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A new kind of meeting

3 min read  |   14 April, 2020   By Jonathan Richards


Leading a small business through a crisis requires a very different kind of leadership. It’s much more hands on and intentional. Ben Horowitz describes it as being a ‘war time CEO’, as opposed to a ‘peace time CEO’, in his book ‘The hard thing about hard things’.

Very early on we started to form an action plan based around a simple Green, Amber, Red status. This plan guides our actions, measures progress and informs / reassures all our stakeholders.

traffic light action plan

It was obvious that we were already beyond Green and heading towards Amber so we started to take appropriate steps. It wasn’t going to be business as usual but with appropriate action our business would be safe. My heart goes out to the businesses that needed to instantly go into survival mode or worse, shut down.

Being a war time CEO means constantly analysing what’s happening, reviewing every action and making fast decisions. Its a time to be agile and flexible, taking input from many different sources.

Going through this process at Breathe, we discovered very early on that our leadership team meetings needed to change in two important ways:

  1. They need to be weekly rather than monthly; and
  2. The agenda needed to change to being more intentional.

We took our standard agenda and modified it as follows:

1. Check in – each person scores 1-10 on how they are feeling at that moment about business and personal. Score below 6 and we talk about it. This is standard to all our meetings.

2. Acknowledgements and living values – again this is sandard to all our meetings. The intention is to highlight the great things that we’ve noticed around the business.

3. Team Pulse – this is a new agenda item. Every attendee has 5 minutes to report how their team is feeling and how effectively it is operating with specific reference to the crisis. The goal is to surface any friction.

4. Actions from last meeting – nothing special or new about this agenda item.

5. Business update – We’ve modified this to be punchier and more granular than normal. It’s a short, sharp intake of KPIs. Actions are agreed and recorded.

6. Financials – this section is where we review actual vs the revised Amber forecast. Every leadership meeting should have a financials section but this is just a bit more focussed. Actions are agreed and recorded.

7. AOB – we don’t like AOB that is raised on the day. If there is something to discuss then it should added to the agenda in advance to allow thinking time and avoid hijacking the meeting. We need to get better at this!

8. Wrap up. This section has three parts:

  • Actions – We use this time to make sure everyone is clear about each agreed action. The new thing here is that we have added another person to attend the meetings whose sole job is to capture actions.
  • WWW – what went well in the meeting
  • EBI – even better if. How could the meeting have been better.

None of this is rocket science but we’ve found it to be a good format for where the business is at present. I don’t doubt that it will change again as we try new things and learn what works.

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