The Modern CPA Success Show: Episode 31
This is our third time bringing in Tom Barrett, who has been working with Summit CPA for years. We are talking about meetings today. Our meetings at Summit CPA have changed and evolved over the years. Anyone who has been involved with a company would know just how difficult it is to have effective meetings.
As a CFO, our job is to run good meetings and advise our clients to do the same. Listen to this episode to learn what your company can do to structure strong and effective meetings.
Jamie Nau: Welcome to today's podcast. Today, we're going to talk about everybody's favorite subject: meetings. So everybody's seen the memes out there about how terrible meetings are and about the meetings can be taken place with an email, and all that good stuff. So today we're going to just talk about what makes a good meeting, and how to make a meeting a little bit better. But to start off, we're actually going to talk about why people hate meeting so much. So, Tom, you want to kind of just go down that path a little bit and what makes an effective meeting for us?
Tom Barrett: So when I'm engaging with a prospect, working with a client for the first time, it's almost universal that the vast majority, not every single team I've ever worked with has come in to working with me with a belief that their meetings can never be productive and effective and they just kind of given up all hope. So I do have a few insights. First, I think is that people are frankly just distracted, right? Because of that kind of the vicious cycle of just thinking they're never going to be good. We're sort of multitasking, all the devices we have and electronic channels of communication, like people can never unplug from everything and just focus on who's in the room, who's in the meeting. So that one's pretty big. I mean, it's pretty tactical, but that one's big.
Jamie Nau: How much of the distraction is because you're in a meeting you don't really belong in? Because I know anytime I get distracted, it's because we're spending forty five minutes talking about a topic where it just doesn't relate to me. So I'm like okay, why am I here? What am I listening to? I might as well be trying to get something else done.
Tom Barrett: So I think that's part of the problem because sort of one bad ineffective meeting leads to other bad, ineffective meetings that people shouldn't be attending. So the whole thing does snowball. So again, this is why it's such a common thing, because people are like, I just need to be here with 10 percent of my mind in this meeting, and 90 percent of it somewhere else. I think reviewing who's in what meeting is part of the fix.
Jamie Nau: That makes a lot of sense. Like I said, that's usually what leads to my distraction is either it's the first four or five minutes. There's like the five minutes at the end of the meeting that I really need to pay attention to. But it's that first forty five minutes where they're talking about a completely different department, or something that just doesn't really relate to me at all. I have no real reason to listen to that section. So I'm like okay, I guess this is the part where I can check out. That's usually what gets me distracted. I know I've done it before.
Adam Hale: Yeah, I’ved watched you do it, Jamie, quite often, as a matter of fact. So for me, that's not really my thing because I'm usually pretty involved with everything just based on my role. My bigger thing is, I've got three monitors on my screen. So whenever I was in person, it was really easy. Don't get me wrong, I was always doodling on my little notepad and drawing pictures of people and stuff. But for the most part, I was involved and engaged, and it was a lot easier to do physically. But now I've got Slack up on one side. I have email up on the other. I've got my phone sitting right next to me. So I'm just like constantly getting dinged in it. It's almost like you're addicted to it, because even whenever I turn my notifications off, which would be a nice little tip for everybody, or minimize your stuff, you almost just feel like you I don't know, you just do it without even realizing you do it. You open up your email, you pop open your phone. I need like a zapper or something.
Jamie Nau: I’ve even been in one-on-one meetings where, like looking at the person, you're like this person is totally not listening to what I'm saying. You can tell by the glaze in their eyes. So yeah, it's definitely easy to get distracted.
Adam Hale: I see that one being number one for sure. Absolutely.
Tom Barrett: So I'll give you guys another one. I think just the lack of objective like facts figures. So a lot of meetings, there's way too much subjective opinions, kind of egos that are there ruling the meeting. So of course this does speak to the importance of, well, first of all, having actual numbers, right. What are the operational numbers of our business every day, every week, month, etc.? Then whatever the kind of goals or priorities for the year, quarter or month, that we have some kind of objective way of saying what those are and then how we're making progress. So that's also usually lacking in meetings. But that's a big reason why they're ineffective as well.
Adam Hale: So you're saying they're more like topic driven rather than goal driven?
