A Legendary CEO’s Secret Sauce For Highly Effective Meetings

A recent Time magazine article explored tricks that famous executives have used to run effective meetings.  The article highlights legendary General Motors CEO Alfred Sloan, who was famous for following up every meeting with a concise memo that summarized the discussion and its conclusions and spelled out any work assignments decided upon in the meeting.  He specified deadlines and the executives that were accountable for the assignments.  He sent a copy of the memo to everyone that was present in the meetings.  These memos made Sloan an “outstanding effective executive” and were cited as a key to GM’s dominance of the 20th century.


It is amazing that something as simple as a follow-up memo had such a profound effect on the productivity and success of an organization like GM.  Actually it wasn’t just a follow-up memo.  What Mr. Sloan did was implement a simple yet consistent process that was focused on documenting and communicating the most important aspects of the meeting.  Mr. Sloan used this process for each and every meeting he held and he realized tremendous success because of two key ingredients (i.e. secret sauce)  that are essential to highly effective meetings;

The key ingredients, or “secret sauce” are  FOCUS and CONSISTENCY

If Mr. Sloan had only sent out his follow-up memos every once in awhile or if he had not been crystal clear with the information and expectations in the memos he would not have achieved the results that he did.  It was the consistent application of a focused process that drove the exceptional results that he and GM enjoyed.

Implementing a focused and consistent meeting process is far easier today than it was back in Mr. Sloan’s day (1920s to 1950s).  In his day there were no personal computers, word processing software or email.  He relied on good old fashioned writing using actual paper that had to be physically transported to meeting attendees.  Communication was significantly more difficult and time consuming than it is today. Given our instant communication mechanisms and the ability to easily capture and share information we are in a much better position to implement a focused and consistent process for highly effective meetings.

However, in a recent survey 79% of respondents reported that meeting information in their organizations is captured and tracked using paper based methods.

Amazingly with all of our innovations in technology including the availability of instant electronic communications many organizations are stuck using the same methods that Mr. Sloan used almost a century ago and not nearly enjoying the success that he did.

If you are committed to improving meetings in your organization then there are three things that you must do.

  1. Implement and standardize a simple, focused and effective process for planning, executing and following up on meetings
  2. Embrace technology to automate and streamline your process to ensure consistency
  3. Model the discipline that it takes to stick to the new process so that it becomes adopted and institutionalized

You too can replicate the success of Mr. Sloan in your organization and the key to doing this is Focus and Consistency.  Start simple, stay focused and be consistent.

How does your organization handle capturing and sharing information in meetings?  Leave a comment below and let us know.


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