5 Steps to Conducting Analysis Meetings That Resolve Most Management Challenges

Management is not an instant success but rather a gradual process that brings surprises.

Enhancing managerial abilities is a crucial support for companies to harness the “organizational dividend” of the future. To cope with the uncertainty of the external environment, there needs to be certainty in internal management actions. Among these, the “analysis meeting” is a very important management lever that can make the company’s operational situation clear and explicit.

Where should the basics of corporate management start? Conducting effective “analysis meetings” is the best entry point.

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01 – Common Issues in Conducting Operational Analysis Meetings in Companies

Issue 1: Not Conducting Operational Analysis Meetings

Many companies either do not conduct operational analysis meetings or do so irregularly and casually. Why is this the case? Some argue that operational data should be kept confidential, and only a few key individuals need to know; some say that meetings are ineffective, everyone is busy, and it’s better to do more work; others claim that previous meetings were ineffective, so there’s no need for more; some mention that there are other work meetings, so there’s no need for additional ones; or executives have difficulty coordinating their schedules…

Issue 2: Lack of Timeliness or Reasonable Timing for Operational Analysis Meetings

Firstly, there’s no set schedule for operational analysis meetings. The timing is arbitrary, with meetings being scheduled at the beginning, middle, or end of the month. Meetings are arranged on an ad-hoc basis, and this randomness often results in inconsistent attendance or participants using excuses to avoid these impromptu meetings, leading to lower meeting quality and a lack of seriousness.

Secondly, operational analysis meetings are often scheduled in the middle or later part of the month. This could be due to delayed financial reporting, the busy start of the month, other meetings occupying time, and so on. Waiting until the end of the month to conduct these meetings means that the analysis of the current month’s operations has already concluded, and it’s too early to discuss next month’s work. Monthly operational analysis meetings should include both a review of the previous month’s operations and guidance for the current month’s operations.

Thirdly, quarterly, semi-annual, or even annual operational analysis meetings are held. To save time, because they believe these meetings are optional, because they think monthly analysis doesn’t yield meaningful insights, or because relevant departments are unwilling to prepare data… Some companies only conduct operational analysis meetings once a quarter, semi-annually, or annually, analyzing their operational situation only 1-4 times a year. In the rapidly changing market environment where business cycles are getting shorter, is it enough to analyze the operations only 1-4 times a year?

Issue 3: Lack of Effective Operational Data in Operational Analysis Meetings

This may be due to problems with financial accounting, internal operational metric databases, lack of historical data, reluctance to address issues, or senior executives preferring slogans over numbers. In many companies, operational analysis meetings have become mere gatherings, briefings, updates, or declaration sessions. I’ve been advocating for years that operational analysis meetings should be like “math lessons,” not “language lessons,” and certainly not “activity lessons.” Recently, I saw a report where Mr. Guo Ping, the rotating chairman of Huawei, also emphasized that management should not be about language but about math. The principle is the same.

Issue 4: Lack of Gap Analysis and Accountability in Operational Analysis Meetings

Some operational analysis meetings provide data but fail to expose deeper or systemic operational issues. They lack effective analysis and accountability, and there’s no clear plan for improvement. Some meetings turn into recognition ceremonies, showcasing achievements and avoiding discussions about targets, gaps, or problems. There’s also a lack of cross-departmental inquiries and professional diagnostics. As a result, existing problems often persist and may only gain attention when it’s too late or when larger conflicts arise, requiring more significant interventions.

According to a Huawei executive, if you talk about achievements for more than three sentences during a report, you might get kicked out. They believe that operational analysis meetings are for analyzing gaps and how to continually achieve success. At Midea, operational analysis meetings are based on budget frameworks and operational objectives and must be reported accurately, regardless of whether the results are good or bad. Finance, operations, HR, and other departments also review the data.

Issue 5: Failure to Identify Real Problems, Root Causes, and Effective Solutions in Operational Analysis Meetings

This issue includes attributing problems to external factors, believing that issues are due to external environments, unexpected events, uncontrollable factors, superiors’ actions, or other departments. Blaming external factors doesn’t contribute to problem resolution and may lead to more conflicts.

Another issue is superficial problem identification. Meetings may list shallow, surface-level causes without addressing the subjective or root causes. Sometimes, the identified causes are considered too complex to solve or are dismissed to avoid upsetting other departments. Occasionally, strong departments or leaders may exert pressure during meetings, preventing the discussion of specific problems or causes in other departments.

Additionally, some meetings involve scratching the surface of issues. While problems and causes may be identified, the solutions presented are not comprehensive or targeted. In some companies, the solution is always, “Recover performance next month,” without specific, actionable strategies. This lack of specificity makes it difficult to evaluate progress in the following months, and by year-end, it’s challenging to determine specific responsibilities, perpetuating a vicious cycle.

