Meetings Can Dump Money on the Bottom Line…
By Diane Elko

You’ve heard fellow workers whispering in a derogatory manner through the hallways of corporate America, haven’t you?  “Don’t tell me we have to sit through another boring meeting?” You rarely hear anyone proclaiming, “I can’t wait for our next meeting. What a revenue-generator that last one was!” 

Dick Schultz, of Professional Resources Group, LLC, went looking for numbers that might paint a picture of meetings in America. You decide what that picture is. 
Interaction Associates reports that an upper level manager will spend 60% to 70% of his/her week in meetings. A survey from McGill University puts that number as high as 69%.
Training and Development Journal suggests senior managers will spend, on average, 24 hours a week in meetings.
Supervisory Management indicated in 1990 that the average meeting of 6-to-8 employees costs $2,000.
Industry Week has reported that more than $37 billion is wasted annually in unproductive meetings
Success Magazine estimates that at least 50 percent of all meetings are ineffective.
Inc. Magazine, in 1994, estimated 20 million meetings are conducted daily (yes, daily!) in America. The magazine conducted a random survey of white-collar workers based on a 40-hour work week.  They found that these workers spent an average of 18 hours a week in meetings!  The survey discovered, among other things, that:
34% of those convening meetings do not define the purpose(s) of the meeting - many meetings are meet because “we always meet on Monday.”

64% do not create an agenda that has any kind of time line, or specific time blocks for specific items.

88% do not consider posing questions on each agenda item to spur group discussion.

54% admit inviting non-essential personnel for political or other reasons.

12% report not all attendees are allowed to participate - “You are here to observe, not talk.”

38% who have an agenda do not complete all the items by the end of the meeting.

43% do not record the discussions/decisions - “We all know what was said.”

41% do not assign specific follow-up action - “We’ll get to that later.”           

Wasteful, nonproductive, hidden agendas, ego-controlled, and monopolizing, are often fair assessments of just how painful meetings have become. However, we continue to meet. Why? What results are achieved in these meetings?

Results or defined action plans are not always or at least do not seem to be the objective for a meeting. Often, we just sit in a room and communicate—that’s right, we simply talk about what we have done and what we are going to do. Now and then a decision must be reached, so the boss lays out the issues on the table and you take a vote. End of meeting. But just wait a minute, aren't there some meetings with substantial results to show? Don’t some meetings have real objectives?

When is the last time you did anything worthwhile at a meeting? Have you ever implemented creative ideas and a supporting action plan to go with those ideas? Or are these opportunities left to a task team who is required to meet 8-10 times over the next few months and then present back to the management team? Often times, the team’s solution is too late or “out of touch’ with recent changes to allow for any positive impact. Or maybe the focus is on another hot topic. Result? Lots of hours were spent by a team who now resent that they wasted their time, and may possibly be seen as victims of “meeting overkill.”

Some management team members only attend meetings and nothing else. Hour after hour of discussions--circling from point A to point B, and then off to some tangent, and back again to point A. “We can’t solve our problems without sharing our thoughts and “brainstorming” for the solutions. A meeting is the easiest way to communicate and at the same time, allow for team building because we actually see the others and learn what makes them tick,” comments Mr. Business Manager 101. True that we respond to body language, eye contact and tone of voice, but why even bother to have these meetings if no “creative” actions or results happen?  Just take these people to dinner and a movie and the same purpose may be served.  

Meetings are viewed as the “necessary evil” to pretend that we are accomplishing something. In reality, we are communicating and we are trying to accomplish something, but what exactly is that something? This is the part where we will never know what could be accomplished because we cannot find the way to get there.

Anyway, go ahead and survey your staff. Find out what they think of your meetings. If they are not satisfied, then come back to this article for a closer look.
Ask: “How would you rate the effectiveness of our meetings?”
On a scale from 1-10, with 10 = Powerhouse of Results!
and 1 = Big Waste of My Time!

If you get a score higher than 8, email me immediately because you are doing something right, and we’ll use your company as one of the models for learning what it takes to conduct almost a powerhouse of a meeting (

The question remains: “Is your business or organization getting anything accomplished at your meetings?”  What more can be done to get your meetings rated as a 9 or 10?

Let’s dream for a moment…

Pretend we are in some company where the meeting as we know it doesn’t exist.  Sit back, close your eyes, and welcome to a new concept—the Power Meeting.  

The Power Meeting is the way you will accomplish results you have never dreamed possible. You will only need a few things to power up your meeting: a large board or wall space, 4” x 6” post-it notes, markers, a facilitator trained in the process, and your team of people. That’s it!  Not too fancy and it won’t kill your budget. Rather basic, but the following summary will explain more about how to make your dream meeting come true.

What is the SolutionsMap Process? 
SolutionsMap™ has been described as a “core thinking technology that brings out the best thinking and energy of all participants in a session (meeting), led by a trained facilitator and using the visual tool of storyboards.”

It allows groups and teams to identify issues, solve problems, brainstorm—in fact, do anything one could imagine a team doing—in roughly a half to two-thirds of the time required in normal meetings or work sessions.  It allows teams to apply project management processes with more precision and stronger outcomes.

The central philosophy in SolutionsMap™ is: “Everyone in an organization has ideas, skills and talents that those organizations MUST draw out. This is best done in a relaxed, fun and fair fashion where people do not “judge” one another or make quick decisions about ideas. Rather, every idea has merit and is allowed to live.”

But, SolutionsMap™ is not just about brainstorming. There are many effective ways to create ideas. Where most organizations fail is in the implementation of those ideas –turning them into real work and, hopefully, PROFITS! CREATIVE SOLUTIONS AND POWERFUL RESULTS!

