August, The Sexiest Month

by Katherine Heaviside, Epoch 5 Public Relations

If months were people, I’d say August is definitely the sexiest month. Sultry, indolent – August seductively purrs, “Come play. Skip that meeting. Cut out early on Friday. No one will notice.” As the days pass, August’s steamy breath more insistently whispers in your ear, “Time is running short. Party now — before serious September reminds you that the fun is over.”

That may be why it’s so hard to schedule a meeting in August. Getting more than two people to a table on the same date at the same time is a remarkable feat that should be worthy of an award in the Business Survival Hall of Fame. And it’s not just face-to-face meetings; phone message slips from missed calls litter desktops like so much oversized confetti.

While scheduling a meeting is like capturing the shiny brass ring, a poorly run meeting can tarnish your project and even your reputation. It’s fair to say that I’ve seen the worst of meetings — rambling and unstructured with an unclear purpose and outcome. And I’ve seen the best of meetings — focused and collaborative with participants coming away with a better understanding of issues and how the group will achieve a goal.

I credit Joseph Quagliata, President and CEO of South Nassau Communities Hospital, with stating the basics of running efficient meetings as clearly and simply as I have ever seen. Joe, who leads one of Long Island’s best-run hospitals, first offered me his “meeting rules” when the hospital became a client a number of years ago. It’s such a part of the no-nonsense culture at South Nassau that it’s even posted on the conference room wall. (I’ve added my comments to Joe’s seven rules.)

Arrive on Time – We all know those people who wander in late, Starbucks coffee in hand, mumbling something about a “traffic tie-up.” When an organization has a “no excuses” policy, the laggards will allow extra time to accommodate any unforeseen delay.

Agree on an Agenda – Distribute the agenda at least a day or two in advance to let others suggest modifications. Include the time the meeting is scheduled to end.

Conduct one meeting — Do not meander into other issues that “need a fix” or conduct side conversations. Sticking to the agenda will keep a meeting productive and focused.

Do not interrupt — Hold that thought until the speaker finishes. If someone takes more than their share of “air space,” the meeting organizer should step in and point out the need for completing the agenda in the time period.

Disagree without being disagreeable – Ah, so simple, yet so hard to achieve. Take a few, or more than a few, deep breaths, and practice saying, “That’s an interesting (stupid) thought, but I see it a different way.”

State your objections – Absence and silence are proxies for agreement. No, you don’t get off by just sitting by and hoping someone else will bring up the negative thought that is drumming inside your head. If you see that the Emperor has no clothes, you have a responsibility to state that in the meeting.

Leave with a clear sense of next steps and assignments – Start with follow up and end meetings with due dates. Every meeting should result in action items determining who is responsible for what task and a deadline for its completion. If minutes aren’t produced after a meeting, you have lost most of the value of a meeting.

Meetings have a bad rap, but a well-run meeting is the most successful way to get everyone working together toward a goal. So, try to schedule that meeting, despite the odds.

But, if you have tried and all else fails, take off that jacket, put “I’m out of the office and cannot check my phone messages” on your answering machine, stretch out on a sandy beach and succumb to August’s allure. Remember – what you do in August stays in August. September will never know.

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