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Why business leaders shouldn’t hurry to follow Elon Musk out of meetings

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Musk hit the headlines when a leaked email revealed he told his staff to walk out of unproductive meetings. He argued that “it’s not rude to leave, it’s rude to make someone stay and waste their time”.

But is that really the best way to do business? If a meeting seems pointless you should question why it’s happening in the first place. Leaving it altogether is an extreme response. Especially when there are better ways of working and managing the process that are being overlooked.

There are ways to enhance meetings and ensure they serve their purpose, from having a clear agenda and circulating necessary reading material in advance, to having a timer on the wall. None of this is anything new though. It’s all well established practice and yet despite this, there’s still no question that time is being wasted – just look at estimates highlighting the hours spent by businesses in meetings.

The bigger question then, is what the solution should be. How can businesses drive more productive, effective and purposeful meetings? The answer lies in data. Our research suggests a typical meeting is around 80% preparation and delivery, with only 20% being used for discussion and action.

In a data-driven meeting though, you suddenly start to see just 20% of time going towards the planning, with the rest set aside for action. In many cases it’s lower as everyone is immersed in the data before the meeting even begins. Some meetings won’t need to happen in the first place, as everyone already has access to the information that would be presented.

Data-driven means it’s structured, and based on a shared set of visuals containing live information on things like revenue, stock levels and marketing spend. It’s like a dashboard, but it has content and cards designed to help assess progress, inform discussion, drive action and generally reverse the balance of a typical meeting.

It’s a really strong example of digital transformation in action and it represents a huge opportunity, as analyst house IDC recently predicted that by adopting new technologies and changing the way people work on a daily basis it could generate an extra $18 trillion for businesses worldwide.

The right system can flag alerts immediately, so rather than waiting for a meeting to present or discuss, it’s there for everyone to see and action. The old adage is everyone being on the same page, but in the modern business world it should be everyone on the same data. Especially when you consider Musk’s comments as an example.

Unproductive meetings are not a good thing, we know that. But with real-time data that’s then made accessible throughout the business, not only will better meetings take place, but some won’t have to happen at all. You don’t need to present facts and figures if it’s all there on your mobile phone or desktop and everyone already has access to it.

The real challenge then, isn’t having the confidence to stand up and walk out of a meeting. It’s challenging your business to get up to speed with the digital transformation and make the information you already have – the data – work harder, which leaves more time for the important things.

So while Musk might be the one hitting the headlines, you can be the one strengthening your business’ bottom line.

Ian Tickle is the senior vice-president and general manager for EMEA at Domo

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