How to Make Your Meetings NOT Suck! With Cameron Herold

An interview with Cameron Herold

How to Make Your Meetings NOT Suck! With Cameron Herold

My guest Cameron Herold.

Alright. I’ve got a little word association for you. I’m going to say a word and I want you to note, be aware of what words come to mind immediately. Are you ready? The word is meetings.

Okay. How are you doing?

What words come to mind? Is it dread? Is it nasty? Is it barf?

Seriously, what comes to mind when you hear the word meetings? I mean, it’s so sad but it’s a necessary tool of modern business, the meeting, but why does it cause us so much angst, why does it cause us to run and hide? It doesn’t have to be that way. Meetings do not have to suck.

In fact, my guest is here to help. We’re talking with Cameron Herold and he’s written a book called Meetings Suck: Turning One of the Most Loathed Elements in Business Into One of the Most Valuable. Cameron is a guy who can speak to this. He’s the mastermind behind hundreds of companies’ exponential growth. He was entrepreneur basically from day one at 21. At 21, he already had 14 employees. At 35, he had built 200 million dollar companies, his first 2. He’s gone on to do more. At age 42 Cameron helped engineer 1-800-GOT-JUNK’s spectacular growth from 2 million to 106 million in revenue and he did that in just 6 years.

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Mitch: Lots of tools, lots of leadership tools, effectiveness tools in his bag, but one subject that I really want to tap into, especially when I saw this book was how do we make our meetings not suck. Let’s get to this. Cameron, welcome to Dream Think Do.

Cameron: Hey, Mitch. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Mitch: Absolutely. I got to ask, I mean, I love this and we could spend so much time on so many of your other successes and I mean, I know you’ve had them and I know you got a number of other books out there, but why decide to write a book on meetings?

Cameron: It’s interesting. One of my clients, who is a YPO member, Young Presidents Organization, he’s from Tampa, Florida, his company’s called BlueGrace Logistics. I started coaching him when he had about 60 employees of the last 4 years and now, it’s about 700 employees. I was talking to him about a year ago and he was complaining about his meetings. He was saying, “You know, our meetings really suck. Can we start getting some coaching on our meetings?” I went, “Well, wait a second. Meetings don’t suck.” He goes, “No. Ours really suck.” I’m like, “Okay.”

Mitch: No, you got to understand, ours really suck, yeah.
Cameron: I said, “Have you had any training or has your management team had any training about how to run meetings?” He said, “No. I don’t think anybody’s ever been trained on how to run them.” I said, “Okay. Have any of your employees actually had any training on how to show up and attend or participate in meetings?” He goes, “No. Nobody’s ever been trained on how to show up in them.” I said, “Well, the problem isn’t that meetings suck. The problem is that your team sucks at running them and your team sucks at attending them.” I said, “It’s not any different than little league baseball.”

Mitch: Yeah.

Cameron: You would present our kid of as an eight-year-old to little league baseball without showing him how to hold the bat and how to hold the glove and how to catch a ball. We’d at least give him the basics-

Mitch: Yeah.

Cameron: If you don’t give him the basics, they’d come back from the first day at little league and go, “Baseball sucks.” Well, baseball doesn’t suck at all but my kid sucks at baseball.

Mitch: Right.

Cameron: I decided to codify, in a very simple format, so that every employee at every company, for $15 would know how to show up at meetings, participate in them and how to run them. That was the Genesis of the book, Meetings Suck, was my client, Bobby Harris at BlueGrace Logistics. Amazingly, they just raised $255 million last year from Warburg Pincus to continually scale their growth.

Mitch: That doesn’t suck. That doesn’t suck at all.

Cameron: It does suck.

Mitch: I love it. I mean, that is truly one of those when I saw this, one I was like, “Dang, talk about something that touches everyone. A subject that touches everyone but it’s truly kind of the unwritten thing,” but like you’re saying … and I love the math. I saw the math. You say the average employees spends an hour per day in meeting. I’m guessing that’s gone higher, especially the more virtual we go. But that if that equals an eighth of their time and the average employees make 50 grand a year, that means one employee, that’s 12,500 a year for meetings, when they’re in meetings.

Cameron: Yeah.