No SolutionsMap™ session ends without some identification of the “key next steps,” the creation of an Action Plan so the group begins work immediately. The implemented actions turn into cost savings, increased sales, increased productivity, improved marketing, and just about anything focused upon the improvement of your business.  Business process improvements are included in this list, and with all of this activity, you will see achievement. Your customers will be happy, too. The result is you will see money dumped on the bottom line—guaranteed.

Many people assume, wrongly, that the storyboard process can only be used for highly creative work. Not true. It often has been used for very technical work around electronic, Internet issues, and it has been used to radically re-engineer the structures and business models of organizations. Let’s take a look at how SolutionsMap™ may be used.

The Internal Web Site Creation for a Major U.S. Bank
At one of our recent training workshops with one of the largest banks in the United States, for whom we do several workshops a year, almost all of the participants were from the Information Systems Division.

A senior member of that division was involved in designing an internal web site to help speed up several functions within the bank. He was required to identify all the services that would be needed; the hardware and software required; the security (firewall) systems; the obstacles to installation; the ongoing operational requirements and procedures.  

During the class we assisted him in creating a “SessionMap,” or “agenda” for a series of work sessions to accomplish this. He said the storyboard process would work for his issue. He now says it has made his work much simpler, reduced the time planned for the project and allowed his people to enjoy their work much more. 

The Reorganization of The ‘Order Entry to Delivery’ Flow For The European Division of a Major U.S. Firm
Prior to the Year 2000 a major division of a large U.S. firm was faced with two challenges: Ensuring its systems were Y2K-compliant and that they would take full advantage of certain economies created by the new Euro market system.

For example, this firm had approximately 15 order-entry to delivery systems–one for each nation it served. Because of Euro, it could reduce that number to 3 or 4. At the same time it wanted to completely replace the hardware and software to drive the systems so they all were Y2K-compliant.

The firm hired a major consulting firm to “re-engineer” all its major processes. Once that was done, we and the management consultants created a storyboard design that allowed a team of more than 20 persons, working over several weeks to analyze, challenge and change each process, then create plans for implementing the final selections. 

The SolutionsMap™ storyboard process allowed the group to work quickly, clearly and with a minimum of confusion. The project leader later said the work could not have been completed without the SolutionsMap ™ storyboard process. This was highly technical work involving flowcharting, with only a small part of the session being “brainstorming.”

The Re-Engineering of a $20 Million Per Year Eyewear Business To Shift Management Responsibilities
One year ago a small eyewear firm in the U.S. underwent a major change. The two owners—a husband and wife—who created the firm, decided they no longer could manage all aspects of it. If they did not find a way to shift some of their burdens to others, the firm might literally collapse.

We conducted a two-day strategic planning retreat to shift one-half of their duties to an 11-person management team. In those two days, that was done and a one-year implementation plan was created that not only dealt with the management change, but also outlined initial work on expanding their internet presence and increasing total sales.

Creation of a Strategic “War” Plan to Allow a U.S. Newspaper Group to Survive an Attack by a Larger, Better-Funded Adversary
Within the past year, we used the SolutionsMap™ storyboard process to help this newspaper-communications group identify critical synergies between its existing properties and a newly acquired newspaper in a nearby city. The session was a detailed analysis of possible partnerships, but also a complete “SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats)” work-out containing anywhere from 5 to 15 Action Steps that will be implemented over the next six months. There were 22 persons in the group and they said, at the end of the session, that they were shocked at what they accomplished.

How Long Does a Session Run?
SolutionsMap™ sessions can run from hours to days and are always designed by working closely with those who must “own the work.” People in organizations know their businesses best. The facilitator’s role is to provide a system so that the people in any organization can bring out that knowledge and use it to improve themselves and their companies.  And at the same time, people will enjoy the work while they are doing it.
Is This a New Invention?
The power of using the SolutionsMap™ process for results is not new. Walt Disney first used the storyboard process in the early days of The Disney Company as a fast, flexible way to animate cartoons, and later movies. Cells would be pinned to storyboards, studied, moved, revised and edited. 
Following World War II, Disney’s organization began to expand and he was frustrated by the slowness of most traditional brainstorming and planning methods. He wondered if the visual aspects of the storyboards he was using to animate and sequence cartoons and movies could be used for business planning. He created a model based on storyboards that was critical to the growth of his organization.

Over the years others have refined the process. Richard S. Heiland, owner and President of RHScott Associates, LLC, and Richard Schultz, owner Professional Resources Group, LLC, created the core process in late 1997. Their process grew out of a storyboard process called “Compression Planning” created by The McNellis Company, but based very strongly on Disney.  [Note: In 1998 and 1999, Heiland added models for high-level strategic planning, conflict resolution in teams and project management. They also added The Implications Wheel®, a futuristic decision-making process created by Joel A. Barker, author of the well-known books and tapes on paradigm shifts and change.]

To attempt to identify the possible uses of the process would be very time-consuming, and possibly require a book. It is perhaps better to ask, “What it can’t be used for?” But that is also a hard question to answer since creative thinking, a critical part of SolutionsMap,™ encourages a limitless number of applications.

Are you ready to see firsthand how “Meetings Can Dump Money on Your Bottom Line?”  

Diane Elko, Owner and President of Improve It! Consulting and Training in Houston, Texas joined the forces behind SolutionsMap™ when she became a trained facilitator in the early 90’s. Elko used this process as part of her productivity, process and quality improvement consulting [see “The Best Meeting I Ever Ran,” in Performance Magazine, March 1995, to review one such example]. After realizing the power of its results, she now brings this tool to Greater Houston in partnership with RHScott Associates. Diane is an RAB certified ISO lead auditor, consultant, and adjunct faculty member at the University of Houston.