Executive talk time – is it too much?

clockAn issue in many organizations is lengthy and unproductive business meetings. For instance, I recently participated in several executive reviews, all of which included non-stop talk from the executive and ultimately added minimal value. My initial response was that these people need to talk less and listen more. However, I feel the issue of executive talk time is far more complex. In one of the executive reviews, the meeting was driven by a program manager whose job it was to get support for a specific strategy. The “official” purpose of this meeting was to confirm the executive strategy for entering the market and to gain executive support. This would then lead to changes in sales and service. In all actuality, the goal of the meeting was to get the executive to support the allocation of resources for these initiatives. In order to get the resource approval, the program manager asked the executive meaningful questions about the strategy. This was a way to get the executive to talk long enough, so that by the time they reached the proposal the executive thought he came up with it himself and was naturally all for it. This approach is typical in most organizations – the executive dominates the conversation and in turn receives ego gratification, a concept outlined in See Why Smart People Fail by Sydney Finkelstein. This is not the best way to conduct business but, it happens because the executive controls the limited resources that others want. It struck me that it was appropriate for the participants to discuss and re-affirm the strategy. But, it was not appropriate for the executive to continue speaking and leave very little time for others to get a word in. I joked with the program manager afterwards that the executive “really likes to talk.” In then end though, the program manager did get the “order” she wanted, or at least appeared to. To reduce executive talk and give others a chance to voice their own thoughts and opinions, the session should have had three distinct parts. First of all, the executive should speak first. Then he or she should re-affirm the view and have others test that view. Next, the participants speak by presenting their implementation, initiatives and executive tests. Finally, the participants and executive should work together to fine tune both strategies. I suggest they determine what can and should be implemented and then figure out what tactics are best to ensure the strategy is achieved. The challenge is that the executive needs to understand that he or she is not the master of all wisdom, which requires some serious humility. To achieve this level of humility the executive should ask others for their perceptions, response and what order they actually want. The executive should then ask participants to present that order and their reasoning behind it. And lastly he or she should have everyone comment on alignment of the strategy and order. This would allow for far more effective decision making and leadership… but is anyone out there listening?]]>

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