Often time, the way a meeting is scheduled determines how successful it is. [su_tweet tweet=”Often time, the way a meeting is scheduled determines how successful it is.” url=”http://bit.ly/1VD4Hhi” via=”amazemeet “]Tweet this[/su_tweet]
This month’s productivity tips focus on how to transform your usual meetings into productive, short, and well-spent time – by reflecting on the old old ways of how they are usually conducted, trying to understand the design flaws no one questioned before.
Our featured leadership and time management influencers offer some tips to blow a fresh air into your stuffy, lengthy, and ineffective meetings.
Let’s dive in.
Parkinson’s Law in Meetings
A meeting is as long as it’s designed to be – start with the agenda, not time, and collaborate on making duration estimation.
Parkinson’s Law is stated as “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
In the context of meetings, the duration of the meeting is as long as it’s designed to be. If one sets out to have a 1-hour long meeting, it is usually the time it takes regardless of the significance of the agenda discussed.
For example : a manager wants to hold a 30-minute meeting to reach a decision, even though the decision can be reached in 5 minutes, chances are that the discussion will expand to fill the full 30 minutes.
To stop wasting time on this type of meeting, start with the agenda, not the duration.
Make it clear what the things are that you want to talk about – start with Purpose and Agenda, estimate beforehand, and together with other participants how long each item takes, then come up with the meeting duration.
Schedule meetings one day in advance so you get to determine how you spend the next foreseeable 24 hours as you feel like it.
Badly timed meetings are bad.
Warren Buffett has been said to usually not schedule his meetings more than one day in advance.
Someone who wants to meet him will be told to call in on Thursday if they want to meet him on Friday.
By doing this, he can determine how he wants to spend his time in the next 24 hours instead of weeks or months in the future. His schedule is therefore relevant, not prescient.
Try doing this for your next meetings, the ones when someone just asks for your time and attention – not dependent on other factors.
This won’t make you as successful as Buffett, but it gives you the power to decide how to spend your next foreseeable hours, and puts you into a more pro-active position in how to conduct your meetings.
Halve the time of your normal 1-hour meeting to experience more focus and success. ([su_tweet tweet=”Halve the time of your normal 1-hour meeting to experience more focus and success. ” url=”http://bit.ly/1VD4Hhi” via=”amazemeet @peterbregman”]Tweet this[/su_tweet])
Often we allocate 1 hour for most meetings, phone calls or appointments. Why should that be our standard allotment for so many things?
When we halve that slot – compressing time – people are more likely to: focus on critical points instead of stretching to reach the 1 hour by doing unnecessary tasks and having going-no-where conversations (think Parkinson’s Law).
Moreover, everyone will tend to be on time and come prepared (now that you only have 30 minutes!). Every minute makes a difference.
Most importantly, compressing time spent on meetings and other tactical work gives you more unstructured time to spend on activities and people you love.
Pricing can be complicated in any startup. Amazemeet is no exception, though we think a few things we have learned in trying to devise plans and prices recently have helped us get a better attitude to one of the most important aspects of launching a SaaS business.
Pricing can also be exceptionally simple – you can make numbers up out of thin air with little or no thought for whether anyone will pay that price for your product (what I call ‘the blue pill’).
We chose to do a bit more (what I call ‘the red pill’). More research and more educated guesses to get data we could make decisions on. More importantly, we wanted a process to emerge out of setting and reviewing our pricing so that we could use it over and over again.
We’d like to share where we are and what we learnt trying to price our service.
Where we are now
We recently finalised our last round of pricing experiments and created a new pricing model combining the best bits of the various experiments and what best supports our current phase of our strategy (i.e conversion).
So how did we get here?
I’ve tried to distil the chaos of the last few weeks into 5 key learnings. If you are interested in the stuff that isn’t written – the emotional rollercoaster, the techie bits of experimentation etc, then please ping me here via comment or on twitter (@amazemeet) and I’ll be happy to share that.
1. De-stress pricing through iteration and experimentation
Pricing can be stressful. We found the biggest source of stress was to believe that whatever model we came up with had to work for everyone, forever!
If there is one enduring strength in our team it is that we are almost entirely pragmatic and agile in our thinking and in our execution. This has helped us develop a healthy attitude to risk. We use iteration and experimentation all the time for everything.
To take the stress out of pricing, we’ve accepted that:
We can change it anytime if it isn’t working
We will review it regularly to see if it needs to change
It doesn’t have to be good forever, just until the next change.
