According to a 1998 U.S. study, the average employee spends 6 hours every week in meetings, and senior managers attend nearly 23 hours. Yes, every week! So it's no surprise they have a reputation for being boring and unproductive. Read on for my top tips to whip your meetings into shape and have your clients clamouring for their business review.
What is the purpose of a quarterly business review?
A quarterly business review (QBR) is an evaluation of metrics and performance of a supplier program over the previous period. It should be linked to overall strategy and objectives and is the results of everyone's activities, interactions and contributions. It's often delivered quarterly so you might also see it called QBR meeting (which stands for—you guessed it—quarterly business review meeting)
It ensures alignment and creates a shared perspective. By that, I mean clarity (what's done, what problems need to be solved and who's doing what) and trust (ideas, learning, commitment and accountability).
10 tips for an effective quarterly business review
1. Get it in the diary. Now.
You're already at a disadvantage if your reviews for the next 12 months are not already in the diary. Why?
- Your clients' diary is likely to be empty so you'll generally get the date of your choice.
- The more advance notice, the more chance you'll get an appointment. If it's January and you ask to meet in June, how can they refuse? If you're asking to meet next week, chances are they might not be able to squeeze you in.
- The reviews will actually happen!
- You can forecast how much preparation time you'll need and become a time management guru
Deliver business reviews promptly - and set your meetings within 4 to 6 weeks of the period end. Who wants to discuss performance for January to March in July? Not me.
Allow enough time. 90 minutes at most. No longer. It can be tough to hold people's attention at the best of times.
Make sure your client books a room, not just time on their calendar. I've delivered plenty of reviews in coffee shops and lobbies and it's not fun. Request the largest room available, so you're confident you have room for everyone if the number of participants expands.
Why not invite your client to visit your office? It's a great chance to host the review with a behind-the-scenes visit and meet the teams that support them day-to-day.
2. Meet before the meeting
If nothing else, do this one thing. Schedule a 30-minute call in advance of the review to have a pre-meeting briefing. Ask your client:
- What are you interested in exploring during the business review?
- Who are your stakeholders?
- What are your goals? What targets do you have as an individual and as a business?
- Has anything changed about your role? Do you have different priorities?
- What are your pain points?
- What are some of the big projects you are working on?
You may already know some of this, but re-confirm. Things might be different since you last met.
Focus on measurable criteria that cover key elements such as cost, quality and compliance.
A business review meeting is about strategy. The purpose is to propel the program forward in a meaningful way.
It is not the time to explore day-to-day issues or rehash the past (but more on that later). It's also not the time to be learning about unexpected trends for the first time. You don't want to appear unprepared. Your client doesn't want to be surprised either, especially in front of the boss.
A pre-meeting is vital to get aligned and deliver a successful review. It helps you gather information, identifies objections, builds support and refines your approach. By the time of the actual meeting, your review will be cohesive and respond to the needs of your client.
3. Invite the right people
Don't do it alone. Don't have a cast of thousands either.
Invite stakeholders familiar with the program and who can make a valuable contribution. Gather decision makers and strategic influencers. You'll have a meaningful discussion on program outcomes and priorities. It's also efficient. You'll gain agreement on tactics and identify (and overcome) obstacles before ending the meeting.
Without the right people, you won't leave the meeting with anything other than homework. You want decisions! You want action!
Don't keep participants any longer than you have to. If they only need to be their 30 minutes, then relieve them of any commitment to stay for the duration. You will get better attendance, more engagement and a great reputation as a meeting host.
Send reminders the day before, or the morning of. Let your stakeholders know how much you're looking forward to their participation and how important their feedback is to the development of the program (translation: make them feel guilty).
During the meeting be on the look out for quiet voices. Not everyone is quick with their opinion - so encourage them to share their feedback.
4. No surprises
Simple rule: make sure everyone knows what the review is about, why they need to be there and what's required of them
"Business Review" is not an agenda.
If you've followed Tip #2 then you're already clear on what you want to discuss and why. Get these into an agenda, but be discerning: not every topic can make the short list. Focus on two or three primary drivers most impactful to your client - and which you have a chance of influencing. Keep a note of those other great ideas for next time.
Choose topics of interest to the wider team. Interdependent issues will drive engagement during the meeting. You don't want people tuning out and regretting accepting.
Circulate the agenda and the business review a few days in advance and encourage feedback so you can fine-tune it. Assign topics if needed and make it clear to everyone the preparation required. You'll know the when, where and how, but only your client is going to know the why. It could reveal vital information that will influence how you approach the program.
During the agenda do not introduce new topics spontaneously.
Tips for a perfect business review agenda:
- List agenda topics as questions the team needs to answer
- Note if the purpose of the discussion is to share information, seek input, or make a decision
- Allocate specific time for each topic and stick to it
- Give some context - why is this topic on the agenda? This is particularly effective if you have an issue not immediately apparent why it's for discussion.
- Be clear on how participants should prepare
- Identify who is the lead for each topic
- Before closing each topic, recap on agreed action items, timelines and owners
- Allow time to gather feedback from participants on their thoughts about the meeting (what went well, what could be improved).
