The whole point of EBM is the facilitation of learning – both individually and organisationally. It requires a culture of learning from evidence of both success and failure, in equal measure. Yet many learning and development professionals are the worst culprits for ignoring evidence of training failure. They persist in putting people on courses where training is not the problem or where the ‘trainees’ just do not want to learn. It does not matter as long as they get paid for delivery, not outcome. This phenomenon is best exemplified by one of the oldest video training products on the market – ‘Meetings Bloody Meetings’.
I still remember, when I was a very young and naive training manager, watching the original John Cleese video for the first time. Cleese was better known as an actor who had a silly walk, complained about dead parrots and offered a dire customer experience to the unfortunate residents of a third-rate hotel in Torquay. Nevertheless, I thought his video was humorous and made some telling points about how meetings go wrong. So I hired it – once. Never again: not because it had solved my problem, but because it hadn’t.
So I cannot believe that the producers have the nerve to issue a 2012 version; when the evidence is so plain that meetings have not improved. They are more prevalent, more time wasting, more ill-conceived, more hastily convened and managed just as badly today as they were over 30 years ago. So if you were just about to run this video on a management course I thought I might suggest a few evidence-based questions before you inflict it on yet another, unsuspecting generation?
Question 1. Why do you think there is a need for this video?
Answer. Probably because you still hear the same refrain that I heard – ‘there’s too many bloody meetings in this place!’ or ‘when is anyone expected to get any bloody work done around here?!’ If you took that to mean your organisation has a problem with ‘meetings’ then I’m afraid your analysis and diagnosis might be inaccurate.
Question 2. Have you measured this apparent problem?
Answer. That was my mistake when I did not know any better. I reacted to an apparent problem rather than a real one. An evidence-based management problem is one that has been accurately identified and measured. So has anyone ever measured how many meetings take place in your organisation? If they have, did they also distinguish between the good meetings and the bad ones? I guess not; because that would mean you have to tell some very senior people they could not run a third-rate hotel – I mean meeting.
In fact, your job might be on the line if you so much as hint that maybe, just maybe, it might be a good idea to start assessing the performance of the people who run meetings? It is a lot easier for those in authority to presume they are skilled in managing meetings and not give a second thought to those whose time they waste or even consider whether they might be dragging others away from more relevant, pressing matters.
Question 3. Even if you identify and solve the problem – what could it be worth?
Answer. Obviously the first benefits would be fewer meetings, less wasted time, more efficiency and lower costs. Meetings should also be managed better with clear objectives and a minimum of unexpected AOB. They should only take as long as necessary and ensure the right actions are agreed and responsibilities allocated. They will also check progress.
Probably much more valuable though would be a different culture altogether. Really great meetings are those where you are allowed to voice your most honest thoughts without fear of retribution: where expertise is respected and evidence-based recommendations given much more weight than rank or gut feel. One of my own favourite indicators of effective meetings is simply to ask how many attendees would just walk out if given the freedom to choose?
You know what? Those bloody training videos are not solving problems they are bloody well perpetuating them.