The core of iterative experimentation is accepting that you don’t know something, you are doing reasonable things to learn more and that you can change at the next turn. [su_tweet tweet=”Accept that you don’t know, you’re doing things to learn more and you can change at the next turn” url=”http://bit.ly/1TL2tro” via=”amazemeet”]Tweet this[/su_tweet]
2. Understand who you are pricing for and design for them
This sounds like a no-brainer – especially if you have been more or less tracking certain segments or user and customer types. Just as different users want different features, different customers have price levels they will pay – often regardless of how valuable your product or service is. [su_tweet tweet=”Different customers have price levels they will pay – often regardless of how valuable your product or service is” url=”http://bit.ly/1TL2tro”]Tweet this[/su_tweet]
Amazemeet is a B2B service, we enable businesses of all sizes to have better meetings. This range presents complexity when we try and price to suit all businesses and keep us sustainable. The complexity comes primarily from the different price levels that specific types will support (large corporations might support higher levels, whilst small, modest companies support more modest pricing).
Complexity also comes from how those segments purchase stuff – large corporations often have restrictive purchasing policies that prevent the person with the problem from easily purchasing their chosen solution. Smaller, more independent business often don’t have that constraint.
Our pricing model had to support the price levels that would have credibility with the segments and navigate the purchasing restrictions purchasers in each segment to help them buy.
So for smaller sized companies and independents (like freelancers) we introduced a monthly plan and for the larger corporations where the effort of approving a $5 purchase is about the same as seeking approval for a $500 purchase – we introduced yearly plans to help them get the most out of that approval step.
3. Understand Your Goals for Pricing and Design to Achieve Them
We started out thinking pricing was simply about setting a price for your product and generating revenue – we were pretty mistaken. Sure it is about revenue – and so much more.
So we thought a bit more deeply about our goals – or what we wanted our pricing model to help us achieve and came up with:
help us to grow our user base (so pricing is not a barrier to usage)
help users become customers (so there is clear value to being a subscriber).
To achieve the first goal, we experimented with a freemium model – offering a free tier to let people try out the service (we believe we are the only ones with a meeting design model like Amazemeet on the market – it takes some getting used to!). This worked well – a little too well perhaps.
It would be silly to think it was just because we had a free plan that people joined. We are also lucky to have a naturally viral product.
We are seeing a stable growth in users and in organisers, but we were not seeing any growth in customers. When we spoke to users about the value they were getting from using the platform, they told us of improvements in clarity and follow ups. We’ve known that users found the platform useful (this has been fairly consistent feedback since the beta in June 2015) – what we struggled to determine was if it was also valuable!
Despite the success of the freemium model in helping us grow the user base, it created a secondary problem for us – which we encouraged by not differentiating plan features early enough. So we replaced it with a 7-day fully featured trial experiment and put all our existing non-subscribed users on the trial.
Whilst this has had little or no effect on the rate of sign ups, it does help to funnel serious users of our platform to a subscription plan. But it is early days yet – the first set are expiring this week and we are eagerly awaiting the result of that experiment.
Remember this: Users *hate* anything being taken away from them. Especially if it was once free. [su_tweet tweet=”Users *hate* anything being taken away from them. Especially if it was once free.” url=”http://bit.ly/1TL2tro” via=”amazemeet”]Tweet this[/su_tweet]
Incidentally we still have a free tier – it is just not publicly advertised. It offers unlimited meeting attendance but no meeting organising. It is the plan people revert to when they take no paid subscription.
4. Be willing to lose users – but understand why
There are few things more flattering than people signing up to use something you built.
But there are the right type of users and the wrong type of users. The right type of users use your service regularly – or as regularly as you intended. The wrong type use it much less than you intended and generally don’t come back and rarely tell you why.
As we experiment with Amazemeet – we recognise that the more specialised we become in how we design for the segments we are focusing on – including our pricing – we will inevitably lose some users. This is why it is super-important to not do too many things at once – because you want to know why you might lose those users.
For example, when we experimented with hard limits on the now-deprecated free plan, we saw some usage drop off. We recognised that there would be some users who wouldn’t upgrade to a paid plan once their 5 meeting limit was reached. We could even tell who might react like this by their usage patterns – they were not regular users of the platform and this restriction just persuaded them to stop.
This may be counter-intuitive, but I would rather have 1000 committed users than 10 million ghosts – and if I do anything to make the numbers that I base my decisions on that much clearer aligned with reality – I might just make better decisions.
Users are not all equally valuable. Knowing what makes a user valuable to your business helps you value and invest in that relationship better. Be prepared to cut back investment on those user relationships that are not helping you to your goal. [su_tweet tweet=”Be prepared to cut back investment on those user relationships that are not helping you to your goal.” url=”http://bit.ly/1spIjwl” via=”amazemeet”]Tweet this[/su_tweet]
5. Regularly review the drivers of your plans and pricing and adapt them
We aren’t done yet and we aren’t there yet. ‘There’ being stable and growing revenue, but we have had the most positive feedback so far on usefulness and on value.
The goals of our pricing can change, the behaviours we want to encourage can also change. We will be moving to other segments – either geographically or otherwise. We might pivot our features or the vision. Each one of these changes will bring new drivers to our pricing model and cause us to review.
In anticipation of this – we ask ourselves every month – “Is this pricing model still the most effective one for our goals and constraints’. If the answer is ‘Yes’, we move on. If not, we go deeper and explore what the next iteration and experiments ought to be.
