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CEOs spend 72% of their time in meetings; only 3% with customers: study

Poorly planned, overly long meetings with fuzzy agendas are a major drag on productivity, the survey found.

A recent study found that CEOs at large

A recent study found that CEOs at large companies spend about 72 percent of their time in meetings.  Photo Credit: Getty Images / monkeybusinessimages

Meetings can be exorbitant time suckers.

In fact, a study published recently in Harvard Business Review that tracked 27 CEOs at large public companies over 13 weeks found they spent about 72 percent of their time in meetings and just 3 percent of their time with customers.

“Clearly CEOs spend most of their time at work in meetings, and a lot of those meetings are long,” says Dan McGinn, senior editor at Harvard Business Review, which recently published the results of a 12-year study co-authored by Michael E. Porter and Nitin Nohria that analyzed how CEOs use their time.

Porter and Nohria were unavailable for comment, but one of the biggest recommendations they make in the article is to ruthlessly examine the length of the meetings you’re holding with an eye toward shortening them, McGinn said.

The study found that 70 percent of the meetings being scheduled are an hour or more, he says.

“A lot of companies schedule it for an hour because that’s what they’ve always done,” says McGinn, noting that while the study looked at CEOs at large companies, “much of the advice still applies to small firms.”

For example, the study talks about the importance of having the right people in the room at meetings. Failing to include the right people or including people that don’t need to be there can make meetings unproductive.   

Michael Mankins, co-author of "Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team's Productive Power" (Harvard Business Review; $32) and a partner in the San Francisco office of Bain & Co., a management consulting firm, found in his own research that the average mid-level manager works 46 hours per week with about 23 hours of that time spent in meetings.        

Of those 23 hours, about 5 percent to 7 percent is spent in meetings that should never have been scheduled.  More than 20 percent are meetings that should have been scheduled but should have never made it to this manager's calendar, meaning their attendance was unnecessary for the meeting to achieve its objectives,  Mankins said.  

If you break it down into dollars and cents, that’s impacting your bottom line, said Steve Davies, president of the Nassau Chapter of The Alternative Board and president of TheTimeEdge.com, which provides time management consulting.

He recommends organizers consider the hourly cost of each of the people at the meeting and tally a total. This will help you assess whether it’s worth the lost time and productivity;  knowing the actual cost will also help you keep the meeting on track, he says.

Prepare and circulate an agenda beforehand to help keep your meetings focused, he says. It should be concise, with a defined start and end time, says Davies.

When Hillary Needle, president of Hillary Needle Events Inc., a Dix Hills event planning and marketing firm, organizes event committee meetings, she sends a calendar invite to meeting participants a month ahead. About three days in advance, she sends a reminder with an attached agenda.

She usually lists about five action items to keep participants focused.

A knowledgeable meeting leader is also key, says Eileen Lichtenstein, chief executive of Balance & Power Inc., a Uniondale-based coaching, training and consulting firm.

“The person running the meeting needs a lot of insight and preparation into the agenda of the meeting,” she says.

Glenn Goldberg, chief executive at Parallel Communications Group of Oceanside, a tech-focused PR firm, serves in this capacity in the multiple conference-call meetings he has weekly.

“Conference calls can be an ordeal for busy people, so it has to be managed,” he says.

Fast fact:

75%

Percentage of CEOs' time that's preplanned, leaving only 25 percent for spontaneous interaction

Source: Harvard Business Review

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