The notion of the Monday meeting, which I’ve referred to in several posts, first emerged when we spoke with the CEO of a company in India about how leaders can increase their organizations’ bias for action, a key component of Founder’s MentalitySM. This is how the CEO described what he did:
“We had a huge problem with slow decision making. The executive team talked about this a lot and committed to make decisions quicker. But what we discovered was that it didn’t matter how fast we made decisions, the problem was that too many conflicts stayed at lower levels and never reached us,” he said. “The people on our teams were losing all their energy in peer-to-peer fights [see “Embracing conflict“] and we weren’t doing anything to help.
“So we introduced the Monday meeting. It was a social contract with our people. As executives, we agreed to set aside our Mondays to help resolve any conflicts that were slowing actions; someone just needed to bring the conflict to our attention. We’d do whatever it took and stay all night if need be. In turn, our people had to commit to not letting inaction fester for more than a week. No excuses. They had to elevate decisions that were creating bottlenecks,” he explained.
“This social contract has been highly successful, but it evolved over three stages. In the first stage, we just unlocked a lot of energy. The executive team stayed late a lot of nights to fight things through and we learned to love conflict and we learned to trust each other. We really sped up the organization, but at a cost: Everyone started looking to us to solve things. That led to stage two.”
He continued: “In stage two, the executive team focused as much on decisions we wouldn’t make as decisions we would. We would very often call up two people on either side of the conflict and say, ‘Look, your day job is to resolve issues like this. As leaders of the company, you should debate and then make a good decision. Stop looking to us to sort out every issue.’ In this stage, we were really trying to change the underlying behaviors that led to decisions rising up to us. This was a lot tougher than stage one. Our end goal was to speed up decision making, but that sometimes meant we elected to take a bit more time to change the behaviors.
“We’re now in stage three. As an executive team we’re looking for where the patterns are—what fundamental issues seem to regularly hold up decisions. We are not simply trying to make decisions, but to see if a broader organizational fix will keep more of these decisions down with the frontline. Again, we’re trying to balance our desire for pace with our desire to fix the fundamentals.
“Overall, though, the social contract has been transformational,” he said, summing up. “Our people know they can’t blame the organization for more than four working days. After that, they need to bring us into the loop to unlock things. And now that we’ve signaled elevating a conflict should be the last resort, we are seeing our leaders frequently sort out decisions themselves. It’s always a balance, but we’re getting it right most of the time.”
That was the first time we heard a CEO describe a Monday meeting in this way, but by no means the last. Another CEO we know uses his Monday meetings to make sure the organization is debating the benefits of the similar versus the benefits of the different. Still another keeps his Monday afternoons free, signaling to the organization that he is setting aside his own agenda to dismantle any obstacles to action. As he told me, “I didn’t need a formal meeting with the whole executive team every week, but I told everyone to keep Mondays free in case things bubble up. We can’t tell the organization to move fast if they can only operate within our formal governance structure.”
This is the major point of Monday meetings. Everything you do signals the cadence you want from your people. Most companies, appropriately, are locked into a corporate calendar of monthly meetings, or six annual innovation events, or four big offsites and so on. The problem is that employees start to believe that it is your desired metabolic rate, and they slow down everything to fit the rhythms of that calendar. If the executive team meets monthly, decisions can fester for 28 to 31 days. If the innovation council meets six times a year, then decisions fester for two months. The Monday meeting cuts through all of this. It shouts to the organization, “Don’t be fooled! Our metabolic rate is daily and weekly. You have hours, not months, to resolve bottlenecks, or you’ll hear from us.”
Absent a Monday meeting, what signals are you sending?