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Effective Strategies for More Productive Meetings

Paul Hevesy

Paul Hevesy

Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness at Stanley Black & Decker

Paul Hevesy, Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness at Stanley, Black and Decker

Without proper direction and purpose, meetings often feel more like a drain on our time and resources than opportunities to ideate, collaborate, and solve problems. 

Britt Erler, Quartz Network Executive Correspondent is joined by Paul Hevesy, Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness at Stanley Black & Decker who shares his proven tactics for creating a culture that transforms meetings from feeling like work to feeling like opportunities to get more work done. 

Paul reveals the following: 

  • How to create an effective meeting culture 
  • 6 rules for making meetings more productive 
  • The benefits of “courageous conversation” 
  • Shifting from default meeting increments 
  • How meetings can put time back in your day 
  • 3 things you can do today to improve meeting culture 

Quartz Network: Paul, why don’t you start by just telling us a little bit about yourself and your background? 

Paul Hevesy: I’ve been with Stanley Black & Decker for almost 19 years, all different roles and responsibilities. Most people know Stanley Black & Decker, as a 177-year-old tools company. But most people don’t know that one of the three major business units within Stanley Black & Decker is a commercial security business. And that’s where I spent most of my career. I recently joined our corporate team as part of a resiliency initiative. Stanley Black & Decker started investing in a team a few years ago to help build a resilient culture and resilient people, which led to a resilient company, So I’m a part of that team, and that gives me a great chance to connect with all kinds of people across our business 

Quartz Network: You’re very passionate about the meeting space. Can you tell us a little bit more about that, and why that is? 

Paul Hevesy: Yes. I’m very passionate about meetings because I’ve been in a lot of them. I think about how many meetings I’ve been in over a 19-year career, and I’ve lost count. I think one of the reasons I’m so passionate about it is, especially in bigger companies, is because it’s very easy to look at meetings as work, but meetings should be how we get more work done. And it’s that nuance that we’ve started to build within our company in some meaningful ways.  

There’s a great podcast called the C-Suite Intelligence podcast. It’s led by the Miles Group, and the leader of the Miles Group is a gentleman named Stephen Miles. That podcast is great, because he talks about the importance of meetings, and it really hit home for me when he said, “Meetings are the most expensive things we all do in our companies.” People don’t think about that. But the more people and the longer you have meetings, the more expensive they become.  

You have to ask yourself, how effective are these meetings? Are we getting things done? Or do we continue to talk about the same things over and over again? At Stanley Black & Decker, we try to take a pulse of our employees on a regular basis and without fail, one of the things that constantly comes back in our employee surveys is how draining meetings can be. Without a series of guidelines around how meetings are run, and what that culture looks like, it’s very easy to get off track and you spend a lot of time in really ineffective meetings. Nothing drains people more than meetings where people don’t feel like progress is being made. 

Quartz Network: You tie leadership capability to how a leader specifically runs a meeting. Can you tell us a little bit more about why you do that? 

Paul Hevesy: It’s really important because if you have people walking into a meeting who don’t know what that meeting’s about, it’s a reflection on the leader who put that meeting together. If you‘ve ever been in a meeting where nothing got done, there were no takeaway items with which to move forward, that ties all the way back to us as leaders. How are we running a meeting? How the leader of a meeting engages people in those meetings is really important, really gives a good indication of the type of leader they are.  

There’s a couple of important things we use within Stanley Black & Decker that people can take away from this discussion, and I thought I’d share a few.  

If you or other people are attending meetings and the only things you say are, “hi,” at the beginning and, “by,” at the end, you shouldn’t be in that meeting.  

If you find yourself at the end of the day, after work hours, doing the real work of your job, you’re in too many meetings.  

Always have an agenda. We want to include an agenda that includes why we’re meeting, what the purpose of the meeting is, and what the payoff of the meeting is. And the purpose of a meeting is not the subject line. The agenda is, why are we here? What am I going to get out of it? What are the topics that we’re going to cover? And be as specific as you can. When you don’t give specific topics you’re going to cover, you end up covering all kinds of topics, and not getting a lot of work done. 

We challenge people to have what we call “courageous conversation.” If you are invited to a meeting that doesn’t work with your schedule, doesn’t have an agenda, there are a lot of people in it, and you don’t feel like there’s anything you can contribute, we challenge you to speak up and say, “What’s this meeting about? I’d like to understand because then I can help you understand if I should be there or if there should be somebody else included.” We really challenged our teams to speak out, and not in a subordinate kind of way. I know some people feel uncomfortable with this, but when you start to think about the finite amount of time you have in the day to get work done and be productive and all you say in a meeting is, “hi,” and, “by,” you’re doing yourself and the company a disservice.  

Think also about the 30-minute and the 60-minute meeting. This is another area where we really challenge people. One of the reasons we set up 30 and 60-minute meetings is because they’re the default increments in Outlook. So, we really challenged our teams with 25-minute and 45-minute meetings. I’d rather you set a meeting for 45 minutes and only take 35, than set it for 30 and take 35.  

