Why business leaders shouldn’t hurry to follow Elon out of meetings

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In business, there are a handful of leaders, entrepreneurs and visionaries that have risen to  become household names - even celebrities in their own right. They pioneer new commercial practices and inspire budding professionals all around the world, whatever sector they’re in.   

From Richard Branson, with his playful PR stunts and countless advice books, to Warren Buffett and his soundbite words of wisdom, they are seen to set an example, to show how it can be done. And one of the group’s most recent members is undoubtedly Tesla and SpaceX founder, Elon Musk.   

Musk, who is well known for his constant strive for perfection and masterful self PR, hit the headlines last week when a leaked email revealed he told his staff to simply walk out of any unproductive meetings. He argued that “it’s not rude to leave, it’s rude to make someone stay and waste their time”, and went on to call large meetings “the blight of big companies”.   

It’s an interesting angle, and one that reflects Musk’s well-publicised disdain for time wasting and anything less than absolute efficiency. There’s no doubt that in the short term it will also mean some brave staff, in both his businesses and beyond, decide to make a dash for the exit during a presentation or sales meeting to try and stand out.

But in reality, is that really the best way to do business? By all means if a meeting seems  pointless you should question why it’s happening in the first place, but leaving it altogether is a much more extreme response. Especially when there are better ways of working and managing the process that seem to be being overlooked.

There are of course loads of small tactics and techniques to enhance meetings and ensure they serve their purpose, from having a clear agenda and circulating necessary reading material in advance, to having a timer on the wall and clearly planning who actually needs to attend.   

None of this is anything new though. It’s all well established practice and yet despite this, there’s still no question that time, effort and resource is being wasted - just look at the countless surveys and estimates highlighting the hours spent by businesses in meetings.   

So the bigger question then, is what the solution should be. How can businesses drive more productive, effective and purposeful meetings? The answer lies in data.

Our research suggests a typical meeting is around 80 percent preparation and delivery, with only the remaining 20 percent actually used for discussion and action.

But if you compare that to a data-driven meeting, it’s a very different story. In a data-driven meeting, you suddenly start to see just 20 percent of time going towards the planning, with the rest set aside for action.       

In many cases it’s actually even lower as because everyone is immersed in the data before the meeting even begins, the only question is what to do, not what is the situation. Some won’t even need to happen in the first place, as everyone already has access to the information that would otherwise be presented.         

Data-driven means it’s structured, and based on a shared set of visuals containing live information on things like revenue, stock levels, and marketing spend, among countless other metrics. It’s a bit like a dashboard, but it has content and cards designed to help assess progress, inform discussion, drive action and generally reverse the balance of a typical meeting.

It’s a really strong example of digital transformation in action and it represents a huge opportunity, as analyst house IDC recently predicted that by adopting new technologies and changing the way people work on a daily basis it could generate an extra $18 trillion for businesses worldwide.

In order to unlock that value though, a collaborative approach is key, so while data-led meetings are important, businesses need to ensure everyone has access to the same real-time information.

There’s no point screenshotting performance figures and presenting them in a meeting because ultimately, that isn’t data-led. That’s someone presenting old data and controlling what is and isn’t seen, so instead businesses need to consider systems that allow all parties to monitor key metrics and information live. 

That’s the only thing that’s going to drive informed business decisions, especially when it comes to spotting challenges or opportunities. The right system can flag alerts immediately, so rather than waiting for a meeting to present or discuss, it’s there for everyone to see and action.     

The old adage is everyone being on the same page, but in the modern business world it should be everyone on the same data. Especially when you consider Elon Musk’s comments as an example.   

Unproductive meetings are not a good thing, we know that. But with real-time data that’s then made accessible throughout the business, not only will better meetings take place, but some won’t have to happen at all. You don’t need to present facts and figures if it’s all there on your mobile phone or desktop and everyone already has access to it.   

The real challenge then, isn’t having the confidence to stand up and walk out of a meeting. It’s challenging your business to get up to speed with the digital transformation and make the information you already have - the data - work harder, which leaves more time for the important things.   

So while Musk might be the one hitting the headlines, you can be the one strengthening your business’ bottom line.

Ian Tickle, Senior Vice-President and General Manager for EMEA at Domo 

Image Credit: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock