When thinking about the most important things to consider in running a successful business, it’s typical to focus on big-picture considerations around the products/services offered, clients served, and profit earned. These things are all critical and should not be dismissed. But the boring stuff – how your business operates day in and day out – can sometimes be the defining factor that makes your business stand out amongst a crowded field!
Communication is one of those ‘boring’ things that is so fundamental to our experience as humans that we sometimes don’t think about how important it is! We are communicating all day long – with our clients, our co-workers, and of course, our dogs. But how well are we capturing this communication? And how well are we processing it in a way that is useful, versus allowing it literally to fall on deaf ears?
The most formal type of communication is the dreaded ‘meeting’. Meetings can be (and often are) a big waste of time, either because no one properly documents them or moves any of the items forward that are discussed. This creates a cycle in which the same time next week you get in the same conference room with the same people and discuss the same thing. I’m calling this “Meeting Insanity”, because if this cycle isn’t the definition of insanity, I don’t know what is!
It’s time to put an end to this endless cycle. It’s time to put an end to sweaty, nervous glances in the conference room when the question “What did we decide in this meeting last week?” gets asked. It’s time to gain control of information in a way that makes you confident that you are getting the most of the time you are putting in when it comes to communication!
Below are some practical ideas to make sure that you get the most out of meetings – and all of your communication throughout your day!
Capture, Capture, Capture
Have you ever experienced a sinking feeling when you realize 45 minutes into a conversation that you forgot to press ‘Record’? If so, you understand how critical simply capturing communication can be. You can’t really say “Sorry, can we start over and re-do the last 45 minutes of our conversation?”.
While this may seem ridiculously simplistic, when you are having any kind of important conversation the first thing you need to do is make sure you capture it. There are a few specifics with the capturing process that I do, as follows:
Point 1: Make sure there a plan in place to capture important notes for every meeting
It is difficult to both lead a meeting and take copious notes, so if it is a group meeting I always ensure there is a designated note-taker. If I am the designated notetaker in a critical meeting, I book some time to organize, consolidate, and send my notes immediately after the meeting (or as soon as possible).
If it is a video conference, a good option is to record the meeting in lieu of taking notes during the meeting. In meetings where a lot of critical details are shared, I spend some time listening to the conversation later to write down accurate notes. I find that I am much more engaged in the meeting itself when I don’t need to worry about capturing the notes until I listen to the recording later. (Note: ‘Recording’ is also great if there are stakeholders who have an interest in the meeting but are not able to attend.)
Point 2: If you capture one thing during your meeting, make sure it is ‘Action Items”
I take down somewhat ‘stream of consciousness’ notes during the call, but importantly I highlight action items as I go. This allows me to easily spot the action items afterwards.
Immediately after the meeting I spend some time organizing my notes, and I place the ‘Action Items’ – with clear task owners and due dates – on top. I make sure that these action items are crystal clear, leaving no doubt as to whether it is complete the next time the meeting occurs. I send it out immediately which allows others to dispute any part of what was agreed upon.
At the end of the day, capturing and distributing your notes in a consistent way ensures that others feel confident that you have things under control. And it serves the extra benefit of serving as a ‘source of truth’ when other stakeholders inevitably remember things differently.
Point 3: Have a great system to capture all of these action items and ensure things get done!
You can take the greatest notes in the world, but inevitably your notes will get lost in an avalanche of work that goes on in any project. It is critical to have a technology system that consolidates all of you and your team’s ‘to-do’s’ in a way that provides visibility for all. Depending on the complexity of your work, that could be anything from a shared Excel spreadsheet to a much more complicated system.
At Joy Accounting, we utilize a tracking system called Karbon. Karbon does the basics like allowing us to capture and assign action items. It also has many more advanced features which enables true visibility across the communication spectrum, such as the ability to turn an email you receive into a task and then assigning it to another team member.
The bottom line is this – taking control of communication is critical to avoid all types of communication insanity (including “Meeting Insanity”). If you can get control of this part of your business, everything will flow much more smoothly, everyone will understand what they are supposed to be doing, and amazing things will happen!!!