Mitch: Probably minimum right?

Cameron: Yes.

Mitch: Probably most people are like, “Oh gosh, if it was only an hour, that would be great.”
Cameron: I say, a meeting is anytime that an employee spends time one-on-one, over the phone with someone, over a video call with someone or in a group with someone. It’s when two or more people are over the phone, over video, in person, that qualifies as a meeting. If you don’t know how to run them properly, you can waste an awful lot of time.

Mitch: Oh, man. An office, like you’re saying, it’s one of the things that probably touches everyone in business but it’s the least trained on. I love your approach from the standpoint that it is about training the person, leading the meeting, but it’s also training the people in the room, the people attending the meeting, which I think is really critical too. I love that.

Cameron: Well, I learned that actually from years ago, I was at a company called College Pro Painters and we became a very, very fast-growing company. It’s the largest residential painting company in the world. I opened the West Coast of the United States for them and we only had 17 weeks to run our business. We became very, very systemized around operations, execution and growth and meetings were a really powerful part of our business. I decided to codify it and that’s really one of the core tenets on how we’ve grown companies today.

Mitch: That’s amazing. I’ve had a number of people from College Pro Painters on that have gone on to do successful things and they point back to their experience there as being so-

Cameron: Very cool. Kimbal Musk, who is Elon’s brother, worked for me at College Pro Painters in 1993. Then, Elon Musk’s cousin, Peter Rive, who is the COO at SolarCity, he also worked for me at College Pro Painters in ’93.

Mitch: No kidding.

Cameron: I’ve been around the Musk family for 25 years because of College Pro Painters.

Mitch: Wow. That’s amazing. It’s just incredible and it’s an incredible organization that truly, you got to be an entrepreneur to make it happen.

Cameron: Yeah.

Mitch: I love it. All right. Let’s dive into this. I think we got everybody’s attention because everybody’s now going, “Oh my gosh, yeah. I’ve got eight meetings already today.” If that’s the standard, two people, that’s the standard. Let’s set up the ground rules. What are some of those things-

Cameron: Sure.

Mitch: That we need to go in, just even mindset, whatever.

Cameron: Yeah. Here are the core basics on how to run a highly effective meeting. Every meeting has to have a clear purpose, just a one sentence, why are we here. Every meeting can have a maximum of three outputs. What are the three big things we’re going to get done in that meeting? Every meeting has to have an agenda. What are we covering? In what order are we covering it and how many minutes are we spending on each agenda item and what of the three communicate styles are we using for each agenda item? I’ll get into communication styles in a second.

Mitch: Yeah.

Cameron: Every meeting has to start on time and I’ve always said that when you walk into a meeting saying, “Sorry, I’m late.” What you’re really saying is, “F you, I’m disrespectful. I think my time is more valuable than yours.”

Mitch: Right.

Cameron: You show up on time. The only way that you can actually show up on time is you finish every meeting and you finish every phone call five minutes prior to the scheduled ending time. That gives you time to walk down the hall, talk to your assistant, get a cup of coffee, go to the bathroom and sit down for your next call or your next meeting exactly on time.

Cameron: As an example for us, we’re supposed to wrap up at 2:00.

Mitch: Right.

Cameron: We will wrap up at 1:55 and it gives both of us to show up on time for our next meeting, so then we show up on time going, “Hey, good to see you. I know we’re right on time for our call. That shows huge respect for the other person and establishes a really good base.

Mitch: I think that’s big, just to jump in there. I think that also speaks to, like you’re saying, training those that are in the room, not just the person leading the meeting because that creates a culture of respect before the meeting even gets started which means a lot more communication, a lot more learning, whatever.

Cameron: Look, everybody’s busy right?

Mitch: Right.

Cameron: But to show up and, “Sorry, I’m late,” is a bit of an F you. None of my coaching clients show up late for calls anymore because I’ve taught them that. Our calls start on time and we end five minutes early. It’s awesome.

Mitch: That’s awesome.

Cameron: Two more rules around meetings. The next one is book all of your meetings for half the time you first think about booking them for. If you’re going to say, “Let’s get together for an hour,” book it for 30 minutes. Or why don’t we book a day, book it for half a day. You’ll actually get it done in less time, so you have to compress time and it’s Parkinson’s Law that work expands to fill the space that we give it, so just give your work less time, you’ll actually get it all done.

