Practically every accounting firm partner I know complains about wasting time in meetings. I suspect this is because many, if not most, meetings in an accounting firm are poorly managed.
Improving meetings in your firm can increase performance and focus on solving issues rather than just discussing them. Discussion is essential, but resolution is what differentiates high performers.
Some of the tips I provide you may already know. But the question is, are you practicing them? Or are you caught in the trap of procrastination and tangents?
Stick to an agenda
Developing and sticking to an agenda requires discipline and structure. When a firm’s meetings are unproductive, the problem often stems from partner meetings.
Here are some sample agenda items for a monthly partner meeting, including suggestions to reduce time and be more efficient.
Call to order. Start on time. No excuses.
Positive focus. Begin each meeting by asking participants to share a positive experience or accomplishment from the past month. This process sets a positive tone for the rest of the meeting. Ensure each person spends no more than 30 seconds sharing their positive focus.
Review metrics. The partner running the meeting should present a summary of the firm’s key performance indicators (KPIs). Limit the time spent on this agenda item, as accountants can easily get caught up in the numbers.
Accountability review. Present a brief report on issues that are still unresolved from the previous meeting. Don’t be afraid to show names and dues dates and ask for a report on the status.
Current issues. Address current issues by order of priority. Define, discuss and solve. Do not allow people to go off on tangents or procrastinate. Assign tasks, responsibilities and due dates.
Adjournment. End on time.
Manage your meetings
Once you have a format, you can improve meeting management to reduce the time spent and accelerate results.
Utilize a smartboard or projection system to keep everyone focused. Send people links to relevant documents before the meeting, but you don’t need to pass out handouts. Instead, display any relevant documents on the screen.
Most partners are great at identifying issues but are not as adept at openly discussing issues and tend to go off on tangents. This is human nature, but it can be overcome with discipline, leadership, and a culture of trust.
With a high level of trust, fewer issues must be discussed at partner meetings. Firm management will resolve most problems.
Accountability is a process, not a slogan. It starts at the top by addressing and resolving issues head-on. Non-accountable partners tend to avoid specific measurements, demand equality, talk in abstracts, and ridicule excellence. Accountable partners strengthen standards, encourage measurement and deepen commitments.
Firm meetings set the tone for accountability. How your firm discusses and solves issues is a process, and processes can be efficient or inefficient.
The ability to make decisions should be one of the top criteria for selecting partners. You can live with an issue, end it or change it—the choice is yours. Putting off the decision and justifying procrastination because you’re immersed in client problems is not an acceptable excuse. Your firm should come first, and resolving issues promotes confidence, clarity and the capacity to perform at a higher level. You must have accountability to get to the next level.
Unproductive meetings take a toll on energy levels and capacity. They also cost busy partners a lot of time that could be spent leading the firm and developing its talent. They’re even costlier if they don’t result in making progress toward the firm’s strategic goals.
Following the recommendations above will help minimize factors that make meetings unproductive. Start walking the walk and setting the standard in your firm for meeting productivity and you’ll limit wasted time, no matter how much time is spent in meetings each week.
L. Gary Boomer, Visionary & Strategist of Boomer Consulting, Inc., is recognized in the accounting profession as the leading authority on technology and firm management. He consults and speaks around the globe on several topics including strategic and technology planning; mindset, skillsets and toolsets for the future; change management and developing a training and learning culture. He also acts as a planning facilitator and coach to some of the accounting profession's top firms.