Tom Barrett: Well, yeah, I'm going to say a more subjective driven than an objective, or at least at least a part of it. I would say that a really great meeting, some of it needs to have an objective element to it. So it’s a little bit like imagine any sports game. If there's no scoreboard, it's not a game. We're not playing to win or lose. We're just practicing. I think too many meetings are a little bit like a game of pickup basketball, or nobody's really keeping score and not all that much into are we going to win the game or lose the game and not clear on that. So I think that's really what it's like. The scoreboard isn't working in the meeting.
Jamie Nau: That makes sense, and I think the other part that goes with that is you have to make sure everybody in the meeting understands how the scoring works. So, you know, if you have a couple people in the meeting that have never played basketball before, to stay with that analogy, and they are like why are these people winning and losing? So you have to make sure everybody understands the goals and how they work and what they mean, and also where we've been. I think that part is really important too. If you're looking at your gross profit as a goal and you're at forty five percent and that's not that great. But if you get the context of where we used to be, you see the improvement. So I think that is really important. Those goals are to make sure everybody in the meeting understands where they've been, but also what they mean.
Tom Barrett: Completely. Yeah, they got to see their part and moving the needle, and how these numbers relate to them. Also a lack of drama or tension. So I think this does go to also kind of the related issue, sort of like a team health and organizational health. So, you know, good meetings should be like a good movie or something you watch on Netflix. You're kind of drawn in. There's some kind of tension introduced pretty early on. And this does go back to the objective measures. And this is what makes sports games so great, because we're always looking at the clock, at the scoreboard, you know, how much time is left in the game. And so once we introduce those objective measures, know what winning is, then we're going to start really wanting and needing to engage and willing to have some uncomfortable conversations. So, you know, if the three of us were on a team, we'd be like hey, Jamie, you're responsible for number X, and last week or last month, it was not good. So we really need to go there. And, you know, it's always hard as a human being when, , when in front of your teammates going there, right? So, Tom, you didn't perform last week, last month. But we need to dig in and understand.
Adam Hale: What I heard is I need to yell more often so everybody else can feel the tension and enjoy the drama more often.
All: Laughing [in audible]
Jamie Nau: I'm not sure that's possible, Adam.
Adam Hale: Maybe they'll stay tuned in and not check out, or look at their emails. But you're right, healthy conflict is important. That goes a long with just being candid with one another, and just making sure we're holding each other accountable. I think our team does a great job of that. That's usually whenever we rank our meetings at the end just to make sure everybody's kind of on the same page when there's been a little bit of that in the meeting, I think that people are more inclined. The other big one that you talk about a lot is, you know, not solving issues was kind of the other one. Those two to me, kind of lend each other hand in hand to that drama, and a lot of times that healthy conflict leads to solving an issue. I can say for certain, actually, that when we rank our meetings at the end, the high scores always come from whenever we actually brought something up and we solved it. If we don't, everybody's kind of like, it was an okay meeting, because we didn't come to a resolution.
Jamie Nau: Yeah, I think the part about conflict that I like about our meetings, you know, the example Tom used, and you kind of used to Adam, is not really usually how our conflict goes. It's not usually like Adam just picking at Jamie and saying, why is this going on? It's usually more like a team thing. I think there's usually a handful of people and I hate to use this term, but on each side of it. But I think that's what makes the debate healthy. I give my context and then, you know, Tom jumps in and supports my ideas, and Adam comes back and has a question about both of Tom and I's ideas. Just to have multiple people involved in that discussion also makes it much better. That's normally how our meetings go. So you don't feel like you're being ganged up on in terms of, I have a really bad idea here.
Tom Barrett: Yeah and again, there's a lot to work on. There definitely are larger issues that the culture of the organization frankly. If you're a leader listening to this podcast, I think you definitely need to take a look in the mirror. If you've got some artificial harmony going on with your team, again, you know, as the leader, you always got to, and I say the leaders I work with, I'm going to give you the high five for everything that is going great here, and in everything that is not going great. I'm going to say it's on you and that's always the healthiest way. So, again, it's really got to start with the leader and their tone and style is probably really influencing whether or not their team is going to get into healthy conflict.