This has really had an impact. As we started to survey folks about this, we’ve asked them, “How much time are you getting back on a weekly basis?” About two-thirds of them came back and said, “I save about an hour or more per week.” If you think about it, every 60-minute meeting becomes 45. Every 30-minute meeting becomes 25. Two things happen: First, everybody gets a little bit of space in their schedule. They get a little bit of time to catch up on some email, make that quick phone call to close that loop, whatever the case may be. Everybody’s coming more prepared for every meeting they’re in. Second, when you’ve got that time back, you can prepare for things like the next day, you’re not doing work after hours that you should have been doing during the day, and people’s spirits start to lift a little bit.  

The big final one for me is that we identified three types of meetings. One is an information sharing meeting, the second is a problem-solving meeting, and third is a decision-making meeting. We kept it very simple. If the majority of your meetings as a leader are information sharing where your team is sharing information with you, and especially if it’s information you can gather yourself, maybe that’s a meeting you don’t need or don’t need as frequently. 

If you’re a part of a lot of information-sharing meetings, that’s where the courageous conversation should come in. A lot of companies now have a lot of ways beyond email to share information. Does it have to be a meeting to share the information you need? Sometimes it does. But we found the majority of our meetings end up being information sharing, and if you start to take some of those away, lessen the frequency, and see shorten them, you end up giving a lot of people a lot of time back. 

When it comes to problem solving, you shouldn’t have more than eight people. If you have more than eight people in this problem-solving meeting, not everybody’s going to have a chance to speak up. Maybe you need to break it up into a couple of different meetings, sessions, or subcommittees to work on different things.  

With decision-making meetings, there shouldn’t be more than five people in there. You should be able to share some information ahead of time so people are prepared walking into that meeting for what decision they’re going to make.  

Those are some ideas to start thinking about. And that’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about meetings is because if we can find a way to start giving people five, 10, 15 minutes back at a time, it really starts to add up—especially if you’re part of a medium-sized or large organization. That ends up being real money in productivity where people have time back for themselves. 

Quartz Network: Do you notice a big difference in the meeting structure or framework when you’re back in the office versus virtually? 

Paul Hevesy: I spent most of 2019 within our security business, building this meeting culture. So, when we moved to virtual, there was a heightened expectation of what needs to happen. There has to be an agenda. There has to be a cadence to these meetings to keep them on track and keep people engaged. I think once we come back together in meeting spaces, at least in our company, we’ll remember how agendas helped us stay on track virtually, so we’ll make sure to keep that going now that we’re face to face again. 

Quartz Network: Do you set a certain amount of time in between your meetings? If so, is there a length of time that you found to be the most effective? 

Paul Hevesy: Certainly. Two thoughts there. You have to create your own personal meeting etiquette and meeting culture, and lead and role model—especially as a leader. I role model that by example. I build in some focus time on my calendar. That gives me space between meetings. Sometimes it’s just a half hour, sometimes it’s more than that. What I want to be very intentional about is not blocking my entire calendar off with meetings and focus time in case someone needs time with me. So, there’s definitely a delicate balance.  

Also, the more people that role model this 45 and 25-minute meeting cadence, the more time you have between meetings. People aren’t usually trying to go grab that 15-minute space for a meeting. So, that’s a natural outcome. But yes, you should definitely create space. Don’t go too crazy though, or people won’t be able to find time to meet with you and get work done.  

Quartz Network: So, set it for 25 or 45 minutes? If it’s shorter than that, you have extra time. But if not, at least you’re covering the exact material you need to cover. 

Paul Hevesy: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Again, I’d rather be early. We all have that same feeling when a meeting ends early. It’s such a great feeling. It’s like, okay, I can breathe a little bit, I can get a little bit of work done.  

The other thing to think about in relation to this is how important the agenda is. It’s a habit, you know, habits take a little bit of time to build. If you just take a second and say, “Okay, why am I asking people to come to this meeting? What’s the purpose? And what are people going to get out of it?” Now, it may be as a leader I’m the only one that’s going to get something out of it. There are times that’s okay. That’s part of the deal. But for the most part, why am I asking people to come? What is the payoff for them and me?  

Also, what are you going to cover? It can’t be 15 things. It probably can’t even be five things. It probably needs to be the two or three most important things that you put in that meeting. You actually put it in the meeting invite, so people see right away what kind of meeting it is and what the topic is. What you’ll have is people showing up prepared, rather than walking in saying, “What’s this meeting about?” Again, just like Stephen Miles said, when you walk into the meeting, and somebody says, “What’s this meeting about?” you might as well close your laptop and head out because you’re going to have a different meeting at that point due to people being unprepared.  

I’ve even built templates in Outlook. When I open up a new meeting invite, I’ve created a signature template with our agenda built in. Or, I can just fill things in. It takes about two to three minutes to include what you’re doing, what the payoff is, and what you’re going to cover. You do that and people come more prepared. And look, if you only have 45 minutes, you’re going to stay on track, right? I think what you start to see with a good meeting culture is that no one wants to be the one that goes past the time.  

