Maximize productivity in manager meetings

People, Performance & Profits

Time is more precious than money. You can get more money, but you can’t get more time. And one of the more commonly overlooked foodservice expenses time-wise and resource-wise is the weekly or monthly manager meeting. 


Consider the investment: Given the hourly cost of a manager’s time, how much money is that meeting costing you per hour? If you, as the owner, general manager or regional manager holding the meeting, had to write a personal check for that get-together, would you run it any differently? Here’s a primer of essential steps that will help you make the most of your own time:


Have a plan and stick to it. “The secret to a good meeting,” according to leadership guru John Maxwell, “is the meeting before the meeting.” Planning is paramount — whether it’s a routine weekly meeting with managers you see daily or a bigger company-wide conference. No leader should ever walk into a meeting without three objectives, and no meeting should proceed without a written agenda that includes those objectives. Align the meeting agenda to the targets you’ve collectively set in your quarterly business plan, and state the goals at the outset: “We need to make three key decisions in today’s meeting.”


Skinny the monologue, fatten the dialogue. Effective meetings are both informational and developmental; they should inform and teach by leveraging the expertise of the participants and the facilitator. Attendees should leave feeling two things: “That was worthwhile,” and “I know more now than I did before the meeting.” Consider how well you can answer those two questions beforehand relative to any agenda item you schedule. The meeting leader should not dominate the discussion; if that’s the case, it’s more effective to send an e-mail.


Begin and end on time. Very few people like meetings, and a big reason is because they’re usually poorly planned and executed. Here are three ideas to help: 1) If you have an hour-long meeting, schedule it for 63 minutes instead, and start and end at odd times, say from 3:06 p.m. to 4:09 p.m.; 2) schedule smaller agenda items first so there’s a collective sense of progress to kick the meeting off; and 3) assign any latecomers the responsibility of taking notes for the rest of the meeting. 


Get the big rocks in place. Review written notes from the last meeting. Discuss progress since the last meeting on key result areas such as food costs, labor costs, service, same-store sales, cleanliness, staffing and marketing. Discuss ways to improve each area, and briefly detail the pros and cons of each potential course of action. Then, decide and assign target dates for every new initiative. Eliminate paralysis by overanalysis.


Have everyone bring and share two best practices. The foodservice industry provides a daily education, if you just pay attention. Ask every manager to write down two things that work has taught them since the last meeting and share it. Keep updating this list at every meeting. You’ll be amazed at what great insight you’ll accumulate in a year. Share it with your new managers, and swap it with your other units. None of us is as smart as all of us.


Determine and assign pre-shift meeting topics. One of the most important things you can do in a manager meeting is identify what you’ll collectively focus on as a team between now and the next meeting. And the best way to do that is to agree upon and assign a specific topic to every pre-shift meeting over the next two weeks. Align the pre-shift topic to the key result areas you’re focusing on. If managers don’t give their hourly teams specific goals each day, they’ll presume you don’t have any. 


Pursue the bright spots. Too much leadership time is devoted solely to fixing problems when just as much progress could be achieved by identifying outstanding performers and figuring out ways to replicate their performance. Don’t just talk about the bad things. Discuss the good things, too, and how those things can be shared with the rest of the team and brand. 


Identify the talent and knowledge gaps. A recurring agenda item should be recruiting opportunities and training needs. Know your talent gaps. That does not mean merely stating what positions are open, but defining instead how well you want the job done. This switches the focus from “filling a slot” to “making a difference,” from “finding a body” to “scouting for talent.” And by defining your training needs and exerting constant, gentle pressure to improve, you out-teach the competition every day.


Fit in food and beverage tastings. Every food and beverage distributor is keen to get new products in front of foodservice operators for them to sample, and manager meetings can be an ideal place to do that. Tastings can be the fun part of a meeting, but be certain that the product is truly in sync with your menu or brand before agreeing to test it out. And make sure you ask vendors to also provide cost-per-portion and profit-per-portion data — they always have the former and rarely the latter. Time is money.


End with energy. Keep the meeting upbeat and focused to the end. If you have exceptional news to share, this is usually the best place to do so, not at the beginning.


Meetings are like elevators. They can lift you up or bring you down. Planning, purpose and productivity are the key elements of the meetings you look forward to and gain value from. If you’d like a free planning template for effective manager meetings, download it at Sullivision.com [3].

Jim Sullivan’s newest book, “Fundamentals: 9 Ways to Be Brilliant at the Basics,” is available at Amazon. You can follow him daily on Twitter @Sullivision [4].

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