Adam Hale: Yeah, what I think is so cool about this is that not only does it help us internally with our internal team, but even if there was only just a couple of you, maybe it's not as important if there's only like two people in your company, if you're a CPA firm and you're kind of on your own or whatever, but it's multipurpose. So like everything that we learned about having a good effective meeting that we've learned from you over the years, not only does it apply internally, but the methodology, you can kind of bring that to the client. And the client really appreciates having some structure to the meetings, helping improve the meetings and doing that kind of stuff. So, I mean, with all that said, I mean, we just talked about the reasons why we all have crappy meetings or feel like we don't get a whole lot out of it. But how do we how do we break that down and make the meetings more effective, again, not just internally, but externally with our clients, especially as an advisor going into a client meeting? If I have four or five people on the other side and I am solo, you know, again, I think they sometimes look to us as advisers to kind of help straighten out the meeting and make it effective. Meaning they always talk about what metric should we be looking at, that kind of a thing. So I think that, you know, we can break that down and help those meetings as well.
Tom Barrett: Yeah, yeah. So you can apply that Internally and externally. So I'd say a few things. First is, what kind of meeting is this. So is it sort of, as they say, an annual planning or quarterly planning internally or externally? So carving that out and doing that separately, then you're more say weekly, more tactical meetings, is really critical because when you're not doing that internally and externally, you kind of have this meeting, stew or mush. They kind of all blend together and you're trying to do tactical and strategic in the same meeting. Making it clear what the purpose of the meeting is and then from that, having a really clear agenda that's actually going to achieve what the purpose of the meeting is.
Jamie Nau: Yeah, I think that's been especially helpful for me when I was working with clients and having that agenda. I think that's the biggest thing. A lot of times we just go into meetings and are like, what's up? Or what's on your mind or what's keeping you up at night? Those type of meetings again, it's important to ask those questions sometimes, but that can't be the whole agenda of the meeting, you know. When I was early on at Summit, you know, I definitely felt out quite a few meetings and decided okay, this meeting is going to be a pipeline meeting. We're going to talk about pipeline for 20 minutes. Then at the end, I'm going to ask these type of questions in case there's any other topics you want to talk about. That way people aren't feeling like they're showing up just to be asked the same questions over and over again, and getting no answers, and check out of the meeting after five minutes. So I think that has really helped me when I was the CFO.
Adam Hale: Yeah, just to back that up a little bit, the agenda is important, but I think how we came up with the agenda was naming the meeting. I think there's a lot of power in naming things, and so the name a lot of times for us is what the purpose of the meeting is. It's pretty self-explanatory. For me personally, what's worked is like once that meeting is named I go, okay. Then I can kind of walk through and ask what's the purpose of the meeting? Okay. If that's the purpose of the meeting here's some, you know, rough things that we're going to make sure we cover every meeting. So you don't want it to be so rigid that you've got twenty five bullet points that we're going to cover every time. What we usually do in our meetings is we name the meeting. We set the agenda. The agenda usually has three to five bullet points, and we just say, hey, during this meeting it might go a little bit out of order. It might be we spend more time on one area than the other. But we're going to hit these same three to five items, because I think that also allows people to understand who should be in the meeting as well. Once it's been named, it's like, why would I ever be in the business development of meeting? I have nothing to do with business development or things of that nature.
Tom Barrett: Yeah, that reminds me of another reason why meetings aren't as productive and effective as they could be is that. Certain issues or topics that are being discussed in the meetings, say on a companywide leadership team, they'll notice that on the agenda we are talking about these very tactical in the weeds issues. So that's part of the struggle, especially with entrepreneurial businesses where, you know, you kind of start out small. It's really just one big team. But then as you grow, you need to have better delineation on things like, is that a companywide issue? Is it a marketing issue? Is it some kind of operations issue? And having kind of those compartments internally to make that be discussed at some other meeting is really critical.
Adam Hale: Yeah, I think that, you know, as an EOS implementer, I know this is a big part of it. What you're talking about there, where we dive into the weeds, a lot of times in order to keep our meetings on track, I know IDS is a big part of that. So we do our little departmental updates and we're giving very objective things really quick. Then all of a sudden we'll go into a rabbit hole and then the team's usually pretty good about identifying a rabbit hole and in saying, you know, maybe that should be something for ideas. So can you talk to us a little bit about IDS and how that works?