Cameron: Then, you need three roles being played in a meeting, a moderator, a timekeeper and a parking lot. The moderator keeps you on track, timekeeper makes sure you stay on each agenda item on time and the parking lot is a place you write down the stuff you want to talk about that’s not on the agendas. You can talk about it offline or at the end of the meeting.

Mitch: Do those have to be three separate people?

Cameron: No. They’re basically three roles that are being played.

Mitch: Yeah.

Cameron: You have to think through how do I moderate discussion, how do we keep track of time and how do we take stuff offline if we need it offline.

Mitch: Yeah.

Cameron: The last part is those three different communication styles. It’s important to tell people for each agenda item, what style of communication are we using and there’s only three styles. It was either info share, so that’s information being shared and it’s either top down, bottom up or laterally. There’s no discussion, no debate. It’s just one way distribution of information.

Mitch: Yup.

Cameron: The second style is creative discussion. It’s brainstorming, blue sky, throwing ideas against the wall. Right? Sharing ideas and opinions and facts and good debate and then, the last style is consensus decision and that’s when, we will as a group, make a decision or a decision will be made before we leave the room and we will all agree that we agree on that decision. It’s important to tell people that because if they think you’re making a decision but it’s only info shared, people get frustrated.

Mitch: Yeah.

Cameron: Or if it’s info share but it’s creative discussion, they get frustrated. That clarifies everything, allows you to keep it within the container.

Mitch: What I would imagine that also helps you to really stay on track for time?

Cameron: Right.

Mitch: Because thinking back to a lot of ineffective meetings I’ve been to, that’s exactly right, where people are like, “Well, no, no, no. We’re just sharing information.” “No, no, no. I thought we were getting to a decision,” and then, yeah, half hour meeting blows into an hour and a half.

Cameron: Correct. The last part is your only invite people to the meeting, who absolutely need to be there and it should not be a badge of honor to show up for meetings. It should be a badge of honor to be getting your most critical work done. If your work projects are more important than going to a meeting, opt out of the meeting because you have other higher impact, higher ROI things to get down. I only want to invite people who need to be at the meeting. I’m like, “Oh, I’ll hurt the feelings by not inviting them.” No, you’re hurting their feelings by inviting them. They don’t want to come in the first place.

Mitch: Right. Right. Well especially, if you’ve established the culture of if you’re not there, that doesn’t mean that you’re not worthy or valuable. You’re mission critical to get that stuff done.

Cameron: Yeah. You’re like a Navy SEAL and we’ve decided that your role is do X.

Mitch: Right.

Cameron: Here’s the last one and this is for every single person in the meeting. Your phone gets checked at the door.

Mitch: Ooh.

Cameron: But when you walk into the meeting or even if you’re virtual, you put your phone away or you put it on silent and if you can’t have your phone sitting at the door and if you can’t have your phone sitting at the door in a bowl or on a shelf or in a box or just not touching it during the meeting. Then, don’t come to the meeting. It means that you’re too busy. That’s okay.

Mitch: Yeah.

Cameron: Book your meetings for a shorter amount of time. Everybody stay hyper-focused, no distractions and then, leave and go back and do your busy work again.

Mitch: Wow. Is that part the hardest one to get people to do? I was just thinking through. All these make sense but which is the hardest one generally? As you’re working with somebody, which one’s the most difficult or gets the most push back.

Cameron: Well that’s the only new one because all the rest of the rules have worked for the last thousand years in running meetings. This rule has only been around for the last 12.

Mitch: Yeah.

Cameron: Right. Only since really the PDAs have been around, that people have been checking email, now so maybe 15 to 20 years, okay? But you can do it and I do it at every COO Alliance event that we run. I run the only network of this kind in the world for second in commands and at every COO Alliance event, people check their phone at the door for two days and they don’t open it.

Mitch: Once it’s a part of the culture, do they actually feel the relief?

Cameron: By lunch of the first day, they love it but the first morning, the new people all right.

Mitch: They got the shakes

Cameron: Help me out.

