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Are meetings helping you balance your FE budgets?

As FE budgets are increasingly hit by funding cuts the need to save money is imperative.

But the low hanging fruit has already been harvested, so where can additional savings be made?

FE can perhaps learn a lesson from outside the sector where effective organisations have streamlined certain processes, made them far more effective and consequentially saved money.

After nearly thirty years working in and for the sector, one area I believe FE can save money is meetings. From experience I believe the sector’s love for meetings is perhaps only exceeded by that found in the civil service.

But of course some meetings are necessary. We use them as evidence to official bodies that we have considered certain topics and situations, we use them as staff briefings and to update stakeholders and we use them as a negotiation tool with suppliers, customers and the unions.

So how can we save money?

Most of us in FE have stories of meetings that went on for hours and achieved absolutely nothing except frustration. But it needn’t be like this.

Meetings should and can be productive and enjoyable if a few simple rules are followed.

Know why you are meeting. The fact you meet every Friday isn’t the reason to hold a meeting. There needs to be a reason to hold a meeting. Inherent in this is the fact we should have an expected outcome in mind. By this I don’t mean that the answer to a problem is already known in advance and the purpose of the meeting is to rubber stamp it. But I would expect the outcome to be based around finding a solution.

Being able to articulate the purpose of a meeting in 10 or fewer words is perhaps the best measure of knowing why a meeting is taking place.

Have an agenda. How many times does a meeting organiser start by saying ‘sorry there’s no agenda, I’ve been busy’? Without an agenda how can people prepare for the meeting? If they aren’t prepared how can they meaningfully contribute?

Agendas are also useful in that they set the expectation of how long the meeting will be and where it will take place. I know of many occasions where people have arrived at multiple venues because it wasn’t clear at which campus the meeting was taking place. Sometimes they have even arrived at the wrong time or day.

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As for not having time to send out an agenda; an agenda needn’t be long, so can be part of the meeting notification process. If you’ve had time to invite people you’ve had time to put the purpose of the meeting into fewer than 10 succinct words.

It is also a useful practice to have standing items built into agendas so they don’t get forgotten. For example I’ve always had H&S, Inspection, SAR and similar topics as standing items in marketing meetings. It reminds staff they are important, take only a moment to check if there are any items for the inspection file this month, and enables me to record the fact the item was discussed.

Prepare papers in advance. Many meetings have long boring sections where people give progress reports. In many cases these reports are time wasters where attendees surreptitiously check their emails and hear nothing at all. It is often far more productive for people to prepare their report as a few brief notes in advance. Using a shared drive for this means that everyone has time to prepare their reports and read everyone else’s notes in advance of the meeting. This means that issues raised can be addressed at the meeting and outcomes achieved. The time saved can also be put to much better use.

Is the meeting necessary? If you cannot articulate the reason for the meeting in ten words or fewer why are you holding it? Even if you have a reason to hold a meeting ask yourself if it can be achieved by a teleconference, webinar or similar. In fact, if you are holding a briefing meeting, might it not be easier to video your briefing and get staff to watch it when convenient to them rather than pull them away from other vital work?

Start on time. One of the biggest meeting time wasters is the late start. Start the meeting late and staff are being trained to expect a late start and a vicious circle of late start reinforcement commences. As a visitor to organisations I’ve often seen staff turn up late and then ask the organiser if there is time for them to go and get a coffee. If we are prepared to enforce student timeliness in the classroom then why should we treat staff differently? The time wasted in FE by late starts each year could probably finance your next new building!

Who should attend? Inviting the estates manager to a curriculum meeting might sound like a good idea, and there will be items where their input is essential, but do they need to stay for the whole meeting? Money will be saved if they are given a slot at the beginning of the meeting and then allowed to leave. Likewise, if other key staff are needed for single items give them a time slot so they can use their time effectively.

Just Do It

I recently published a book that took just 16 weeks to evolve from the glimmer of an idea to a bestseller on Amazon. Each chapter of the book was written by a different contributor. I knew each of them as members of my mastermind group where we regularly meet online. The reason we use online meetings is that we are based worldwide; members are found in the UK, US, Malta, Israel, NZ, Canada and several other countries.

So unsurprisingly we produced the whole book without a single face to face meeting. I’m told producing a book, from scratch, in just 16 weeks in nigh impossible. People tell me that producing a book is more than writing words, there are covers to be designed, layouts, printing and a host of other considerations.

True. But when you cut out the meetings things can significantly speed up. Suddenly, instead of talking about it, we just did it!

If I can produce a bestseller, with over 20 contributors, without a single face to face meeting, I have to ask how many meetings in FE are really necessary?

Marketing consultant Stefan Drew was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges and now works with providers throughout the UK, Europe and the US – visit: www.ProviderMasterMind.com and http://www.creatingbusinessgrowth.com

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