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Where is everybody? How to increase meeting participation

Topics: Retention
Crystal Spraggins, SPHR If you’re in the habit of calling “mandatory” meetings that are more poorly attended than you’d like, keep reading. We’ve got a few tips for turning that around.

If you’re in the habit of calling “mandatory” meetings that are more poorly attended than you’d like, keep reading. We’ve got a few tips for turning that around.

Tip #1. Recognize the power of choice

In “Five Questions for Your Next ‘Mandatory’ Meeting,” writer, speaker, and consultant Eryc Eyl points out that managers can’t really make employees do much of anything. Instead, employees choose to do certain things. Therefore, if a manager wants an employee to do something (such as attend a meeting he would normally skip), the manager must provide incentive for the employee to change his behavior.

Eyl recommends the manager start by asking five questions (hence the title of his article), all designed to get at the heart of whether the manager has provided employees with sufficient information to arouse their interest in the meeting.

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Because again, you can’t really force employees to attend a meeting (or do anything else, for that matter). Employees must choose.

For the list of Eyl’s questions, click here.

Tip #2. Count the costs

Numerous studies have documented employees’ low opinions of meetings. Time and again, employees cite too many meetings as a major productivity killer. A 2012 article in The New York Times reported on a joint study claiming the average worker wastes 16 hours per week, much of that in meetings. (In Seattle, where the BLS reports the average hourly rate as $28.36, that amounts to nearly $23,596 per worker annually—whew!)

#3. Take concrete steps to make meetings count

Despite the bad press, meetings are important. Face-to-face meetings, in particular, offer an invaluable means of facilitating the flow of information without the possibility of the misunderstandings that sometimes occur when communications are written (and therefore devoid of both verbal and visual cues) or verbal (and therefore devoid of visual cues).

So, what are some things you can do that will cause employees to choose to attend your meetings?

  • Invite the right people. Before you say “duh!” consider this doesn’t always happen. I know of one company that held monthly “Managers Meetings” where everyone who supervised the work of at least one other person was invited. That sounds egalitarian, but it wasn’t very productive, because some of these individuals had no real decision-making authority and weren’t influential within the organization. As such, their presence inhibited the discussion of significant topics the actual leaders in the organization should have been discussing.
  • Keep it relevant. Insist that speakers stay on point.
  • Start on time and end on time. Sticking to the meeting start and stop times shows respect for the event and respect for everyone’s time.
  • Keep it honest. Discuss what you came to discuss. Don’t sanction “you-could-hear-a-pin-drop” meetings where all the important stuff gets talked about afterwards.

When your meetings gain the reputation for being on point, on topic, and the place to receive information that won’t be disseminated elsewhere, your employees will soon see the benefits of complying with your “mandatory” requests.


Crystal Spraggins
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