(Editor’s Note: Today’s post is an excerpt from my book, “Essential Meeting Blueprints for Managers.” The book is available on Amazon in hard copy and Kindle, in the iTunes store, and directly from the publisher.)
Whether we’re having a meeting to give feedback, convey information or make a decision, documenting what occurs during the meeting is essential. The way meetings are recorded can have an impact on the outcome of the meeting.
Everyone takes notes during meetings. We all do it differently. Where years ago the only thing you saw at meetings were legal pads and pens, today people come with laptops and tablets. We can write with pens, pencils, our fingers or styluses.
Many participants want agendas, handouts and minutes in electronic format. This allows participants to move information into the programs that are most productive for them. It saves the environment by using less paper. The Connected Generation, defined as individuals willing and open to digital content and communications, might also argue that they are more accustomed to using a keyboard. It’s faster than writing. Electronic meeting files can also be put into folders and shared with participants.
Meeting participants should be allowed to take notes any way that works for them. It’s their notes. They will be held accountable for delivering whatever they agreed to. That’s what I want to talk about – documenting what everyone agreed to during the meeting.
Definition of SMART
Years ago, I worked for a company that, every time something went wrong, our President wanted a meeting to discuss how we were going to fix the problem. Afterward, we had to create something called “a SMART plan” explaining the steps we were going to take. Sad to say, we developed a lot of SMART plans. I thought it was some sort of punishment.
It wasn’t until I started studying for my human resources certification that I learned SMART plans have been around for many years and weren’t some dreamt up form of torture from senior leadership. The project management term was first used in 1981 by George T. Doran. SMART is an acronym:
- Specific represents exactly what you would like to accomplish. Think of it as the who, what, where, when, which and why of the goal.
- Measurable answers the question of how success is measured.
- Actionable (also seen as Achievable, Attainable) outlines the steps it will take to complete the goal.
- Responsible (some versions use Realistic or Relevant) identifies the people needed to reach this goal,
- Time-bound (or Trackable) establishes the time frame to achieve the goal.
Over the years, I’ve found the SMART acronym easy to remember, so I mold it for creating meeting minutes. I can’t think of a better way to outline what happens at a meeting:
- What are we going to do? (Specific)
- How will we measure our success? (Measurable)
- What are the steps that will help us attain our goal? (Attainable)
- Who will be responsible for each step? (Responsible)
- When will the task be completed? (Timely)
Benefits of Using SMART
In my experience, I’ve found the biggest benefit of SMART plans is they allow me to steer conversations in the right direction. For each item, we have to address all of the steps: Specific, Measureable, Actionable, Responsible and Timely. It’s often easy to get someone to say “We need to do this or that.” Others may chime into the conversation and add, “Well, in order to accomplish the goal, we must do these 10 things.”
So, you get a lot of ideas. Then the conversation gets quiet.
SMART allows you to guide the conversation along. Here’s an example: We’re in a meeting and someone says, “I’m tired of the copiers not working right. Let’s upgrade our copier machines.” On the surface, this seems like a fine idea. Everyone agrees.
After the meeting, the facilities director comes to you and says, “I don’t have a problem upgrading the copiers, but it’s going to cost us thousands of dollars because we have a contract.” Later, the technology director comes to you and says, “I don’t have a problem upgrading the copiers, but we should consider wireless printing options. It will allow printing from anywhere in the building, but we need to do some rewiring (and there’s a cost).”
You’re thinking – why didn’t this come up at the meeting?!
SMART keeps the discussion on track. Now when the copier gets brought up, someone can say to the facilities director, “It sounds like a good idea. What would be involved from your perspective?” They get the chance to answer.
Same goes for the technology director. You can ask them, “Are there any new technologies we need to consider?”
Now the whole group is informed and can make a good decision. It also saved a lot of time after the meeting with conversations that should have happened during the meeting.
SMART goals are particularly valuable in the areas of measurement, responsibility and timeliness.
I used to work with someone whose entire goal during a meeting was not to be assigned anything. It was so obvious that his co-workers would joke about it – during the meeting!
Using a SMART format to keep track of the meeting gives you the ability to make sure every action step has a person responsible. It ensures that the person who will be held accountable for completing the step is committed to getting it done. It also helps the group understand the allocation of resources.
As you’re putting together the SMART plan, you can see if one person is ending up with too many responsibilities and shift the workload. You can also see if someone who should have a role in the plan, does.
Next, a great way to create commitment to the plan is by giving the people responsible for each actionable step the opportunity to choose their deadline. An individual can’t say that some other person imposed an unrealistic deadline because they agreed to it. Participants also get to see how their action step impacts the other parts of the plan.
A participant knows up front their role and the impact of not meeting the goal. If you’re leading or managing a group, this is the essence of holding people accountable for performance. Set the level of expectation. Have that discussion in the meeting.
Lastly, SMART formats provide participants with the ability to see and celebrate their success. When goals or action steps are created, everyone should understand what success looks like. This is the measurement component. Participants will use this information as motivation and validation that the plan was good.
If we use the copier example, upgrading the copiers will cost money and the inconvenience of rewiring the office. The measurement is that the copier will break 50% less and employees can print from anywhere in the building. Employees are willing to complete the action steps asked of them because the measurement (aka sign of success) is attractive. Who wouldn’t like to cut the amount of time dealing with paper jams in half?
Using the SMART plan for meeting minutes also helps direct conversations toward key discussions like “We have a great idea here…now who’s going to take ownership for getting it done?” And “Thanks Joe for leading this task, when can we expect it to be completed?”3