Mitch: That’s right. I love it.

Cameron: Those were the days.

Mitch: Yeah.

Cameron: That’s how you run [crosstalk 00:12:44] meeting and when you train all your employees on that and you run meetings that way, everybody will call each other out. I just say, “No agenda, no attenda.” If I don’t know what we’re covering and what order and why we’re doing all these meetings, why would I say yes? Tell me. I’m tentative.

Mitch: Yeah.

Cameron: Put the onus back on the person booking the meetings to run them properly.
Mitch: I love it. Let’s go back to the top then. Let’s start with the agenda.

Cameron: Sure.

Mitch: You say every meeting’s got to have an agenda. What do you think are the most important things when you’re thinking through the agenda because I know sometimes, the tendency is to try to get, “Oh, I’ve got all these people in the room. I’m going to try to pack this in and pack this in and stick this over here.”

Mitch: What are some of the best ways to come up with an effective agenda?

Cameron: Rule number one was a clear purpose. One sentence, why we’re here. What was rule number two?

Mitch: Three outputs.

Cameron: Bingo, so only three things we’re going to be really covering.

Mitch: Aha.

Cameron: If you have to cover more than three things, book a separate meeting because chances are it’s a separate group of attendees that need to be there.

Mitch: Aha. I see.

Cameron: Right?

Mitch: Yeah, I get it. It started to filter itself.

Mitch: Let’s go back to that clear goal. Because again, I know, I’m thinking through, “Oh, a perfectionist.” That is so hard sometimes to nail down just one thing. How do you guide people to say, “All right. This is a clear goal,” or how do you get to that clear goal?

Cameron: The purpose is really what’s the one overarching reason we’re here. It’s to get everybody on the same page related to our marketing for the quarter. Three things we’re going to cover, the marketing calendar, marketing plan, marketing budget. Here’s the agenda. It’s just focusing it in around that box.

Mitch: Yeah.

Cameron: It’s less of a goal and more of a purpose statement for the meeting that’s important.

Mitch: Awesome.

Cameron: Right.

Mitch: Are you communicating those things beforehand?

Cameron: Yeah.

Mitch: Is that on the Outlook?

Cameron: Yes. When I’m sending out the meeting request, it has to have the purpose, outcomes and agenda and then, people understand why they would say yes to attend or say, “You know what? I saw the agenda. I don’t need to be there.” Or I’ll come for three agenda items and I’ll skip the last four. Perfect.

Mitch: Yeah. We’re good.

Cameron: Right?

Mitch: As opposed to it being offensive or, “Oh yeah.”

Cameron: Correct. Now what we’re doing and the way the agenda is built, you think about all the things we want to cover, you decide what order we’re going to cover them and how many minutes do we need for each agenda item? 3 minutes, 12 minutes, 7 minutes, 6 minutes, whatever. When you add up the minutes, that becomes the total amount of time you booked for the meeting. You don’t book an hour meeting and try to fill the slot.

Mitch: Right.

Cameron: You come up with the stuff you need to do and you book a meeting for that amount of time.

Mitch: I love that. It’s one of those these are so interrelated but one helps to raise the bar on another.

Cameron: This is why every employees has to read the book, Meetings Suck, at every company-

Mitch: Yeah.

Cameron: Is because when every employees understands the core basics, they start to ensure that it happens because they’re all pissed off with the shitty meetings anyway.

Mitch: Right.

Cameron: They want them to be better.

Mitch: Yeah. Then, it really is a culture things. It’s got to start with the culture as opposed to just one person. I mean, one person can be more effective at running a meeting but if people aren’t onboard, it’s going to be disruptive and all that stuff.

Cameron: Let’s say you had a meeting with six people and six people showed up knowing how to attend them, even if the person running it was doing a poor job, the six other people would help him do it.

Mitch: Right. Especially if they get the reason why. Right?

Cameron: Sure.

Mitch: They get why they’re doing it. That’s huge. What would you say getting a culture to accept this approach? What would you say are ways? What gets in the way of that?

Cameron: Nothing. Because everybody hates meetings and I know there’s got to be a better way and this became a real … For a two-hour read, this is a better way.

