What is a Drive-By Meeting Culture? How costly is it? How Easy is it to Change?

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I have witnessed many successful enterprises that ordain and practice a drive-by meeting culture. Meetings occur without priority or planning and take place on the fly. You are standing outside your office when a coworker walks by and says, “Oh, Mel. So glad I caught you…” and they proceed to throw a monkey on your back. Tag you’re it. Maybe they just want to gossip or share something important.

Meetings are slung together last minute and agendas are sloppy and loose. This is a high grade, lowest common denominator (LCD) practice. It is very disruptive to being a championship team.

Similar to drive-by meetings, drive-by phone calls, unplanned and on the fly, can catapult a business or drag it down. There is a yen and yang to reactive phone calling

Aim, Prioritize, Focus, Execute: Planning one’s week in advance is a powerful practice. It takes discipline. It is also imperfect. Our best plans are subject to the speed of business changing our schedules. Being able to pivot, adjust, and stay proactive is important. Try to give one day notice on schedule changes or impromptu needs during the week. Also, accept that despite our best efforts, a handful of urgent and important matters will need to be handled on the fly. The trick is to make them the exception and not the rule.

Best practice is to lead, manage, and hold your enterprise accountable to plan and prioritizing annually to aim and decide what we will do. We meet each quarter to true up our aim and measure how we are doing. Stay focused. We meet weekly all year to take 52 bites out of our elephant goals. These weekly scheduled, recurring, same day and same time meetings happening top-down in the enterprise will eradicate the need for many drive-by meetings and poorly planned urgent conversations.

Plate raking is a selfish endeavor in business. We all do it. The more powerful our role, the greater our responsibility to control our plate raking.

Plate raking is disruptive to the focus of our business. We have a list. We spend a few hours cleaning our plate by raking it off on others. We feel free. Our team reaps the chaos it may create, because the assumption when directives come from above is that they are more important, urgent, displace other tasks, and need instant reaction. If we need to offload our plate for some reason, then try to for-warn the recipients by letting them know that these items are not urgently displacing their agenda. Maybe provide some time frame for reply or completion along with how urgent or non-urgent the tasks are.

What is the opportunity cost of a drive-by culture? People are resilient. They will adapt and survive our LCD leadership. The costs, though, are real and substantial. It lowers morale, confuses focus, lowers effectiveness, and rewards poor planning and form. It is also sloppy and mediocre. A drive-by culture increases the “slope of our treadmill” purely due to poor form.

As executives, a primary deliverable to our team is to reduce the slope of the “business treadmill.”

The slope of our business treadmill represents the level of difficulty of our execution. Many factors impact the slope. We want to prevent self-inflicted complexity and difficulty. A brisk walk is far more preferred than a harrowing rock climb. Removing obstacles and impediments reduces the slope. Leading by best practice to minimize drive-by behavior reduces the slope.

When we raise our standards to highest common denominator (HCD) behavior and practices, we gain quantum leaps in effectiveness, efficiency, and we lower unnecessary stress and anxiety. We are better teachers and we impart powerful knowledge and form to our leaders and their leaders. We show a better way, and it excites people. We enable and empower doing our best work ever, together.

When we need to talk on the fly, then consider teeing it up with a quick text asking for “x” minutes to talk about “y” and put a preferred timeframe to have the call.

Power is gained by planning meetings in advance and prioritizing to do the important, already agreed upon priorities. Then we table distractions, even important ones. We stop allowing drive-by meetings. The HCD is to build your case for why your discussion / meeting is on task, within the agreed priorities. Then set the meeting in advance on the calendar. Meet on time – fast and focused. Spend the meeting Identifying, Discussing and Solving (IDS) the priority matter. Then break. Get back to focusing on the week’s to-dos.

A healthy culture encourages friendly chats, quick “how is it going” conversations and open engagement. By focusing on the best practice of minimizing drive-by behavior, do not take it too far and squelch camaraderie. Applying a few simple best practices will actually open up opportunities for healthier impromptu engagements.

Send texts, leave messages, and tee up conversations with the following : Brief summary of why you are calling/texting. How important is it? A time frame for appropriate response, such as end of business today, tomorrow, or within the hour. If it was not prescheduled, then this, alone, can transform your communications.

A drive-by meeting culture is costly due to poor practices. Intentions are good. Efforts are sincere. Communication is good, right? The truth is that a healthy mix of prescheduled and impromptu is fine. When we can tee up conversations, then we should. When we need to talk on the fly, then consider teeing it up with a quick text asking for “x” minutes to talk about “y” and put a preferred timeframe to have the call.

If you call a business associate and they do not answer your phone call, do not just hang up leaving them with a mystery. Consider leaving a voicemail or sending an immediate follow up text to the recipient of your “non-answered” phone call with the following info:

  • Reason for the impromptu call
  • Level of importance
  • Preferred time frame to return your call

I recognize the repetitive nature of this post, having said it seven (7) times, seven (7) ways. Simple but powerful stuff.

Imagine an entire company graduating from a drive-by culture to a more respectful best practice communication culture. I promise they will be hard to beat!


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