Tom Barrett: Yeah, so IDS is super helpful. So for every listener, this is definitely something to incorporate into your meetings, even if you don't use the EOS fully. So IDS stands for: identify, discuss, solve. I'll walk you guys through sort of how it works. There's really I would say four parts. So sort of the first part is there's an issue. So again, imagine a meeting agenda and you got a list of issues. And so I'm going to use actually a personal example. I use this all the time because when we use the following, people get it. But when we then try to apply IDS in the business context we forget the following. So say if the issue on the bullet point is that Tom has recurring back pain, right, that's the issue. So what would I do? Say for months I had really bad back pain, really killing me. I would make an appointment with a doctor because we would need to identify the root cause of my back pain. So that would involve, say, the doctor sending me off for X-ray scans, blood work, whatever. So because we're trying to identify the root cause, because we just can't figure it out and even the best doctor in the world can tell from just looking at me, they got to dig, dig, dig to identify the root cause. So then say I come back a week later and the doctor tells me, Tom, you know, your scans showed it's condition X. So we've identified the root cause because it's condition X causing your back pain. Here are your three options: surgery, medication, physical therapy. So that's the discuss part. So then I get to choose, right? Those are my three options. The s stands for solve. I get to pick one of those options, whichever one I feel is best, weighing up the pros and cons of each, make the solve, and that should get rid of my back pain because that that's truly solving an issue. My back pain goes away. So I tell that to every team I work with, and they're like, yep, I get that. But it's actually difficult for teams to apply that in their meeting. So you kind of have to work on it. Typically what happens, too, is they'll start IDS an issue, starting to discuss it, and then they'll go on to issue number twenty seven, right? Not having the discipline to stick with an issue until we actually solve it.
Jamie Nau: I think what is really important too, is a couple of things. One is keeping that issue list as well. So you talked about your back. But that may take six, seven weeks to get solved. So it's important every week to look back and be like hey, Tom, how's your back? You know, like, oh, yeah, I just got the test results back. I did do one of these three things and then we can decide what it is. So I think that is as important for us as. You know, again, sometimes the solving doesn't happen in that meeting. We have a couple of ideas that we're going to go up and go down on outside the meeting and then report back next week. I find that to be really important. Then the other thing that I want to throw out there, kind of to Adam's point, I think it's really important to have a moderator, because if you don't, you're going to start doing the right thing in the wrong part, and you're going to spend like thirty minutes going down that rabbit hole. So every meeting we have has a really good moderator that just jumps in and says, hey guys. Let's move that to IDS for now, and talk about it at the end of the meeting. So I think that's the important part that I found in our meetings that has made us change a lot.
Tom Barrett: I'll do a plus one on that and add another little insight into us. We actually recommend that you have a designated facilitator, but then also a separate person who's actually the designated documenter of all the key things. They're pulling up your scorecard or issues list and recording new things that come up during the meeting. So I'd actually recommend that you have both of those roles in meetings and we definitely do.
Adam Hale: We definitely do, and we keep track of it and we roll it forward. We have the format where you have the scorecard like you're talking about. But this IDS is really, I think, what takes the meetings over the top. If we do get in that rabbit hole we can say let's just get through the rest of the agenda and then let's revisit this at the end. Then let's have a discussion. And as Jamie mentioned, I mean, on one hand, yes, they can carry over for weeks, but then for me personally, I would just caution against them rolling too far ahead because, you know, again, for our team, whenever we feel like we've succeeded the most in a meeting is whenever we get to that S. whenever we get to that solve. People want to walk out going, hey, agree to disagree. This is the solution. This is what we're doing. Let's plow forward. And it's the same with clients like whenever we introduce this topic with clients and we just say, hey, look, let's just push this to the back of the meeting. Let's hold some time to discuss it and see if we can come up with a resolution, nine times out of ten we are coming up with that solve, or at least the next immediate step that can then be followed up on the following. Clients appreciate that documentation and that discussion in that solve.
Jamie Nau: I definitely agree that a lot of times we do solve it right away. That does feel good. I think the other part going back to earlier, like why meets are ineffective? I think one of the things that frustrates people more than anything is you spend too much time with the I. Like you can you can talk about the I for forty minutes and then it becomes a complain fest. You're just identifying something over and over. Different people are complaining about it in a different direction. We have had that in one of our meetings with our seniors, that's what it was. It was basically an hour long meeting. That's all it was. So we had to kind of change the format and introduce this IDS format. I think since we've done that, it's definitely got a lot more effective.
