Kill The Snake. Reduce Meeting Fatigue.

I don’t decline meetings because I dislike you. I decline meetings because they waste my time.

Those words, uttered from my mouth earlier this week to our global marketing team, are a tenant to two things that set my foundation as a productive leader. The first is to always use Radical Candor, and the second is to always Kill the Snake. The latter comes from a quote of Ross Perot from a Fortune interview when describing why he left GM:

I come from an environment where, if you see a snake, you kill it. At GM, if you see a snake, the first thing you do is go hire a consultant on snakes. Then you get a committee on snakes, and then you discuss it for a couple of years. The most likely course of action is — nothing. You figure, the snake hasn’t bitten anybody yet, so you just let him crawl around on the factory floor. We need to build an environment where the first guy who sees the snake kills it.

Heads are nodding, because we’ve all been there. Take a gander at your calendar now for tomorrow, what does it look like? It’s probably full of blocks of time that people have taken up because they believe that the best way to do work is to get you in a small conference room, where the HDMI cable doesn’t actually work, spend the first 15 minutes trying to get into the Go To Meeting, and then eventually start to talk about a topic that easily could have been done via archaic mediums including the venerable fax machine.

No offense, but if this is the culture you have cultivated you are bound to fail. It might not be this year, or next, but it will happen and it will be painful for all your employees. You’ll lose talented people who value you their time completing work versus watching you fumble with whether you press ‘8’ or ‘9’ to access an outside line. You begin to feel more run down and challenged to understand why you are doing what you are doing. Yet, we consistently allow this to happen and whether you are a leader in title or not, it is imperative that you begin to model better behavior.

But how can I reduce Meeting Fatigue?

Meetings are often set up under the guise that you are bringing people together to discuss a topic and make a decision. The dirty little secret is that many folks set meetings in order to cover their bases (or asses) and because that is what their boss did for so long. Meeting Fatigue (MF) can often times be inherited, and since we get more used to having me oetingsr setting meetings, we actually don’t know what to do when our calendar is clear. People who have been managed in a MG environment then actually start to believe that attending meetings is doing work. And the vicious cycle continues.

Because Meeting Fatigue can now be part of a worker’s DNA it is not easy pushing them out of this comfort zone. But I do believe there are a few actions you can take, today even, to make a difference. Granted many of these might be easier to implement if you have a title bestowed upon you, and in most MF companies over respect for titles is also a challenge, but I do believe everyone can choose at least one of these to try.

This is NOT a list of ways to have better meetings, there are plenty of those out there, this is how to Kill The Snake:

  1. Be patient and communicate your intentions; like we said above, this is akin to altering DNA.
  2. Choose one day a week and block it off. Call it Zero-Meeting Friday (that’s my day) and communicate it to all the land.
  3. NEVER accept back-t0-back meetings.
  4. Decline meetings that have no clear agenda or call to action, and tell the person why.
  5. Decline meetings you know should be combined with another meeting, and tell the person why.
  6. Block out your calendar so people can’t schedule meetings, but clearly title these blocks so people know what you’re doing.

Give those a try and let me know how it works, just don’t schedule a meeting.