A word of advice: get your clients' sign off on the agenda before circulating. Just in case.
5. No devices
So this can be tough, especially when you're the supplier, and you are telling the client to get off their phone. For an effective meeting, everyone must be present - in mind and body. When participants are on their laptops or phones it is frustrating, distracting and quite frankly, rude.
Beyond that, participants are missing a prime opportunity to build networks and establish relationships. Building rapport is much more effective with eye contact! Even David Cameron banned mobile phones from cabinet. So, if it's good enough for the former Prime-Minister...
So some here's how to get your meeting device free:
- In your agenda let everyone know you'll need you'll need their full attention and to please refrain from using devices.
- When you start the meeting set a gentle reminder that phones should not be used as you want to make the most of the time you have and encourage interaction
- To calm any separation anxiety schedule a phone break every 30-45 minutes - between topics on the agenda.
- If you see someone using their phone, invite them to step out of the meeting while they attend to the email or call. If it's important enough, they'll do just that and save everyone else from being distracted. Most likely, it isn't and they'll just put the phone down sheepishly after being busted for breaking the rules.
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6. Keep strategy and operations separate
Keep them apart is all I can say.
Now don't get me wrong, how you interact with your client and fulfil your products and services are very important. Discussions often reveal underlying issues that are part of a wider problem that may impact profitability and retention.
However, you only have 90 minutes to present the last quarter, agree on priorities for the next and the tactics to get there. A conversation about why someone was on hold for 20 minutes, or why their delivery was a few hours late could hijack your entire meeting.
Don't sweep operational matters under the carpet. They need your attention. Just not during the review. Set up another meeting for that purpose. For efficiency, I recommend before the review. You're already on-site, so it saves you a trip and the time will be controlled better as you'll have a hard-stop for the review. It also means you're leaving on a positive note after a thoughtful and interactive strategic meeting in which you spoke of all the great things about your clients' program, not all the problems.
If you've not made scheduled it, don't get persuaded for an impromptu session. You'll be unprepared and also have no idea of how long it'll last. I've been tempted with the promise of a quick pit stop by someone's desk only to find 2 hours later I'm still there after word has spread that I'm around.
7. Avoid the past
You want to learn from history, not re-live it. Don't get distracted during your meeting dredging up old issues. What you learned from them, and what you're doing about it are the emphases.
The Quarterly Business Review is about making major decisions to move the program into the next quarter, so spend most of your time forward focused and discussing the opportunities.
8. Celebrate success
The QBR meeting is a perfect opportunity to share the success of your program. What has gone well and why and acknowledge the contribution of those who made it happen. Take time to recognise achievement:
- Highlight the positive impact your solution has had on your client's business. Cost reduction, cost avoidance, efficiency and quality are always good topics for the QBR.
- Make sure you have some great examples to share about how your key contact has supported the program. Everyone loves recognition and they're no different. It also adds to their credibility which in turn helps them get stuff done.
- Shout the message from the mountaintop. Think about how you can get the good news out to the wider business so everyone can bask in the glow of success. It might not be appropriate to talk cold hard cash, so think of other metrics that might be meaningful. For example:
- We've reduced costs by X%
- We've shaved X days of our production time
- Satisfaction scores have risen by X%
9. Focus on gaps
A gap analysis is simply this:
- Define your future state
- Analyse your current situation
- Identify how you'll get from here to there
This is what will drive your program forward. Embrace continuous improvement opportunities and spend time on devising strategies that address them.
Think innovation - explore new ways to solve old problems.
I encourage you to think big. I also remind you to think small. Kaizen is a Japanese philosophy that embodies change for the better. Whether they a tiny steps or gigantic leaps, over time these will enhance the value chain and deliver meaningful outcomes to your program management.
Approach discussions in your meeting using the Kaizen methodology:
- Define the problem
- Document the current situation
- Visualise the ideal situation
- Define measurement targets
- Brainstorm solutions to the problem
- Develop the plan
10. Ask "So what, what now?"
A former manager shared this wisdom with me many years ago and I've lived by it. When you are presenting recommendations, trends, data, observations - basically, anything - you must be able to answer those two powerful questions:
So what? What now?
Don't just make statements. Build the story, capture the imagination. Inspire your client. Make things happen. Just know why you need to do them and how.
So grab a pen and a post-it note and write this down:
So what? What now?
Stick it to your laptop. Your monitor. Your bathroom mirror. These aren't just words for business, but tools for life. They're questions I ask myself every day about lots of things.
You've already got the outline of your plan from the meeting. You'll probably need to put a little meat on the bone when you get back to the office, so think about:
- The situation
- The objectives
- The strategies
- The key messages
Then you are ready to implement your plan. Make sure you factor in regular reviews and keep you plan agile enough to respond to a changing environment. Be flexible and adapt if you need to. Like any forecasting, you might have got it wrong. Better to admit it earlier and adjust accordingly, than risk non-achievement and a lot of disappointment.