Tom Barrett: Yeah. One of the things that's probably happening is that the issue really, that there's actually multiple issues packed into one. So when that starts to happen, the best thing to do is actually start to go, you know what? And when you're starting to I, identify the root cause, say, hey, we're starting to discover other issues that are discrete and need to be carved out on their own. So that's really important because sometimes issues just get too big to truly identify root cause, truly discuss, truly solve. So you just got to be careful that you're not trying to solve something that's too big.
Adam Hale: Yeah, yeah, so talk to us a little bit about the goals, and the rocks in the EOS, what you call those.
Tom Barrett: So for the listeners, if you guys are interested in a more effective internal weekly meeting with your team, EOS has a meeting called the Level 10 meeting. Here's kind of how it works. The first step, it’s a 90 minute meeting once a week. Again, it is well worth it. It saves you time. So you just segue into the meeting. So one piece of personal good news, one piece of professional good news, and you do that in five minutes or less. So you're pretty quick. Then you go into a number of reporting items. So this is where we're interjecting kind of those objective measures. So one of the ways to do that is a scorecard. So bringing up are our key numbers from last week. How did we do business wise? What are our numbers telling us? And also look at 13 weeks of history as well. Give us a sense of patterns and trends. You know, if you've got some kind of quarterly planning process where you've got rocks or some other kind of bigger long term goals, we typically recommend bringing that list up too and saying, are we on track or off track with each of those longer term goals? Then we look at the yet to do. So the Level 10 meeting in the EOS has to do their seven day action items that come out of it. So at the beginning of the meeting, we're checking in like, hey, Adam, did you get your to-do done from last week? Yes or no? And then we have another the fourth and final item in terms of the whole reporting is what we call a customer and employee headlines. So is there something that I know that everybody should know what a headline level? Part of the power of the Level 10 agenda and EOS is with those four reporting items the scorecard, rocks to-dos and headlines, is that if anything is really big, we say drop it down and make it an issue. So that way then the next item is you've got about 60 Minutes for your IDS. So you look at all of your issues. Some issues have been added at the beginning of the meeting. You prioritize your top three issues from a longer list and then start addressing IDS. Issue number one, I'll move off that until we solve it. Then go to issue two, to get 60 minutes of that. Then with five minutes to go you recap, new to-dos, you ask if there are any cascading messages, and you actually rate the meeting. Have every person in the meeting rate it on a 1 to 10 scale. So then if people rate at less than an 8, we go back to them and say, how do we make 8 go to a 10. If you, Jamie, rated it a 7, what would make it a 10 so that you can correct it immediately. So that's the really quick overview of the EOS Level 10 agenda.
Adam Hale: We follow that every single week. Then a lot of times, if it's a smaller group, we'll do 60 Minutes just to cut down the IDS part.
Jamie Nau: Yeah, I was going to hit on the ratings a little bit. So I know when we first started, our ratings for the most part were pretty good. But it took us a while to get to the point where we were having a lot of the 10 ratings. How long do you normally see for those meetings to get to the point where everybody is pretty satisfied? Again, I know you're always going have that meeting where people are like, eh this one wasn't great for me.
Tom Barrett: So it's going to take a few months. I've never seen a team who implement the Level 10 agenda start having 9 and 10 quickly. You usually got to work out the kinks and the bugs. That's normal. I think there's probably maybe two different extremes as well in terms of ratings. There probably are some teams where there are some kind of cultural issues that people are just going to say 9 or a 10 because they're not allowed to say 6 or 7. So that's not good. That's again, where the leaders have really have to say to everybody, you have to be completely open and honest, completely candid. If you say 10, you really mean 10. So you've got that extreme. But you also probably have the other extreme. You're going to have some individuals who say they rated a 7 or something like that. So basically why they're probably not exactly just rating the 60 or 90 minutes, they're actually probably unhappy about other things and that's part of the power of going back and asking. Okay, you said 7, so what would have made it a 10 today? By asking that, you are going to start understanding sort of what else is going on with that person. They might say well, Tom was too long winded, went off on tangents. Now you know the problem. So Tom should be less longwinded next week. So there's all kinds of factors going into the ratings.
