Friday, October 31, 2014

Big Meeting Protocol


I have been in a few big meetings over the course of my business career and had another this past week.  The meeting went as well as could be expected and I wanted to share the approach I took to give myself the best shot at a good outcome.  

Before we get into the BMP, a couple of announcements:
It's my brother's birthday today.  Happy Birthday Chuck!  Relevant to the US elections, there is a clip about the Canadian Health Care system -- not exactly G-rated, you've been warned.
Brooke Davison just won the overall female AG title at Nationals in Portland last weekend.  She's interviewed (with her 2 year old) over on Endurance Corner Radio.
Coffees of Hawaii now have decaf.  Albert was kind enough to send me a sample bag and I'm hooked.  Out photo this week is from the plantation on Molokai.  When you grind the beans, they look the reddish color of the earth (seen in the picture).  Enter "EC" at checkout for a 20% discount.
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It's amazing what we can get done when something _really_ matters to us.  My main client in the UK is working through its business plan with banks, shareholders and suppliers.  As part of this process, we have been having a series of meetings with people that are fundamental to a successful outcome.  Separate from content, I have found that my approach has a BIG impact on outcome.  So here's my Big Meeting Protocol.
Be Prepared
I had eleven days of preparation for the Big Meeting this past week. 
I undertook independent discussions with senior managers; key shareholders; and lenders.  I wanted to speak with people one-on-one because it reduces the tendencies we have in crowds -- peer agreement, avoiding bad news, consistency bias, deferral to authority.  As the listener, I need to be aware of my own tendency to use these conversations to confirm, rather than to learn. 
Prior to our meeting, I wanted to have a clear idea on the position of each of the company's projects.  Our final internal meeting was a top-to-bottom review of every project on the company's books -- took three hours and we already knew the deals.  We might not have identified all the issues, but we did our best to make sure that we all knew the same issues.  This enables clarity in communication.
Finally, I believe that it is essential to have a clear understand on the cash position of a business.  Running out of cash is not a good thing.  I probably spent a full day considering the very short term cash position for the business.  As I wrote last week, a buffer of liquid assets provides time -- in business, as in life, time can be very valuable.
Visualization
Visualization is not just for Ironman swim starts!  Throughout my business career, I have used visualization to prepare for, and rehearse, important meetings.  While things rarely go as mentally (or actually) scripted, having mental and written plans increases your chance for a successful outcome.  It also increases relaxation during your competitive event (in this case a business meeting!).
Pre-Meeting Routine
I have the exact same routine that I use for Big Meetings.
  • Snack
  • An hour of aerobic exercise (no higher than steady)
  • Shower
  • Good sized meal with carbohydrate
  • Head to the meeting
If the meeting is in the afternoon, or evening, then I will leave the office early to get my training done.  I'll eat my pre-meeting meal and return to the office.
The routine makes sure that I am alert, relaxed, stress-free and fueled.  Generally, key meetings don't last more than 3 hours.
In an important, or crisis, situation... it can be tempting to skimp on nutrition, sleep, or exercise.  For me, that is always a mistake.  My productivity and clarity are far higher when I stick with my routines.  As well, I do my best problem solving when exercising (a meditation of movement, perhaps).
Stimulants
Big Meetings are stressful.  When work stress increases, my caffeine intake halves.  Clear decisions require us to slow our reaction time.  Pausing, before acting, is tough enough when stressed, near impossible with a quad-latte coursing through our veins.
WingMan
I didn't have a wingman this past week but have had one on the past.  
In the UK, they have a habit of placing a small plate of cookies on the table at business meetings.  Quite civilized, one meets for tea, cookies and business discussion...
If you have a wingman, ideally one with a low emotional attachment to outcome, then your wingman can "offer you a cookie" if you start to freak, or get off track.  The pause to eat your cookie, could enable you to reset.  You don't really need a cookie to use this technique... what you need is a calm friend and a pre-agreed strategy for signaling a need to pause.  I suppose that is the role that an attorney takes in many situations.  However... if you turn up with a lawyer then you might freak the other parties at the meeting!

If you don't know... ...then just say so
Kind of sounds like something Johnny Cochran would say.  He really was a character.
Managing serious situations is about trust -- you might get away with spinning things in normal times but it is a poor strategy when faced with important decisions.
For my meeting this week I had two computer screens running (three spreadhseets); two reports open on my desk; and a hard bound book containing a year's worth of notes.  With all that information, days of preparation and over ten years of advising the client... I was STILL stumped a few times!  
If the stakes are high, and the quality of the decision relies on the accuracy of information, then people don't mind waiting a couple of minutes (or even another hour) while you calculate the right answer.  
A commitment to accuracy/transparency is an attractive trait in a trusted advisor.
Summing Up
You'll see that I use a lot of "race tactics" for my Big Meetings.  In reality, these are performance tactics.  High performance in business, athletics and academics is all the same.  
Take time to learn from successful outcomes and remember that the toughest situations are ripe with opportunities for learning.
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Next week, I'm going to share specific ideas for managing through a recession.  As I predicted last spring, we are moving into the action phase of global liquidity shock which was triggered back in August 2007.  
As we saw with the demise of the American Investment Banks, it is a lot better to take action, than be acted upon.
Until next week,
gordo

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