Quartz Network: In that agenda, do you plan for, or set, a specific amount of time for questions? 

Paul Hevesy: We leave time for gathering and closed-loop actions. 

We leave time to gather, and that’s becoming less and less over time because fewer people are late because their last meeting went over. We do leave about five minutes in our agendas to gather and review the agenda though.  

The other thing that’s a constant in all our meetings are closed-loop actions. We’ve created an acronym, EWBEWBEW, around closed loop actions. What EWBEWBEW stands for is: Exactly what? By exactly who? By exactly when? So, we leave at least five minutes at the end of every meeting for EWBEWBEWs to determine who’s doing what? What are they actually going to do? Answering those questions creates accountability.  

Quartz Network: When you’re constantly trying to take notes while people are still talking, you lose some information just because you’re trying to get it all down. So, anything that someone could send beforehand, or even a simple guideline would be helpful. 

Paul Hevesy: Exactly right. If you’re leading a meeting, identify someone else in that meeting to take notes. And someone to catalogue all the closed-loop actions or EWBEWBEWs. If you’re running a meeting, and you’re also trying to keep the meeting on track timewise and take notes and all those types of things, it’ll be really challenging. So, somebody lead the meeting, somebody keep everybody on time, somebody keep the agenda moving, somebody take notes, and you’ll end up having a much more engaged meeting. 

Quartz Network: When it comes to virtual meetings, do you notice a difference in effectiveness when people are all on screen versus calling in by voice? 

Paul Hevesy: I haven’t seen a huge impact. One is not necessarily better than the other as long as everybody shows up knowing what they’re trying to accomplish. 

Quartz Network: What is one thing that leaders should do today if they’re looking to improve their meeting culture? 

Paul Hevesy: Take an account of what’s on your calendar and make some decisions. The first and best thing to do is to say to yourself, I don’t need 60, I’m going to make it 45. I don’t need 30, I’m going to make it 25. And hold yourself to that.  

The second thing is to make sure every meeting you created has an agenda. What’s my purpose? What are people going to get out of it? What’s the payoff? And what are we going to cover? If you take the time to do that, you’ll start to see very quickly that you have more confidence as someone leading that meeting. It also allows you to speak up courageously when things get off track. You can acknowledge the importance of the comment and offer to discuss it in another meeting but remind them that you need to stick to the agenda. When you have an agenda, you can do that. So, look at your next two weeks for meetings that need an agenda and ask, “Do I need that meeting?” We’ve had a lot of leaders who’ve gone through this with us come back and tell us they canceled that meeting, or they didn’t need it every week and moved it to once a month. 

The third thing is to look at your calendar and ask yourself, especially in the meetings you’re not leading, do you need to be in that meeting? If you’re in a bunch of meetings that aren’t tied to your priorities for your role, that might be a courageous conversation with whoever set up that meeting, asking why they want or need you there.  

Quartz Network: It does take some courage—especially with someone above you—to tell them you don’t think it’s going to be beneficial for you to be in that meeting. But that’s a great skill to learn. I think it’s something many people would need to practice. 

Paul Hevesy: Yeah, it takes time. And you’re never really all that comfortable. It takes time and courage to raise your hand and say, “Hey, why am I in this meeting? What’s this meeting about? Why am I invited? How can I help?” There are a significant number of meetings that you are invited to and that I’m invited to, that if we were simply included on the recap of the meeting, with the things that we covered and what we’re going to go do, it would be as beneficial to us and our position and our roles as being in the meeting.”  

Quartz Network: Do you have any final comments or any questions that people should consider when starting to implement this at their company? 

Paul Hevesy: The biggest question we get is when people don’t feel like they can opt out of meetings they’re invited to. Sometimes that’s a part of the culture you’re in. Sometimes you’re maybe new to your role. And, and there are times where you’re invited to a meeting, it’s not part of your four or five priorities you’re driving for that particular quarter or the year, but because of the circumstances, because it came from your boss’s boss’s boss, you go. We’re all going to have some of those.  

I think the biggest question we get is, how do you have that conversation? I challenge people not to do it by email or instant message. Maybe you say, “Hey, I got your invite. Do you have a second to chat?” But to the degree, you can just quickly pick up the phone. Or if you’re in an office with somebody, and you can just pop down the hallway and say, “Hey, tell me more about this meeting.” Especially if they don’t include the agenda. Really press on that. Do it in a very personal and positive way. Do it a bit lighthearted like, “Hey, I’m really trying to protect my time. Do you really need me on this thing?”  

My challenge to you is, what if over time, you go from 12 hours and grinding out these days, in meetings, to 10 hours and still getting as much, if not more, done. If you get a little bit of your life back, is it worth it to be a little more courageous—to start challenging? It has been for me, and hopefully it will be for others. 

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