Most Meetings are Unnecessary

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Last month, I was leaving an office in which I had been asked to help with some marketing initiatives. As I turned a corner to go down the stairs, I saw about ten people in a conference room taking part in a meeting.

Walking to my car, I tried very hard to think of one meeting I’d ever attended that produced some measurable progress toward a system improvement or revenue generation, but I could not. That’s not to say those meetings did not occur, it’s just that I could not recall one.

Today, meetings are often virtual which, from my experience, delays progress even more. Things seem to take longer when we’re working long distance.

Meetings are part of a detrimental development in medical imaging that I will call “e-management,” which is managing people and processes by meetings, conference calls, e-mail, text and intranet. E-management does nothing more than offer us the illusion that we are making progress when we are not.

The solution to e-management is an effective work style that has been around for decades but which has become almost obsolete. Back in the day, we called it, “Management by walking around,” or MBWA. The execution is simple: Anyone who manages people dedicates time each day to just wander around the facility to observe and to talk with staff. There is no set time each day for MBWA, in fact changing the time each day is a good idea as it gives one the opportunity to see how people and departments function when the facility is busy or slow or in-between. Besides, walking around at the same time each day will make the manager’s appearance predictable, which leads to atypical staff behavior.

In MBWA, managers stop and talk to staff, asking them open-ended questions such as, “How’s it going?” “What’s new?” and my favorite, “What do you need to be more efficient?”

By walking around and talking to people, particularly talking to those who are lowest on the totem pole, managers get a clear, unfiltered idea of what is working and what is not.

My MBWA hero is Walt Disney, who walked through Disneyland each morning he was in town. Disney walked by himself and looked around, occasionally chatting up the custodial crew or the retail teams or attraction operators who were preparing the park for the thousands of visitors that day.

On his walkarounds, Disney made a note of peeling paint, broken light bulbs and other seemingly small maintenance issues. To Disney, though, these lapses were part of a culture of sloppiness that had no place in his park.

One day, Disney saw workers slapping a new coat of gold paint on the turrets at Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Having seen them painting the turrets on a previous walk, Disney started asking questions about how often this was done, how many people it required and how long it took. Upon hearing the answers, he directed his staff to provide him with options, settling on what almost anyone else would have dismissed as far too expensive, but which Disney saw as a long-term cost saving solution. The turrets at the park are now covered in gold leaf, which tolerates the elements far better than even the best paint and requires almost no maintenance whatsoever for many years.

All from just taking a walk.

Alas, I have no hope of the resurgence of MBWA anytime soon. Today’s imaging enterprises have become so fascinated with e-management that there are people – sometimes even departments - set up just to manage it. E-management has its place, but it is no substitute for walking around and never will be.


Steve SmithWith over 25 years of marketing experience — nine years as a former Vice President of Marketing for a leading health care marketing company — Steve Smith has consistently developed effective strategies to help fuel the growth of countless health care enterprises. Since 2007, he has specialized as a marketing and business development consultant to medical imaging facilities nationwide. Mr. Smith has been a featured speaker at imaging conferences and is a former member of the marketing subcommittee of the Radiology Business Management Association (RBMA). He has contributed marketing articles to numerous health care publications, including Physician’s Money Digest, Radiology Business Journal and more. Mr. Smith is the creator of “Ten Seconds to Great Customer Service™,” a medical imaging training program that provides easy-to-use tactical customer service support to staff.