There you have it – this is how we are doing pricing in Amazemeet. At least for now. What would be a great help right now would be your honest opinion and probing questions about this.
Is there something that just doesn’t make sense about this? – I’d love to hear it.
To make brainstorming work, have two meetings to determine “what to do” and then “how to do it”.
Brainstorming if not properly conducted can waste time and creative juice.
To make it work, leadership influencer Dan Rockwell has a tip: Successful brainstorming calls for two meetings.
The first meeting is a “What might we do” meeting.
The second is a “How might we do it” meeting.
Divide the efforts and focus maximises creativity and follow through. [su_tweet tweet=”Divide the efforts and focus maximises creativity and follow through.” url=”http://goo.gl/kvHAa8″ via=”amazemeet @leadershipfreak”]Tweet this[/su_tweet]
At the end of the meeting, have a “closing round” to give each participant a chance to comment on the meeting and know where the group is at. [su_tweet tweet=”At the end of meetings, have a closing round to give each person a chance to comment on the meeting .” via=”amazemeet @ev”]Tweet this[/su_tweet]
Ev Williams, CEO of Medium has a wonderful idea: The facilitator/host goes around the room asking everyone to make comments, say how they feel about what were discussed.
This allows people to get things off their chest and receive feedback about how the meeting can be improved. They might come up with ideas/ issues that are worth noted but otherwise ignored.
At Amazemeet, we have a section called “Off topics” so these points can be recorded – have you tried that?
Closing rounds can also get the ones who didn’t have a chance contribute to voice their thoughts. And most of all, these rounds can be fun and positive.
When JC Penny stock shot to nearly one billion dollars after hiring who was referred to as “The Second Coming of Steve Jobs,” the parade was all but booked on the corner of Money Street and Prosperity Avenue.
18 months later, after the failure of renowned business executive Ron Johnson, those same streets were barren, littered only with the discount coupons they couldn’t even pay former patrons to use.
According toBusiness Insider, the “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion,” or HiPPO is a plague that has affected many top corporations and moguls from Sears to former Clinton White House Aide, Jason Goldberg respectively. This phenomenon is costing stockholders their investments and reserving a space in the unemployment line for an unsuspecting and once faithful and career driven employee pool.
It is often suggested that the most successful entrepreneurs are those who surround themselves with more intelligent people. Using this information, many major and upstart corporations looking for a boost in profit will seek out and highly compensate one of these individuals. With stacks of hundred dollar bills blocking their ear canals, the suggestions of others become unable to reach the HiPPO’s brain superiority.
No one is listening, thereby allowing only one set of opinions are being heard.
Whilst surrounding oneself with more intelligent or knowledgeable people is a good start, being able to let their opinions flow and being willing to be challenged is vital for the best plan or decisions to emerge.
This humble leadership doesn’t just apply to the traditional role of the ‘leader’, it helps everyone whose perceived authority can unduly influence critical conversations.
Surround oneself with intelligent people is a good start, let their opinions flow is vital for the best decisions to emerge. [su_tweet via=”amazemeet” tweet=”Surround oneself with intelligent people is a good start, let their opinions flow is vital for the best decisions to emerge.”]Tweet this[/su_tweet]
Highly Intelligent Individuals DO Make Mistakes
The catalyst of failure for Johnson with JC Penny was determined to be something so simple and avoidable, it’s hard to fathom that it was even allowed to occur.
Forbes Online suggests that Johnson chose to follow his “gut” instead of proven focused group data in determining consumer preference. To state it simply, a multimillionaire believed that he better understood what a middle class patron wanted to purchase. In this case, the data was available, though it was ignored by a feeling. Since JC Penny threw all of it’s “cents” into the pockets of Johnson, is it any wonder why when Johnson asked his subordinates if the plan was working, no one had the gumption to speak up?
Large Ripples The Of HiPPO Effect
The HiPPO effect creates ripples of intimidation as members in the board room learn to keep their mouths shut, eventually lose their voice, and become accustomed to the role of subservient rat to the Pied Piper.
Employees are disempowered, moral is destroyed, and accountability becomes a tale of folklore and mythology.
The goal of a company is reduced to the vision of one, and no matter how well that one is able to see, it could never compete with the strength in vision of a cohesive unit. Why have a board room or, better yet, a board, if the voices and opinions of those in and on it are irrelevant?
Hungry, Hungry, Not The HiPPO
Once a problem has been recognized, it must be confronted if it is to change.
This is often the most challenging proposition to implement and can largely determine the fate of an organization. Allow the opinions of the staff to be vocalized before those of the influencers, even if it requires a closed or silent voting session.Crowd voting has also become a popular method with the seemingly infinite resources of technology.
To diffuse the intimidation factor of the great HiPPO, these actions are imperative. Proper facilitation, idea implementation efficiency, and restoring the voices of those who matter can bring the creativity and success back in the board room to which it belongs.