April 16, 2024

From Dollars to Sense: How Wasteful Meetings Chip Away at Your Bottom Line

by thebsbook in Uncategorized0 Comments

How “Death By Meeting” Is No Longer a Saying To Laugh At

Years ago, I worked at a high-tech company in Silicon Valley that had large all-employee events every few months. They went to great lengths to get a few thousand of us in one place, have catering, swag and the like. Usually, there were one or two C-level speakers who would read us their slides. The expectation was that we would clap for them and cheer them on, even if the slides were awful or we didn’t agree.

Many extroverts and some executives would tout this approach as amazing. But did it move the dial? Did we serve our customers better? Were we more efficient? Did we produce more? Were we more innovative? Wait, were any of these results even roughly tracked?

You guessed it, in a word - no. Most of the engineering-based organizations were introverts; most had very strong tech skills and were used to consuming massive amounts of information digitally. Most were used to acting quickly.

One day, I did something unpopular at the time - I put a price tag on those meetings.

Now, social gatherings at work that build camaraderie and serve all who are there (not just the c-levels presenting) can have great value. There are many soft gains to be had by socializing. I’d give bonus points to these meetings if there’s a way for participation and two-way communication and if speakers/leaders aren’t the highest-paid people in the room. However, many of you may be nodding that you have experienced large meetings that aren’t that effective.

Aside from getting over it, do the rough math in your head - at least for yourself - about what this meeting costs financially. You may want to keep this to yourself. This can be a great validation for feelings you may have that this meeting is not useful or even wasteful. Here goes an example:

  • 100 Junior Engineers @ $x/hour for 3 hours
  • 300 Mid-Level Engineers @ $x/hour for 3 hours
  • 50 Senior Engineers @ x/hour for 3 hours
  • 25 Managers @ x/hour for 3 hours
  • 25 Sales Execs @ x/hour for 3 hours
  • 25 Marketing Staff @ x/hour for 3 hours
  • 10 VPs @ x/hour for 3 hours
  • 5 Execs @ x/hour for 3 hours
  • 300 Misc Staff @ x/hour for 3 hours
  • Catering for everyone at $15/person
  • Room rental for 3 hours (if applicable)
  • Misc (travel, parking, security, etc.)

With the meeting I’m referring to here, the grand total was $83,500.

So, did this $83k meeting produce a positive ROI? Such a thing could be measured by employee feedback, customer feedback, financial changes, or other measures that make sense to an organization. And to be fair, soft changes can be harder to measure. Spoiler alert – they weren’t rated in any way and to suggest any of this diligence was a trip to the principal’s office (or similar).

One simple way to assess if this meeting is useful is just to look at yourself in the mirror. Imagine you are talking to one of your customers who is struggling financially. Then say, “I was a good steward of your money today. Thank you.” If that feels awful, gross and dishonest - then that meeting was probably not super useful to your customers. You can do the same exercise for employees if you are a manager - “I made great use of your precious time today.”

Again, not every meeting can be monetized like this. And maybe they should be, to at least shape the number of meetings and outcomes that can occur.

Yes, today, many of these meetings are held online, such as on Zoom and Microsoft Teams, so there’s no catering, room rental, or other in-person expenses. There’s still an investment in staff time, even if they are multi-tasking or chatting with others about whatever the PowerPoints say. It’s also likely that the outcomes of these meetings are not measured like other work products.

In the case of my previous company, the costs of those meetings totaled over $1M per year. The leadership was set on having these meetings because of tradition. If they were being honest, the meetings were for the dopamine rush of people clapping for them in a large setting. There was an unspoken message that we are the executives, and you need to be a team player on this. This is very much their call as an executive, and that role can be challenging. If the ideas employees share to make changes are seen as noise or in the way of progress, it can make sense they would be ignored. However, nobody should be surprised if these meetings didn’t have outcomes that would move the company forward.

That company collapsed due to high overhead, being disrupted by other technologies, and missing the mark on some of their directions. They weren’t alone, as this was common in the late 1990s for tech companies. While Monday morning quarterbacking isn’t fair, I still wonder if a few little tweaks to measurement, efficiencies and feedback would have occurred, would that company still exist today?

So, aside from my personal experience with this one organization, what do the many BS things corporations result in? What are the costs and people impact on a larger scale, and what are the trends?

As it turns out, corporate BS issues are more significant than just the buzz of stories at happy hour. Corporate BS has major financial impacts and wastes the potential of their workforce. Here are three findings about these impacts:

  1. “Inefficiencies cost many organizations as much as 20 to 30 percent of their revenue each year.” says publishing giant Wiley (1). If true, it amounts to $8.2T of waste a year for the USA alone. To put that into perspective, that’s larger than the GDP (all the outputs) of Germany and Japan combined. This is also 10 times the size of Amazon’s annual revenue in 2022.
  2. In this modern day of automation and AI, it’s stunning to learn that nearly half of employees are still manually copying and pasting data - or hand entering it. According to an IDC White Paper (2), “56% of information workers often have to print out a document and then scan it.”
  3. The same study above found that those executives shared their staff, on average “spends more than one-third (36%) of their time on administrative tasks — and less than two thirds (64%) on their core job function.”

Meetings, done right, can be incredibly useful and move a team forward. However, more often than not, they are sloppy, inefficient, de-motivating and expensive.

If you’d like to learn how to avoid this, and also how to create something different, be sure to check out my new book Boost Your Bullsh*t Resilience At Work, available on Amazon!


1.            By:  Marina Martin  and Updated: 03-26-2016, By:  Marina Martin  and, and, M. M., & 03-26-2016, U. (n.d.). How inefficiency negatively impacts your business. dummies. https://www.dummies.com/article/business-careers-money/business/operations/how-inefficiency-negatively-impacts-your-business-169146/

2.            Bridging the document disconnect in sales - adobe. (n.d.-a). https://esign.adobe.com/rs/345-TTI-184/images/idc-bridging-the-document-disconnect-sales.pdf



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