Forget Fancy Perks. Change Your Meeting Culture To Keep Talent

The concept of a ‘job for life’ holds little interest to the talented youngsters entering the workforce today. But even the most old school big businesses can up their staff retention game. And it all starts with changing the way they run meetings.

The corporate world is full of archaic curiosities. I mean, who wears a tie to work anymore (unless someone dies of boredom?)? Fax machines? Desktop computers? A job for life? They have as much place in the modern office as sexual harassment and smoking rooms.

I exaggerate, of course, but let’s be honest: the prospect of a 30 year career at an established business is pretty outdated – as more and more millennials eschew middle management at a multinational for a two year stint at a small-fry startup. As a result, a very real employee retention problemhas come to light.

There are stacks of reasons why this is happening. To some extent it’s a symptom of the economic zeitgeist; a world in which youngsters who saw their parents lose jobs are understandably much more cautious. While many businesses seek to overcome these issues by addressing everything from flexible working to talent management, in fact the solution might be a lot simpler than many assume: meetings.

Fewer, shorter meetings.

Meeting culture is highly toxic. Think of it as a gateway drug for employee apathy. One bad experience leads to another. And another. A single unproductive meeting results in unestablished aims, objectives, and outputs – wasted time and money. But they also inflict another, deeper wound: a cultural one.

Culture Clash

Company culture is often seen as having a direct correlation with customer service. And it does. But a business’ belief system, mission statement, and vision is also aligned with employees’ behaviours towards each other. If a toxic meeting culture persists, it could be symptomatic of a wider problem: one that will ultimately affect the company’s reputation as an employer.

Are our management egos so inflated that we assume everyone called into our meeting actually wants to be there and hangs on every single word we say? The HIPPO’s (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) days are numbered. It’s on those in charge to make our meetings more engaging; more structured, relevant, and purposeful.

Those familiar with software development will have heard of Agile methodology, Kanban boards, and other time/process management-focused phenomena. Pecha Kucha– a Japanese discipline designed to keep presentations short and sweet – is gaining momentum globally. So why can’t these things be applied to meetings?

They can, but they need championing. They require top down support and bottom up implementation in large companies. But the biggest stumbling block is the fact both managers and employees are too caught up in the vicious cycle of legacy business behaviours

Teams working together to improve meetings

Action Speaks Louder

Savvy operators know that work is one giant pitch. All good managers realize that getting staff excited about the possibilities is so much more effective that boring them into submission. But even so, millennials are a generation of action. They’d rather be addressing the issues themselves than talking about ways to adopt initiatives.

It’s not just work-life balance that matters to this 56 million-strong generation of employees: work-work balance plays a big part. By this I mean the need for meaningful work – the chance to make an impact through what they’re doing – something they can’t do if they’re stuck in meetings. In such cases, actual work gets pushed into their own time, which never makes for contented employees. Can you really blame them for leaving you to shack up at startup?

Not all businesses are startups and tech companies – and nor should they be. However,

those climbing the ranks of bigger companies can learn a thing or two about keeping good people around from them.

I’ve had the opportunity to interview a stack of leading employees from a number of successful tech companies in my quest to understand meeting culture – including Evernote, Buffer, and Kickstarter; as well as Spotify, Airbnb, Dropbox, and PayPal – and one of the common traits I’ve noticed is that a good deal of preparation work is undertake even before the meeting takes place; to ensure that each one has clear objectives.

Many of these highly successful businesses categorize their meetings into short ‘information sharing sessions’ or longer, more in-depth task driven get-togethers. Often, meeting moderators or facilitators are appointed to ensure times and topics are kept. And next steps are always outlined to optimize post-meeting productivity and eliminate time-wasting second meetings.

Ultimately, companies that entertain laborious meetings and a culture of passive listening, bad planning, and meetings-for-meetings-sake will fail to attract the brightest and the best – who will seek sanctuary where they can actually get on with the work they’re paid to do.

Sure, they may have to attend the odd meeting; but when the result of each one is a well defined objective, rather than a license to procrastinate; they suddenly become a lot less of a chore.


Thomas is a co-founder and CEO of Pinstriped. His career has spanned several industries and companies, from finance to digital marketing to start-ups. After thousands of hours wasted in unproductive meetings, he’s on a mission to change meeting culture. You can find him on Twitter.