AFTER THOUGHT: Meeting Challenges

Q I have been voted in as chair for our monthly operations meetings. It is important that they run well as they have big impact on the company. It is an honour to be made the chair but I have never done this before and am not sure I will be able to control the meeting as some of the operational managers have strong views and can often be quite parochial. Help.

A The thought of chairing meeting can be scary for many people. There is sense of responsibility that goes with the role and often the new chair is worried that they will fail the imagined challenge. There are some basic and very practical things you can do to make sure it all works well for you.
First, think through clearly what your role is as chair. You are there to bring balance to the meeting. Your job is to make sure each person involved gets say and is able to contribute to the meeting. Often one or two people will be more dominant or verbose than others and one of your main roles is to make sure their input is balanced with the rest.
A second key role is to make sure you bring the discussion to an appropriate conclusion at the right time. If you let it go on too long the meeting won’t achieve its objectives and people will be bored. If you cut it short they will get frustrated. Finally, ensure you draw clear decisions from the meeting that are agreed, understood and documented.
There are some very simple things that you can do to make sure the meeting has an adequate framework. This will give you effective control. Draw up an agenda covering the key items that will be covered in the meeting. Involve attendees in the creation of the agenda and also circulate it before the meeting so that they know what to expect and whether they are expected to do something.
Send out any background papers well before the meeting and make sure that they include short summary and statement of what is required at the meeting. Document all actions resulting from the meeting together on one page rather than have them spread throughout the minutes and make sure to specify who is responsible for its completion and by when. By default this means that you must also ensure minutes are taken of the meeting but they do not need to be detailed. They just need to capture the key points.
Finally, try to make sure that the number of people at the meeting is limited to the number that can comfortably sit around dinner table and have good conversation. I would recommend maximum of eight.
In nutshell when you are chair you are responsible for the process of the meeting as well as its content. If you keep focused on this your meetings will be excellent.

Q My job involves contracting with external suppliers of services to our organisation. I recently went on negotiation skills course and wasn’t very happy with the outcome. We were taught I win/you lose tactics. It didn’t feel right.

A Your course tutor was misguided and living in the past. You should ask for your money back. People have been negotiating with each other since time began. They do it because often seller isn’t sure of the value of what they are selling and the buyer is unsure of what fair price is. Neither party wants to rush in and declare their position immediately as they don’t want to get it wrong and give too much away. This is why auctions and services like TradeMe work so well because they create an environment with structure and clear rules that enable buyers and sellers to find price.
Think about time when you were on the wrong side of win/lose situation. I’ll bet you were dissatisfied and not really happy with what you bought or who you bought it from. You will be very unlikely to go back and repeat the experience. So it isn’t really good business practice to make your customer dissatisfied. That is why in negotiation you should aim for win/win. From the seller’s point of view it will lead to strong reputation and repeat business. The buyer will be happy with their purchase and be more likely to spread the word and repeat their business. In the 1950s and ’60s there was tendency for people negotiating to aim for win/lose situation. However, the world has moved on and competition is intense, both domestically and internationally.
Negotiation is basically about signalling. To work effectively for both parties the initial price or offer should be realistic and not over the top or too low. Otherwise this only serves to confuse the signals and leads to frustration. Also each party should be clear in their communication and even if they don’t respond straight away they should tell the other party when they will respond.
Being realistic and having good communication builds an effective relationship which then leads to trust and in the end win/win outcome.

Kevin Gaunt, FNZIM, FAIM, is CEO of NZIM Auckland and has been senior executive with, and consultant to, some of New Zealand’s largest companies.

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