Unleashing the Power of Meetings: A Well Planned Meeting can Increase Productivity, Boost Morale and Generate New Ideas

In February during The NATSO Show 2016, three members of the Future Leaders Steering Council will facilitate what for many has become the highlight of The NATSO Show— the Great Ideas! for Independent Operators Workshop.Corey Berkstresser, general manager at Lee Hi Travel Plaza, Gerald Daniel, chief operating officer at Liberty Petroleum Distributors, and Herb Hargraves, director of fuel and retail sales for Cash Magic, will come together to guide conversations that will help show attendees uncover their next great idea. To help them prepare for their facilitation gig, they met with NATSO staff and Jeffery Cufaude, a meeting facilitator, to learn more about managing group dynamics and maximizing attendees’ contributions.  Berkstresser, Hargraves, Daniel and Cufaude sat down with Stop Watch to share their insights on what contributes to an effective meeting—whether it is with staff, peers or customers.



As director of fuel and retail sales for Cash Magic, Hargraves understands the value of regular meetings—both with upper management as well as the front-line employees. Hargraves said team meetings can bring everyone up to date on the most current way of thinking within the organization as well as how the property and the company is doing. “That makes them more comfortable and more productive employees,” he said. Not only are meetings an opportunity for employees to learn from management, they give management an opportunity to learn from employees who are down in the trenches. “Because they are listening to the customers and interact with them, it gives the executive level and mid-level executives a chance to talk with the other supervisors in the ranks and the front-line staff,” Hargraves said. While business meetings can be valuable tools within an organization, simply calling a meeting doesn’t mean it will be effective— planning and preparation does. To make the most of everyone’s time, truckstop and travel plaza managers said they spend time establishing the goals of a meeting, drafting agendas and creating talking points.



Hargraves said effective meetings start well ahead of the actual event. “Spending more time on pre-planning the exact flow of how you want the meeting to go is crucial to leading a successful meeting,” he said, adding that identifying what the meeting should accomplish, what attendees are going to talk about, how the meeting facilitator will transition from topic to topic and what he or she will do for roundtable settings are important elements of the pre-planning process. The timing of meetings can be important, Daniel said. He suggests meetings start at five minutes past the hour. “Why do meetings always start on the hour? It takes five minutes to get off a previous meeting, hence meeting should start at five minutes on the hours,” he said. In work meetings, Berkstresser said it is important to determine which staff members truly need to attend. “Only include employees that need to be a part of the topics being discussed. Before the meeting starts, make sure you give them the information they need so they understand why you’ve included them at the meeting,” he said.





 Hargraves said that it is important for everyone attending a meeting to understand what the expectations are. Utilizing an agenda, outlining the timing of breaks and taking care of housekeeping items, such as where the restrooms are, can help with this. “It is important for the human element,” he said. Berkstresser said it is also helpful to set the tone for the meeting as soon as it starts. “The opening of the meeting is the best time to get everyone excited about being there. You can let them know it is going to be an energetic meeting and that you’re looking for their feedback to make it a success,” he said.



 It is not surprising that within a group setting, meetings can sometimes get off topic, but Daniel said keeping the meeting on track is crucial to its success. “Stay flexible but have an agenda,” he said. Hargraves said it helps to be assertive if a conversation gets too far off course. “You can’t just sit and listen to the conversation happening,” he said. “You can say, ‘I don’t want to be rude, but I’m the facilitator and it is my duty to interrupt the meeting,’” he said, adding that a white board or presentation notepad can be an effective tool to help the group regain focus. “If we get off of topic, I’ll say, ‘That isn’t what we’re here to talk about today, but I think that is a great point. Let’s put it up here so we don’t forget about it. We can discuss it after the meeting is over.’” Simply taking a five-minute break can keep a meeting from getting off track, Daniel said. So can taking a few minutes to go over what has happened so far. “Summarize the conversation, check for accuracy, pose a question that allows for some level of agreement, and ask if they all agree to this,” he said.  Cufaude said, it is important for those leading a meeting to keep an eye on the clock. By planning how they’ll manage the time throughout the meeting, they can keep control of the clock, which can be particularly important during interactive portions of a meeting.



To encourage participants to speak up during the meeting, Daniel said he provides verbal cues, such as, “Who has an idea on _____?” and “Let’s hear from someone who has shed some light on _____?” Daniel also checks in on how the meeting is going, and asks participants to chime in and give their input while providing some guidance. “When asking a question, give them an example to better understand the question being asked,” Daniel said, adding that it can be helpful to use real-life examples rather than hypothetical situations. Both Daniel and Hargraves said it is important to find ways to include attendees who aren’t as comfortable speaking up. “Introverts participate too. Just because they are not speaking, does not mean they are not engaged or participating. Give them space to gather their ideas,” Daniel said. To encourage participants to speak up during the meeting, Hargraves walks through the room of attendees rather than standing up in front. “When I’m talking about a subject, I’ll make eye contact with someone in the back of the room. That way it makes them more comfortable if they have a question,” he said. Cufaude said it could also help to let people reflect and write responses on their own before sharing with others and allow participants to “opt-in” to when they share rather than always going around the room in order.




There are a number of times when it is important for truckstop and travel plaza managers to hold meetings. Daniel utilizes weekly face-to-face meetings with staff, which last about an hour and a half. He also holds daily 15-minute calls in the morning with key individuals in the company. “These are line-up calls, where we try to start the day off with positive messages, and highlight the most important thing that we need to do today. We try not to solve all the world’s problems on this call,” he said.

Hargraves regularly takes part in meetings with his peers as well as meetings with upper management, regional management and front-line employees at the store. In addition to sharing information, Hargraves said he learns about new product and service ideas during the sessions. He suggests that management meet at least quarterly with employees, which will increase their comfort level with what is going on in the business and provide regular opportunities for sharing ideas. To make the most of the different types of meetings he has, Hargraves said he adapts his communication style depending on the meeting. “At a regional meeting you give a global view. With the store manager, you’re talking about what the region is doing. With the front line, it is about their key job functions on a daily basis and more of a hands-on view,” he said. It can also be helpful for travel plaza employees to meet with drivers. “We have tried to bridge the gap between consumer and retailer. If there is a complaint, we say, ‘We’re glad you brought that to our attention. We’re going to address it and this is what we can do,’” Hargraves said. “Sometimes it is a hard bridge to gap between the retailer and the consumer, but we do it by ensuring the driver’s concern has been heard.”



Once the meeting is coming to a close, Berkstresser said it is helpful to clarify what’s next. “If you spell out the next steps, it makes follow-up more likely. You can agree on what needs to be done, when it will be done and who will do it,” he said, adding that you can make a list and distribute it after the meeting. “Then you can follow up with the employees who are responsible and see how it’s going and if they need support.”

via Business Feeds

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