When we talk about brands, we think about products and services: screens, spaces, and interactions between a potential customer and a brand. But what are the main touchpoints of a brand on the inside – with its own employees?
If you’re working at IKEA, is there a sign saying “Life happens here” in the entrance hall of the office building? Are your office spaces named after Swedish villages? Do you throw your Christmas tree out the office window in January? Where does the brand become tangible in the form of a company’s culture?
Meetings as an internal touchpoint for your brand I think it’s the interaction with colleagues and the rituals that culture manifests in, which make a brand most tangible within a company. One of the key platforms, where interactions take place in, are meetings. Imagine, the last few meetings you attended were the first main touchpoints with the brand you work for – would you think your brand was attractive? Don’t worry, you’re not alone!
Meetings are commonly perceived ineffective, unstructured, unsatisfying, unproductive, unfocused, and often redundant. I think we can all agree that these are not the values we wish our brand to be associated with. (see Mosvnick & Nelson, 1987; Schell Marketing Consulting, 2008)
On top of that, meetings are expensive. A German study from 2012 found that employees spend an average time of 4 hours per week in meetings – this is around 200 hours per year. Assuming personnel costs of 45 € per hour, a company with 350 employees invests more than 3.1 million € per year in meetings. If only 20 % of this meeting time were redundant, the company would lose 630,000 € in one year (Rausch, 2012) And by the way: Middle management invests 50–60 % of their working time into meetings, top management up to 90 %! (Siegert, 2007)
So, how can we improve our meetings, to make them worth the investment? We can remodel them into a touchpoint that communicates the values and strengths of our brand consistently and authentically!
When meetings are supposed to reflect a company’s culture, they need to be formed by its own people. Therefore, it makes sense to jointly work out the framework for a meeting with all its participants. To test out what works best for the individual group, I recommend to try the following three meeting prototypes and reflect on them together.
Even though the new rituals, rules, and processes might feel formal or strict in the beginning, you will get used to them quickly and recognize how helpful it is to remind each other of the behavior we ideally want to stick to.
Meeting prototype #1: rituals
The first prototype focuses on creating rituals and setting the stage by doing check-ins at the beginning of a meeting and a check-out at the end of a meeting.
For the check-in, everyone sits down at the beginning and answers a given question one after the other. This question has a substantial impact on the atmosphere of a meeting, so choose it wisely. If you feel like more people are attending the meeting than actually needed, check-in with the question “What am I here for today?” If the mood is very low, ask yourselves, “What happened last week, that I’d like to celebrate?” The go-to question is simply “Today I am …”
For the check-out, it’s common to reflect on the meeting itself. Guiding questions could be: “What did you take away from this meeting?” or “How did you perceive this meeting?”
To install a routine like that can have uncountable benefits: A colleague’s bad mood can be identified as such and empathy is being encouraged; the focus of the meeting can be set, and important news can be shared. Also, the meeting doesn’t start nor end before everyone is ready and all set.
You have one participant who never seems to make a full stop? Just bring a 60-second sandglass and pass it around.
Meeting prototype #2: meeting rules
This prototype asks the participants to collectively formulate a set of rules they want to commit to for their meetings – for inspiration, you could turn to your company’s values and derive meeting rules from them. Once the rules are collected, chose the ones everyone supports and write each of them down on separate cards. At the beginning of the next meeting, each participant chooses one of the rules and explains how he or she will take care of its compliance.
In one of the meetings I attend regularly, we formulated the rule “We’re present and don’t make use of our laptops or cellphones during the meeting.” The attendees started closing the laptops of their peers with an apologetic smile very soon, and all the sudden everyone was focused during the meetings – even without a card.
Meeting prototype #3: decision making
The third prototype aims at structuring the agenda of a meeting by classifying its items into three categories. Before a new topic is opened, the presenter of the matter has to state what the desired output is: a decision, information, or support.
From my experience, this takes quite some discipline as it’s difficult to reflect on the cause of the topic you set on the agenda in the beginning. If it doesn’t work, you can also formulate some questions that everyone has to answer when putting a topic on the agenda. For example: What is your desired outcome of this meeting regarding the topic? How much time must be planned in for this topic? What are your preferred next steps here?
If a decision is needed for the matter, try not to take it solely by voting democratically. There is a method called “safe enough to try” that I strongly encourage you to test in this third prototype. The method is simple: A suggestion can only be rejected if there is either a really good reason not to do it or a better idea. Taking your decisions like this will speed up the process, encourage constructive feedback, and bolder decision making. Both are needed for a modern, agile way of working.
It goes without saying that there needs to be one session at the end of the prototyping phase to collect feedback on each meeting prototype and to decide on what elements to implement into your meeting culture.
In my meetings, we don’t start without a check-in, and no one leaves without a check-out. Everyone guards one rule throughout the meeting, and a few questions need to be answered to put a topic on the agenda. But this might be different for your meeting. Ineffective chatting at the beginning of your meeting is part of your heartfelt and close company culture? Then leave it be! It is not about perfectionating your meetings to maximum efficiency but to make them reflect your brand’s values and getting things done at the same time. It is about sitting in a meeting one day, thinking: “If this was the first touchpoint of a new employee with by brand, I would be proud of what we stand for.” Let’s play
If this read was inspiring to you and you now want to test some meeting prototypes, you can download an open file with a sample set of meeting rules for meeting prototype number 2. Click on the links below to print them out, spread them, make them your own.
_Anika Jessen is Manager Corporate Strategy & Communications
_Design of meeting rules by Hannes Wiest, design intern at MetaDesign Berlin
Mosvick, R. K.& Nelson, R. B. (1996). We've Got to Start Meeting Like This ¬– A Guide to Successful Meeting Management. Indiana, USA: Park Avenue Productions
Rausch, A. (2012). Steigerung der Meeting Performance als Managementaufgabe. Controlling & Management, 53 (6), 376-383.
Schell Marketing Consulting (2008). Meeting-Kultur in europäischen Unternehmen: Eine multinationale Langzeit-Untersuchung in Deutschland, Österreich, Frankreich, Großbritannien und Schweden (seit 2002). www.schell-marketing-consulting.de: München.
Siegert, W. (2007). Konferenz mit Ziel und Effizienz: Sparen Sie viel Zeit und Geld!. Renningen: expert-verlag.