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The Meeting Before the Meeting

There’s a subtle yet powerful way to make change happen. It involves doing your homework and some legwork before a big meeting. I call it the ‘meeting before the meeting.’

Larger businesses often rely upon leadership meetings or Board meetings to make big decisions. The person or teams bringing requests for approval have big challenges to get it right. Rather than waiting for the final big meeting to happen, you need to do prep work. You need to work the process.

The Back Story

I learned about this approach in my banking days. My bank was a bit old school. We had Loan Committees that approved big deals coming into the bank. By this, I mean the loan requests from customers. Millions of dollars were at stake.

Businesses needed the bank to help finance operations and growth. The bank had to make sound and solid loan decisions to keep the bank stable and profitable. It was a difficult balancing act. Loan officers worked very hard to build the banking relationships. When a customer decided to ask for help, it was important for the officer to be able to make things happen.

This meant going to loan committee.

The committee prep work was daunting unto itself. Analysts combed through spreadsheets and the customer financials. Proposals were carefully written and justified. But it would be certain death to go into the loan committee without doing something else first.

The Meeting Before the Meeting

This is where this special step became so important. The meeting before the meeting.

It meant a diligent loan officer would walk the proposal to every member of the loan committee for a one on one review and discussion. Basically the LO was having to lobby a vote from each member.

Our ‘big’ committee, where only the largest deals got done, had a single ‘no’ vote rule. One vote ‘no’ meant disapproval. The customer request would be denied and the LO would have to start over.

From a career standpoint, it was also death to an LO. Not literally, but figuratively. You couldn’t loose many and be considered a good credit person. Your career could hit a ceiling real fast.

However, using the meeting before the meeting helped grease the skids, oil the machine, and smooth the glide. LOs learned pretty fast how to get real good at lobbying their deals. They learned which senior officers asked what questions. They carefully crafted the right answer to persuade each committee member to vote yes.

On one hand, we were in the business to make loans, but we thought they needed to be good loans. There were plenty of ways to make sure that happened. By letting the committee members have a shot at the deal without risking the one no vote, LOs could make adjustments to the package. It helped them gain insights that could otherwise be embarrassing in front of the whole committee.

Then, when the big day came to actually present to committee, it was often more a formality rather than a process. Of course there might be group discussions, but usually everyone already knew what the vote would be. There were seldom any surprises.

Use in Your Business

Regardless of the business or industry you may find yourself, if you have these larger organizational meetings to make big decisions, you can take a page from this book.

By investing in the preparation and effort to garner support via the meeting before the meeting, you can greatly improve your chances of success.

I had a client recently who was responsible for a big organizational change that had been mandated by senior leadership. While the overall change was understood, there were strategic decisions that had to be made by a leadership council. These decisions drove P&L results and impacted vertical lines of business.

It was going to be vital that the council agreed to the plans that had been designed. Otherwise the whole change initiative would have to be scrapped and redesigned.

I recommended the meeting before the meeting. My client and her team got busy arranging the sessions. One by one they huddled with the individual members of the council. All of it was done before the big meeting.

When the day arrived for the vote, the presentation was made (with great edits and adjustments suited for exact satisfaction of various members). The vote was unanimous YES!

My client and her team came away victorious. Champions for the cause for change and recognized for great work to get there.

As we talked after the fact, she shared with me how powerful that little extra effort became. It helped galvanize the change effort. It crystallized the clarity and sealed the deal.

You should try this approach the next time you are trying to push through a big initiative at work. Take time to make these meetings before the meeting happen. You’ll be glad you did.

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