Five Keys for Great Meetings, Part 5: Who Owns It and What’s Next

This week I’m wrapping up the five-part series on creating more engaging, meaningful, effective and impactful meetings through these five keys:

1.   Start and Finish on Time

2.   Be Clear on the Question (or Agenda)

3.   Don’t Solve Problems (other than the problem that’s the focus of the meeting)

4.   Finish with “What Did We Decide?”

5.   Always Establish Clear Ownership and Next Steps

Today we’re looking at the last critical step for every meeting after you get clear on what you decided: Who owns it, and what are the next steps?

Even when we actually know what we’ve decided, we are still just left with an idea, an initiative or a goal, and that’s often where we leave things. We believe (falsely) that ideas and goals (even clear ideas and goals) will simply come to fruition, but deep down we know it’s not true. That’s what explains the reality that we form ideas and develop goals, but our performance against those goals and success in turning ideas into reality is often modest, poor or worse. The two missing ingredients are our focus this week—ownership and next steps.

Let’s start with ownership. In a recent conversation with a leader about his strategic planning efforts, I asked who had “point” (ownership) for each of the key strategic initiatives, and he said no one. What came out of my mouth in response was unscripted, yet profound and true—if you have no one on point, then it’s pointless. Get it? If you have no point person leading in implementing your strategy, then your efforts are largely pointless.

The other issue with missing ownership is that if you don’t have someone that owns a project, initiative or goal, then there’s no one to ensure that things will move forward. By the way, group ownership does not work. While the entire group can be engaged and have ownership and accountability within the group, it’s vital that there be one person who owns the project. This not only helps in moving forward, but it’s important when it comes to upward accountability for the group’s efforts. Remember, groups cannot be accountable, only responsible. Only a person can be accountable because accountability is a matter of personal commitments and personal integrity.

I strongly encourage you to make ownership part of the conversation before you wrap up every meeting. At a minimum, ownership must be clearly articulated and accepted in the first meeting about any idea, project or goal. Once you have an owner, that owner is primarily responsible for the last remaining step before execution—clearly identifying and sharing the next actions or steps.

As we shift over to getting clear on the next steps (what needs to be done), think about how often you or your team have developed ideas or set goals, and how often those ideas and goals are not fully achieved (if at all). We all see it all the time—we get excited about the idea or goal, and then we run off to make it happen and fail. Why? In most cases the problem is not with the execution of the plan, but rather the absence of a plan – specifically, a plan which breaks down the bigger outcomes and objectives into action steps.

Think about it like the process of a construction project. First, someone has an idea. Second, an architect turns that idea and vision into a detailed plan for every element of the project. Third, a construction company develops a construction plan with timelines. Finally, someone must manage and oversee the construction process. Yes, this process takes a great deal of time and attention to detail (the smallest steps), but all of it is essential to ensure that the project is not only completed, but properly completed. While construction projects can be delayed, they are typically delayed by events and circumstances (e.g. weather) outside the builder’s control. The key is that they develop, work from and execute against a step-by-step plan. This is what we also need for our ideas, projects and goals.

If you don’t know what needs to happen next, then how can you know what step to take or whether the steps you’ve already taken are the right ones? We like to think we know what happens next, but we often misunderstand, miss important steps or fail to accurately calculate what it takes to accomplish even the interim steps. All of these challenges are eliminated when you create a clear plan of next steps and actions.

You will also need to have interim goals and milestones along the way to help you assess your progress, to stay on track and to create the necessary sense of urgency. If you don’t have a sense of urgency with your ideas and goals, you’re unlikely to be effective or consistent in executing on and against them. And, as with everything we do or want to do, we need to have some form and system of accountability in place to ensure that we do what we say we will do. Without accountability, very little gets done—certainly not as much as planned or expected.

There you have it. Five essentials for effective and impactful meetings, wrapping up this week with establishing clear personal ownership and clearly articulating the next steps in an action (and actionable) plan. How do your meetings stack up against these Big 5? Are you prepared to change the ways that you plan, lead and execute meetings to better align with the Big 5? More important, do you want the many positive impacts that flow from and through the Big 5? 

Are you ready to lead your meetings differently? Are you ready to make your meetings more meaningful and impactful? Are you ready to shake things up and move from death by meetings to achievement through meetings? It’s time to make your meetings great again!

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