Forgive me, I’m slow. I’ve finally figured out what benefit large executive groups bring to the company: they actually get everything done! They prioritize, they schedule, they raise management awareness, they communicate… they GET THINGS DONE!

We have roughly… oh, I don’t know, a few here, a few there, carry the one… seven squazillion “executive councils” of various forms or another. Boards, Councils, Leadership Committees, etc. I have always understood their value in theory (getting people to communicate, collaborate across disciplines, the ever desirable “synergy”), but the practice always seems to leave much to be desired. The group launches with laudable goals and much showering of PowerPoint visions and 12-, 18- and 24-month delivery charts. Six months later, there hasn’t been a meeting in three months, and the last one was only attended by half of the representatives, half of whom were actually just lower-level employees subbing for their very busy executives.

Bear in mind that I have nothing against lower-level employees. But they will only show up for one meeting, not understand the context of the discussion, and–because they are not executives–anything they say (no matter how insightful) will be ignored by those who are. After all, if you’re so smart, how come you’re not an executive like us?

Not that it’s a whole lot better when the executives do show up. Nothing discussed in the meetings will ever make it back to their respective groups or cascade down the information staircase. That means that everything that’s agreed to in the meetings will always take everyone else in the company by suprise when the (lower-level) employee tasked with implementation calls to ask for the impossible-to-gather information required to complete their impossible-to-complete chore.

[ Sidebar: Well, there’s one exception to this: vision statements. These are so grand and meaningless that no one will be surprised by them, and because they’re so non-controversial execs have no problem communicating them down the chain of command. And the best thing is, you don’t actually have to change anything you’re doing in order comply with the vision.

A vision statement has to be , to some degree, controversial: there has to be something in there with which a reasonale person might disagree, otherwise it’s pointless. Who could disagree with: “We will strive to excel at providing service to our customers in all our interactions, and do so in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible”? If there’s anyone in your company who is surprised or challenged by that “vision”, your HR group is asleep. If your vision statement is so vague and buzzword-laden that it doesn’t cause even the merest of doubletakes in the people reading it, then it’s meaningless and isn’t worth the PowerPoint slide it’s ignored on.

A vision statement or motto has to be something that you can compare your everyday tasks to, to see if you’re meeting its challenge. “Is this evil?” is a great daily question to ask when your company‘s vision statement is “don’t be evil”. End Sidebar.]

But here’s how these executive groups are so remarkably effective: they prioritize all work, make sure that everything has a deliverable date, they are the only bodies that ensure that all of your management is aware of the projects you’re working on, and they communicate everything to everyone.

How do they accomplish this amazing amount of work? By scheduling meetings, and putting your boss (or your boss’ boss) on the agenda. Here’s how it works:

Executives read a magazine where some new technology is lauded. Executives demand to see a presentation on how company is implementing this technology (i.e. the “strategy”). Your boss is identified as the person in the company who kinda sorta has responsibility for that technology area, especially if you squint at the org chart and look at it sideways. Your boss remembers that you mentioned this technology in passing at some point in the past. And so the work is:

  • Prioritized. Since the presentation will be next week, your work on this technology has the highest priority (at least until five minutes after the presentation ends).
  • Has a deliverable date: the next deliverable will *always* (and I can’t stress this enough), *ALWAYS* be two weeks after the date of the executive meeting. This is close enough that it feels that the company is truly making progress in this area, yet far enough away that the execs will (a) believe that there is substantial work involved (otherwise it would only take a day or two), and (b) forget about it and not follow up. Note: that doesn’t mean that the entire project has to be completed by then, just the next deliverable. The project completion date should always be 12 or 18 months away. This is called “setting a workable timeframe”
  • Has management awareness: since everyone is in a panic to get the presentation done, it’s everyone’s highest priority, from the exec all the way down to you. Now everyone knows what you’re working on, since they’re up at night sweating that you complete the presentation before the executive board meets. This is called the “status report”.
  • Communicated: this is accomplished by sticking your PowerPoint presentation up on the Portal in the home page for the executive group. Which no one ever reads… not even the execs who attended (why would they? There were there! They know what was discussed! No need to read the minutes!). This is called “collaboration”.

And that’s how things get done.