Ten things to cut in a recession – no. 2 – Meetings

As published on Construction News’ website, 17 October, 2008.

2As regular consumers of this column will know, CIMCIG champions the sensible continutation of marketing activity in tough times.

Without boring you with the details again, it’s been shown that companies who continue their marketing activity in recessions take market share from those that don’t – and keep it once the recession is over.

But of course when times are hard, companies do need to pull in their belts, so we’re prepared a series of ‘cut that first’ ideas.

No 2. Meetings

The other day I went for a meeting at Tesco’s head office. I expected the fifth largest retailer in the world to give me a cup of tea and a biscuit for my trouble, but as many of you who’ve visited them will already know, Tesco do not give their guests refreshments.

Nor do they give them a chair. The meeting rooms are standing-only. The theory behind this is that if the rooms are uncomfortable to be in, the meetings will be short and to the point. I can tell you it worked.

There’s two savings here – the cost of the catering (which in some of the places I’ve been must be sizeable) and the efficiency of the staff time. Why spend money on digestives for guests when they can quite easily pop to the newsagents for a twix on their way back to the station?

What sort of meetings do you have? If you have hour long ones, with five people on average attending, earning £30,000 a year, then the staff cost is £85 without thinking about travel time. Add a few cups of char and a packet of biscuits and you’re up to £90.

Now, if by making the environment harsh, the meeting only lasts 30 minutes, you’ve saved £45. Which, if you usually have five meetings a week, makes £11,250 per person over the year. Multiply that by your number of staff and you can probably finance the 2012 Olympic Village.

Some places I go have meetings starting at times when lunch is appropriate – if arrive between 12 and 2, there’s a few prawn sarnies – probably £30 from the local shop – money you don’t need to spend.

Start meetings at 2pm, then everyone’s eaten at their own expense beforehand.

OK – so I’m focussing on the catering, but the real point I’m making is the efficiency. Not only does tying staff up in meetings cost you cash, it costs you opportunity. If they’re not in the meeting, they could be doing some work.

My immutable law of meetings is that, rather like a roast, they take 15 minutes a person and 15 for the pot. That stems from the basic human need to feel there’s a point in you being there, which forces you to speak, even if it’s just to repeat (or ‘build on’ to use the favoured HR jargon) the comments of others.

Do all those people need to be in the meeting? Halve the attendance list, halve the time taken, save money.

So, focus on generating efficient decision making through essential meetings. Don’t have gatherings that aren’t essential, fast, lean and uncomfortable to be in. It’s work, after all. It’s supposed to be unpleasant.

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