productivity and meetings

Prior to founding Next Level Purchasing, I worked at some big companies.  Today, I regularly visit big companies to discuss how they can improve their procurement results.

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As I walk through the mazes of cubicles, offices, and conference rooms at big companies, I notice something that I used to take for granted but, upon reflection, find quite interesting:  almost everyone is in meetings.  From every doorway comes the yakity-yakity-yak of people talking, talking, talking.

And yet when I meet with management at these companies, I hear some common refrains:  “We are struggling to meet deadlines.”  “We are understaffed and don’t have the resources to do what we need to do.”  “There is more work than ever.”

In short, it isn’t easy to accomplish the mission.  Or – let me rephrase that – it feels difficult to accomplish the mission.

It seems like there are lots of meetings, but not enough action.

What are some solutions to this problem?

Here are a few ideas…

Well, the first idea may be oversimplified, but it shouldn’t be overlooked:  have fewer meetings!  If you’re talking about working, you’re more than likely not actually working!  And, unfortunately, most meetings are not true “working meetings.”

Next Level Purchasing teaches the concept of value analysis in a procurement context, where materials, services, etc. should be evaluated to determine the viability of substitution or elimination in an effort to match function with cost and, ultimately, reduce costs.  A similar concept should be applied to meetings:  where the value of the meeting doesn’t exceed the investment, it should be eliminated.

It’s funny to think why some meetings occur.  I only have to look at myself to find a shining example of how meetings affect productivity.

We have several regular, themed meetings each month here at Next Level Purchasing.  Several of these meetings occur for one reason:  because I want them to.

Have you ever been to a meeting that existed solely because a manager wanted it to?

Well, as I was strategizing recently, I wasn’t sure that a couple of the semi-monthly meetings were delivering value that matched the investment of time.  So, I reduced the frequency to monthly (i.e., eliminated one meeting per month for each of the two meeting themes).  Now, this move didn’t degrade our performance at all.  But it did have an impact on our costs and productivity!  When I considered the “cost of a meeting” in terms of employee compensation for time spent in meetings, I saw that the “savings” of eliminating those meetings was almost 2% of payroll!

How awesome is that?  While some companies have to lay off employees to achieve savings equivalent to 2% of payroll, I was able to accomplish the same thing with a much more “humane” approach. Now, because Next Level Purchasing is a rapidly growing organization, no employee’s hours got cut – they just now use that time more productively than spending it in meetings!

The business world has created for itself a culture that indicates that meetings shouldn’t be questioned.  You get an Outlook invite, click Accept, and you are committed to a meeting.  I see many of our students who ask for extensions of their access to our online purchasing courses claiming to not be able to “find the time” to complete their training, yet they always find time for a meeting.  There’s something “safe feeling” about blocking out time for meetings on your calendar that just doesn’t feel as right when blocking out time for other things.

So, if you are in a position to influence meeting frequency – or even to do away with certain meetings completely – consider it!

Onto my second idea…

Now, we all know that getting rid of meetings completely isn’t going to happen.  However, there is a way to increase the productivity associated with meetings.  Here’s how.

Meetings are often used to set plans and distribute action items.  Then, follow up meetings are held to determine the progress on said action items.  And these follow up meetings too often reveal that people have done absolutely nothing related to their action items since the last meeting!

Why not?  Probably because they were too busy attending other meetings, right?

Regardless of what was being done between meetings, it wasn’t working on the action items.  Look, you know a meeting is going to last a certain number of minutes or hours.  And you can reasonably expect to have action items assigned to you.

So, just do this:  every time you put a meeting on your schedule, block out the half hour immediately after the meeting to dedicate to working your action items.  Get them out of the way as soon as possible before the all-too-familiar “competing priorities” come along and sabotage your chances of progress.

If you’re in a leadership position, try this out and, if it works for you, get your staff to do the same.  You’ll be surprised at how much can get done!

So, there you have it…if your organization has lots of meetings and no action, reduce the frequency of or eliminate meetings and always schedule a half-hour after meetings to work your action items.  Want results?  Make the change.  Before the next meeting distracts you from getting some “real work” done!


Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3 is an internationally-recognized business expert, legendary procurement thought leader, award-winning entrepreneur, and provocative blogger. Charles founded the Next Level Purchasing Association in 2000, oversaw its incredible growth, and successfully led the organization to its acquisition by the Certitrek Group in 2016. He continues to blog and provide advisory services for the NLPA on a part-time basis as he incubates his upcoming business innovations. Charles is also the co-author of the wildly popular, groundbreaking book, "The Procurement Game Plan: Winning Strategies & Techniques For Supply Management Professionals."

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