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steve jobs meetings tips

Image source: Mike Lee via Flickr

Like many others, professionals in PR and marketing often detest meetings as a waste of time. More organizations are adopting a simple yet highly effective strategy devised by Apple founder Steve Jobs to run meetings that actually produce results.

“Steve had a habit of making sure someone was responsible for each item on any meeting agenda, so everybody knew who is responsible,” says Matthew Mamet, a product executive at TripAdviser.

Apple called a person responsible for an agenda item the directly responsible individual or DRI. The DRI would “own” the task,” facilitate discussion around the agenda item and often manage post-meeting actions about it.

As Apple employees spread to other companies, the practice has gained traction throughout the corporate world.

“The concept of DRIs is right at home in the culture of all high quality software product teams,” says Mamet, adding that the idea worked well at TripAdviser.  “The notion of the DRI is a fundamental component of the culture of modern product development teams. By seeking to create a culture of accountability with the group, we avoid dependencies on managers to tell the team what to do, and increase reliance on the team to self-organize and know how to proceed.”

A Path to Accountability

Research shows that clearly and publicly attaching a name to a task fosters accountability. This, in turn, increases follow-through, writes Steven Rogelberg, professor and director of organizational science at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and author of The Science of Meetings, in a LinkedIn article.

The DRI concept, Rogelberg says,

  • gets more people involved in the meeting,
  • provides an opportunity for team members to develop skills in leading meetings,
  • makes meetings more stimulating for other attendees.

Advice for Creating Agendas and Running Meetings

The DRI can be assigned to the task during the meeting, after it, as well as before it. When the group faces a new or complex issue, try to identify a DRI early in the discussion.

Conclude agenda topics with actions or next steps.

Rank meeting goals based on strategic importance to help prioritize items. Research shows that items early in the agenda receive a disproportionate amount of time and attention, regardless of their importance.

Be careful to proactively address long-term issues, not just immediate problems.

Dive into critical agenda items within about five minutes into the meeting. This assures adequate coverage of these topics, and gets attendees hooked early and engaged.

Instead of designing an agenda that lists topics to be discussed, consider an agenda composed of questions to be answered. For example, instead of a topic on budgetary constraints consider: “How will we reduce our budget by 50K by the end of the quarter?”

Framing the discussion as questions helps identify who needs to attend the meeting, determine when the issue is resolved, and if a meeting is necessary in the first place.

“If you can’t identify questions to be answered, a meeting is likely not needed. Consider canceling it,” Rogelberg says. “You’ll give would-be attendees the greatest gift in the world – recovered time.”

Bottom Line: PR, marketing and other communications professionals disdain long, fruitless meetings. Designating people who are directly responsible for each agenda item creates a culture of accountability and productivity. In addition, the practice increases employee involvement and fosters product management skills.