Adam Hale: Some people struggle with that though. They'll give a higher score just because they don't want to be picked on, you know. So even if it feels like it's open and honest in typical Summit fashion, we do the same thing only we only go to 5. I don't know, 10 seems like a high number for us. I guess we just kind of cut in half. But we also played around a little bit with the psychology of that and that whoever went first kind of set the tone. So we would kind of mix things up a little bit. And Jody and I as kind of leaders on the call would intentionally score differently and see how that changed the tone. So if I started off and I said 5, everybody behind me, 5, 5, 5, 5. Jody goes 3, then everybody behind him, 4, 4, you know. Then we would kind of see how that was, how that was playing out so that we could have those conversations and start talking to people about that. So we played around with a little bit as well.
Jamie Nau: That's funny, I didn't realize you were doing that, but I could see that now. I think the one thing early on for us and you talked about this a little bit was the to-do list. I think that's one of the things that got us quite a few lower ratings when we first started doing this. The to-do list was so long that you hardly had time to IDS. If you had a to-do list that had 30 items on it, it was so long that by the time you got through it all the IDS was down to like 15 minutes and you're like, I need time to solve. So I think within the last year, our to-do list has been down to like one or two or three items. And to me, that has made our meetings way more effective because we have had time to solve and we have that time to really get into those issues. That's the one area early on that I think made us have to build up to getting those 5 more often.
Tom Barrett: Yeah, and that's typical. So when teams really try to fix their meetings and say they use something like the Level 10 agenda, you're going to find things like your scorecard has like one number on it instead of the seven that we want. Or a to-do list is 7, 8 items long because we're catching up on all the prior stuff we never did in the past. So one of that sayings I apply is progress, not perfection. So that's where if you're trying to overhaul your meetings, I think you need to get realistic about the incremental change you can make week to week. So just be patient. It'll take a while to get there typically.
Jamie Nau: Patience is definitely key. It's not going to be overnight. So I'm just going to take a quick second here to throw our email address out. So, you know, we're always looking for new topics and subjects, or if you are in interested in joining the show, feel free to email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always looking to have new ideas on here. So we have a couple of minutes left here. Adam, Tom, any final thoughts for our listeners?
Tom Barrett: Well, so my big passionate plea to all the listeners is don't give up. Your meetings truly can be great. It's hard work, but it's worth it. So I would say really re-examine all of the meetings that you do internally, externally. Think about all of the wasted time, wasted productivity and also frustrating results that your business is getting, your teams are getting because their meetings aren't great. It really is a litmus test really on the effectiveness and the health of an organization.
Adam Hale: Yeah, and I would just say that, I mean, while that sounds, you know, like everything we just covered sounds intense, it's really brilliant in its simplicity that if you really just break this down, it's just kind of like bang, bang, bang, get in and out. Everybody knows meetings can suck. Make sure you get the right people in there. Follow this. You know, check out the Level 10 agenda. I've seen it work over and over and for all kinds of different situations. So I would definitely highly recommend this to your clients, use it internally and just make sure that scoring, you know, for a little while we let that scoring kind of go by the wayside. The scoring is very important. So I would say just make sure that everybody on the team understands what the walk away of the meeting is. So whenever you're talking about purpose, say hey, this is what we should be left with at the end. We should have a clear understanding of what that is. Then as long as everybody understands that, it's easy to rate and figure out what you're doing right and wrong, and do those tweaks that Tom was talking about.
Jamie Nau: There's also lots of great implementors out there, just like Tom. So if you're struggling in this process, you know, there's lots out there and, you know, obviously you can reach out to Tom. He does this for plenty of people and a lot of our clients, as Adam mentioned it for us as well. So it's very helpful to have someone guide you through it if you need it.
Adam Hale: Yeah, and he's got a geeky accounting background. He works very well with CPA firms. So definitely check that out. Digital agencies too. I think it applies to just about anybody. I know you have a wide portfolio, but definitely working with CPA firms and with digital agencies, you have a lot of experience.
Tom Barrett: This has been great. This has been a 10 for me, I guess a 5 for you.
Jamie Nau: Thanks for joining us, Tom. Thanks, Adam. Appreciate it.
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