Mitch: Yeah. That’s great. I know that you also touched on introverts and extroverts.

Cameron: Yeah. It’s interesting. Extroverts will talk a lot right? The dominant expressives. They will share ideas, think out loud. These are the sales people, the strong leaders. You need to actually draw out the ideas of the introverts as well, the analyticals, the amiables, the quieter. If you’re going to invite someone to a meeting, you need to drive their ideas. Otherwise, why are you inviting them to the meeting in the first place. You can have the meeting monopolized by the people that talk a lot. I created a couple of systems that work for this.

Cameron: The first system is, you get people to write down their ideas related to a discussion area. One idea per post-it note. Then, you go around the room and you get the most junior person or the newest person to speak first and they read out their ideas and post them on the wall. Then, you get the group to vote on and talk about the most highly impactful areas. That’s giving everybody time to share. It’s giving time for everybody to post their ideas and you’re getting the most junior person to start, which does not let the most senior person leave the group, so when the CEO or the VP speaks last, they start realizing, “Dang, my team’s really strong. They actually know what they’re doing here.”

Cameron: But if the CEO’s always speaking first, he never hears the other ideas of the other people in the company. Our job as leaders is to grow people. Right?

Mitch: Right. For sure.

Cameron: Well, that system works really well.

Mitch: I bet. As far as with that, what are some of the strategies and I’m guessing it’s part of the book too, but the whole thing of, if you’re going to do a system like that, everybody has to respect that. Right? Everybody has to respect the order, so that you’re not interrupting. Right? I know a lot of cultures where interruption is the norm.

Cameron: The interruption is the norm because they’re not using the post it notes system. As soon as you use the post it note system and people are reading them out and you just say, “Post it, say it. No discussion, no debate. Everybody understands the rules.”
Mitch: Yeah.

Cameron: But in the absence of rules, people have to make up their own. If you don’t have a system, then a lot of people talk.
Mitch: Yeah. That’s awesome. I love it.

Cameron: I you don’t, the CEO will always be first.
Mitch: Yeah. Right? Exactly. Then, everybody, a lot of people will then follow in line whether that’s the best idea or not, just because-

Cameron: Right, and if all your employees have read the book, they’re going to make sure it happens because they want to be heard and they want others to be heard as well. They start leading up.

Mitch: Yeah. Now, how do these rules change or shift? Because I know so many people are talking about how often they’re in virtual meetings. I know for me and my organization, a lot of team are virtual. We’re meeting virtually, all of that. What changes, what doesn’t when it’s a virtual setting?

Cameron: Nothing. You can do it over Zoom, over video, it’s all the same. Purpose, outcome, agenda, no agenda, no attenda, show up on time, stop five minutes early, moderator, timekeeper, parking lot. You can actually use a tool called storm board to post all your ideas with virtual post it notes, so everybody can see them. All these stuff really works.
Mitch: Yeah. That’s awesome. You’ve been teaching on this for a while. What else would you say has shifted or anything else that’s shift because of technology?
Cameron: Nothing. Well, you don’t need people to be in the same room, which is cheaper for your company.
Mitch: Right.
Cameron: Just hire [crosstalk 00:19:55], it doesn’t matter where they live. I’ve been using this meeting rhythm for probably, 20 years. It’s how I built 1-800-GOT-JUNK. It’s how I built [inaudible 00:20:04]. It’s how we built College Pro Painters. It’s how we built It’s how I coach clients all over the world. Meeting rhythms is one of the core parts of the business. I think of every business like a jigsaw puzzle. The picture at the front of the box is a vivid vision for the company. Everyone needs to see that same vivid vision. Otherwise, we don’t know what we’re building.

Mitch: Right.

Cameron: Then, you look for the corners of a jigsaw puzzle, right? With the corner pieces. The corner pieces are the core values, the core purpose, your BHAG and the plan to make the vision come true. Then, the sides of the jigsaw puzzle are all the people systems.

Mitch: Yeah.

Cameron: Then, the second side is the strategic thinking system. The third side is the meeting rhythms and the fourth side is the financial systems. These systems are core to building that successful company.

Mitch: Yeah. Of course.

Cameron: If you don’t train people on it, then you run around for the rest of your life when business is so hard. No business is actually really simple.

