Start Up Blog

Meeting efficiency barometer

Posted in entrepreneurship by Steve Sammartino on April 25, 2012

As I write this I am siting in an airport lounge and thinking about how much work I have got done, simply because I have not been interrupted by meetings.

But let me start by saying there is nothing more powerful than people sharing ideas when done right, the problem is that most meetings are what I call ‘Public Reading Scenarios’. That is people aggregating in the same room so that someone will read to them, something they could read in their own time, or more often the case, is totally irrelevant and no meeting is needed.

So I started doing this weird exercise every time I happen to be in a meeting filled with people. What I do is this:

  1. I count the number of people on the meeting.
  2. I decide what I think the average salary in the room is.
  3. I work out the hourly rate of the average salary.
  4. Add this to the number of hours the meeting goes for
  5. Work out the cost of meeting in wages

Last week I was in a meeting with 22 people. I calculated the average salary as $150k per annum, which then translated into an hourly rate of  $75. The meeting went for 5 hours. The cost of this meeting was then $8250. I don’t care how big or wealthy the companies involved are, this is a lot of money. What makes it more significant is that most meetings are pointless – as this one was.

This meeting in particular was what I call a ‘Public Reading Event’. There was now real exchange of ideas, debate or in depth discussion. Rather a few people stood in front of copy heavy power point slides and read it out to the people sitting around eating muffins and pretending to listen. A total waste of time and the $8250. This is before we add to the price the opportunity cost of real work that wasn’t done during the 5 hours, or the cost of the meeting ‘culture’ it creates. And we all know a strong ‘meeting culture’ results in a vortex of indecision and slow business practice.

No point raising the issue without proposing a solution. So here is mine.

We add a widget to every email / meeting / calendar organiser which does my calculation above and estimates the ‘Cost of the meeting’. So when the meeting request is sent through the organiser and the participants see the cost in time – which is the real cost. It would say something like – estimated cost of meeting $3000. If people have to travel it should calculate that cost as well. This will make people think twice before they send the meeting request. It will also make us think twice before we accept the request. We measure the cost of most things in a company, but for some reason we rarely measure the cost of employees time in ‘salary employee’ environments, which is ironic when they usually represent 20-50% of the cost of running most companies. The widget is a pretty simple idea that could be mashed into any calendar function. Maybe it’s an iPhone calendar app that someone ought build?

When a meeting does occur and we agree it is worth while and attend, there would be a pretty strong emphasis on the value that occurred during it. I’m certain that ‘Public Reading Events’ would be a rare experience indeed.

So the only question remaining is which nimble app startup firm is going to build this?

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13 Responses

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  1. Meri Harli (@meriharli) said, on April 25, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    I remember when I worked for large corporate we had *endless* 60 minute meetings that went on forever. I got the feeling most of the people in there were taking a bit of a break from actually doing work! I really like Google’s take on meetings, they’d have short meetings at tall bar tables in the open office with no chairs. This means people only discuss what they need to and then move on. Not sure if they still do this but it makes so much sense.

  2. Geoff Gourley said, on April 25, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Great commentry Steve, as one that is requested to attend many meetings where the cost of that meeting is usually in excess of the numbers you quote I am always pushing for actions and outcomes. I try to only attend meetings that i know will be beneficial. By saying NO more often or demanding a formal agenda which articulates the purpose and anticipated outcomes I find better results are acheivable. Love the app idea!

  3. ilhan89bln said, on April 26, 2012 at 7:00 am

    This is a good point. Tim Ferriss mentions this problem in his “4-Hour-Workweek”, too, and from my little work experience (and the experience I have from frat meetings) I agree that most meetings are just a waist of time. There is no “movement”, no solution is produced, no actionplan, no nothing, people go out with a vague idea of what is going on and what maybe should be done.

  4. scottcarpenterdotorg said, on April 26, 2012 at 10:32 am

    Great post. There are apps for tracking and calculating the cost of a meeting.

    iOS :

    http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-01/19/cost-of-meeting-app

    Android :

    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.sonicPenguins.meetingCostTimer&hl=en

  5. Paul Hayes said, on April 27, 2012 at 8:49 am

    Public reading scenarios to a team of 72 crammed into a tiny meeting room were a weekly event at my last corporate job. It was crazy to see the management try to crack the whip week in week out, but ultimately the only thing the achieved was a to lessen morale.

    These meetings were almost a sure fire way to guarantee B level talent stayed and A level talent left and found jobs at generation y management style companies.

    Generation X style meetings are one of the reasons that tech start ups are so easily disrupting their business models!

    • Steve Sammartino said, on April 27, 2012 at 11:10 am

      I also think that many meetings are conducted to fill the time in companies who have systems which do most of the work… and people are really just corporate plankton coming along for the ride….

      Steve.

  6. Oli said, on April 27, 2012 at 11:18 am

    I’ve always done the meeting cost calculation by imagined income too. Sometimes it’s pretty scary, and after reading this post I’m surprised it’s not more a part of working culture. Love the proposal.

  7. Judy Gillespie (@judygi) said, on April 27, 2012 at 11:23 am

    Ahh memories! I used to work for a company where the CEO would insist on an ‘Executive Meeting’ every Friday that would often go for 4 hours!! The majority of that time was spent on useless activities including listening to one of the other Exec’s tell never ending stories of his ‘glory days’ on the golf course (I hate golf!!).

    As the lone female in the room I would often leave with a pounding headache from literally banging my head on the table in frustration. I managed to end these horrendous time wasters by doing exactly as you suggested – adding up the cost of each of these meetings & putting it in front of the CEO. Then I suggested we have an agenda & a time limit for each meeting – radical concepts I know! ;-)

  8. Juliette said, on April 27, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    unfortunately most people are in meetings and don’t have time to read your blog :(

  9. heathtully said, on April 27, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    Weirdly I did exactly the same calculation in my head yesterday during a meeting

  10. heathtully said, on April 27, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Good suggestion – I did the same calculation in my head during a meeting yesterday for the first time and was surprised at the outcome.

  11. Erz Imam said, on April 30, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Great post Steve. Another guy who talks a lot about meetings is Al Pittampalli’s (Read This Before Our Next Meeting).
    He has some great ideas about gaining consensus with people one-on-one prior to the meeting. “Groups are great at disagreeing but horrible at agreeing”. “A meeting is a weapon of mass interruption”. “Limit the number of attendees”.

  12. [...] may have read my post on the cost of meetings. And while I feel most of them that we have to endure are useless, it is worth considering what a [...]


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