your staff.  We call them stand-up meetings, or daily huddles.  

During them the team do a quick review of the operation the day before.  The key here is to ask two important questions, what went well and what needs improvement.  You want to discover the reason for the gap between desired and current state.  A quick 5 Why discussion can lead to simple solutions that can be implemented during the shift.  

From now on, the way to conduct business should be different.  This is the time to prepare yourself and your business for the future.  Given how fast everything changes with the development of the COVID-19 pandemic, the business of the future demands good leadership, employees and leaders engaged in common goals and flexibility.  Continuous improvement and lean thinking promote that kind of behaviors. 

Focus on the things you can control, take a deep breath and start creating your future.  Be safe, stay well.

Do you really want to go back to normal? Business as usual, will not going to cut it anymore.

These days you can hear the phrase when we go back to normal, dozens of times a day.  We all want to return to our normal lives, right?

As a lean practitioner, I believe that each event is a learning opportunity, the coronavirus pandemic is no different.  During these slower days, there is time to learn new things and plan for the future.  Lean is all about learning, experimenting, and adapting.  That is just what everybody needs to learn now.  Every day I read about how people are adapting to the new normal, and many are using lean or continuous improvement thinking without knowing it.  For me, at this moment, Lean style problem solving is the on-demand skill.

I am not the only one that thinks that way.  Last year, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD), published Indiana’s Employability Skills Benchmarks.  It describes a set of 18 workplace skills recommended for success in today’s competitive workforce.  One of the skills identified in the learning strategies category is problem-solving.  

The way each business adapts the operation to comply with the CDC guidelines is unique.   The solutions are not one-size-fits-all, and on top of that, those guidelines change as they gathered more information.   Learning how to use a systematic process like PDCA and apply lean thinking is critical to identify and implement the new operational guidelines for your business.  

This situation catches most people without the skills to learn and adapt, but it is never late to start.  You are on time to start using lean thinking to approach the current challenges.  With practice, you can build that muscle memory that will guide you through times like this.  The new normal then should be something better than before the coronavirus pandemic.  It is like when you create the future state value-stream-map, imagine a better and stronger business and plan how to make it happen!  Many will go back to business as usual, your competitive advantage will be your new way to do business.

Better Process Solutions can help you to start designing your new processes, get in touch!