Mitch: Yeah.

Cameron: But you’re making it hard by not teaching an employee the basics.
Mitch: Right, and giving them a shared language, giving them a shared … I mean, those structures that they need to then-

Cameron: Yeah. If you’re not willing to invest $15 for every employee to buy them a copy of Meetings Suck, you shouldn’t be running a business.

Mitch: Right.

Cameron: The next meeting you go to where someone complains about the meetings or where you feel it sucks, that should be your signal to buy everybody a copy. Right? It’s pretty simple.

Mitch: I love it. What would you say? What’s one of the biggest challenges for making this kind of shift? Once everybody’s bought the books, all of that, what’s one of the biggest challenges to make the discussion?

Cameron: The biggest challenge is not taking your cellphone into the room. That tends to be the hardest one. The next one is the communication styles. It’s just slowing down for two or three minutes before you do the request. I’d say the third one is over requesting people to come to a meeting. Jeff Bezos from Amazon has a rule. It’s called the two-pizza rule. His rule is that you can only invite people to a meeting if they can be fed by two pizzas and these have to be normal Canadian sized pizzas. Not American pizzas.

Mitch: Right. Yeah. Huge, yeah, exactly.

Cameron: Just normal two pizzas. If you can’t feed all the attendees with two pizzas, you’re inviting too many people to the meeting.

Mitch: Interesting. That’s awesome. But it’s a good rule of thumb.

Cameron: Yeah. These are what I call the garden grandmother rules. The grandmotherisms are just so true. We over complicate business when business is so simple.

Mitch: Right. Exactly. But it is. It’s finding those systems in that shared or that common language that then, helps to create a culture.

Cameron: Yeah.

Mitch: That’s awesome. All right. I love it. I always love to wrap things up with one last kind of word of wisdom, especially for that person. They’re onboard, they’re like, “Okay, I need to do something like this. I need to do this.” What’s that one last bit of encouragement to push them to move forward on it. To take action on it.

Cameron: Here’s the last one. This is related to Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, who was President of the Soviet Union 30 years ago. They were having their all day summit talking about how to change the world and solve all the world’s problems. During this meeting, they were both listening over translation. A guy would come running in, kicking and screaming and upset and Gorbachev would laugh and smile and he would say, “Remember rule number six.” Reagan would hear over the translation, “Remember rule number six.” It happened three times during the meeting where Mikhail Gorbachev said, “Remember rule number six.” At the end of the meeting, Reagan turned to Gorbachev and he said, “You know, we’ve just solved all the world’s problems because I need to know rule number six.”

Mitch: Yeah.

Cameron: Gorbachev laughed and he said, “Rule number six is don’t take yourself so effing seriously. Reagan laughed and he said, “That’s awesome.” He goes, “What are the first five rules?” Gorbachev said, “There aren’t any.” I think that’s kind of where we have to go. This is just what we do to make money, man. None of these actually matters because none of us are getting out of this alive.

Mitch: Right.

Cameron: Just have fun and hold hands and enjoy ourselves with all this because this is just what we do to make a buck. Let’s have fun while we’re doing it.

Mitch: Yeah. Right? Exactly. Draw the best in people and have some fun but yeah, make some awesome stuff.

Cameron: Yeah.

Mitch: That’s awesome. All right. Where could people find out more about you, grab this book, but everything else that you’re doing?

Cameron: Yeah. My four core books and my fifth will be coming out in January are all on Amazon. If they look up my name on Amazon, Cameron Herold. That is H-E-R-O-L-D. Then also, if they listen to the Second in Command podcast. I have a podcast where I only interview the second in command. Everyone interviews the entrepreneur. I want the rest of the story.

Mitch: Yeah, right.

Cameron: The COO to find out how they really grew the company. It’s kind of like if you ask a Dad how they grew the family, he has version. If you ask the Mom how they grew a family, she has a version.

Mitch: Yeah.

Cameron: I want both sides of the story.

Mitch: Yeah. That’s awesome. I love it. Go check it out. Cameron, thanks so much for the time and the wisdom, man, I appreciate it. We look forward to having you back.

Cameron: You’re welcome Mitch. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

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