Lastly, there’s a tendency to repeat actions. While problems may be identified and solved, there’s no effort to address the root causes systematically. To prevent recurring issues, companies should focus on improving internal management systems, standards, processes, and tools continuously.

Issue 6: Lack of Hierarchical Operational Analysis Meetings

Many companies conduct operational analysis meetings at a single level, which may not be effective in identifying and solving problems, as well as raising awareness of operational issues. To effectively address this, meetings should be conducted at multiple hierarchical levels. Information cannot be presented in a single meeting for larger organizations; otherwise, it becomes too complex without clear priorities. Meetings should be conducted from the grassroots operational units and proceed upwards, providing clearer data for higher-level operational analysis meetings. In some cases, operational analysis meetings can be held on-site to achieve better results.

02-The Usefulness of Operational Analysis Meetings

First, Operational Analysis Meetings are Essential Key Actions in Management

Within an organization, there are numerous operational activities, various projects, and different objectives. While there may be various specific work meetings and management meetings, an organization’s operational activities are interconnected. Many departments, businesses, projects, and issues are related to the overall picture of operations. Therefore, it is crucial to use Operational Analysis Meetings to present the holistic view of the organization’s operations. These meetings also serve to examine, discuss, and deploy strategies. Operational Analysis Meetings should not be considered optional or replaceable with other work meetings.

Second, Operational Analysis Meetings Serve as a Yardstick for Assessing Operations and Even Strategy

Strategic planning typically spans 3-5 years, which can be quite distant. How can you observe if strategic actions are being implemented effectively? An annual operating plan is also a significant time frame, so how can you confirm that it is being executed item by item? Are the existing operational logic and plans feasible, and are the allocated resources reasonable? Through Operational Analysis Meetings, you can efficiently and systematically check and implement operational and strategic plans, ensuring that they do not become mere talk. Using annual meetings to assess these aspects is often insufficient for thorough evaluation.

Third, Operational Analysis Meetings Foster a Performance-Oriented Culture that Relies on Data

Operational Analysis Meetings are all about real work, data-driven discussions, digging deep into issues, and logical validation. They encourage the development of a culture within the organization that values data, logic, and goal-oriented approaches. It emphasizes a commitment to action and results, a respect for the seriousness of plans, and the determination to execute them. It helps establish a culture of rigor and discipline, fostering a strong work ethic.

Fourth, Operational Analysis Meetings are an Effective Means to Improve Organizational Efficiency and, Consequently, Enhance Operational Capability

Operational Analysis Meetings deal with real operational data, reflecting the true state of the organization’s operations. Efficiency metrics, such as expense ratios, cost rates, productivity, inventory turnover, and cash flow, directly reveal the organization’s performance. Through the analysis of this data and identification of gaps, continuous optimization, changes, accountability, and problem-solving can be initiated. This process extends to the level of processes, standards, and systems, which further improves organizational efficiency and capability. This iterative cycle enables the organization to continually enhance its operational capability.

03-How to Conduct Effective Operational Analysis Meetings

Key One: Establish Data-Driven Goals and Budgets Operational analysis meetings should not be spontaneous or arbitrary; they must operate within a predefined framework, which is the budget. The budget serves as a guideline for operational analysis meetings, and the discussions should align with the budget’s specified parameters. Without data-driven objectives and budget management, regardless of how well-organized the meeting is or how committed the attendees are, it will not be effective.

Key Two: Define Meeting Themes Based on Business Plans Different business units or departments may have varying operational priorities during a given year or phase. Therefore, the themes of operational analysis meetings should be tailored to address these specific priorities. Whether it’s focusing on startup units, mature units, areas with low sales revenue, or units with poor accounts receivable and gross margins, the meeting themes should be relevant to the specific circumstances.

Key Three: Establish Meeting Schedules Operational analysis meetings should occur on a monthly basis, aligning with the natural monthly financial reporting and data collection cycles. Setting a specific date and time for these meetings, preferably at the beginning of each month, ensures consistency and helps participants plan accordingly. Additionally, these meetings should be conducted at different levels within the organization, starting from smaller business units and progressing to larger ones.

Key Four: Effective Organization The organization of operational analysis meetings should be led by the finance department, as financial data often forms the basis for analysis. However, it can also involve other relevant departments such as operations or administration. The presentation of meeting materials is best done in a concise and visually engaging format, such as PowerPoint slides. Furthermore, it’s crucial to conduct meetings in a well-structured manner, adhering to predetermined time limits.

Key Five: Post-Meeting Follow-Up and Management Proper post-meeting management includes recording minutes, especially for matters that require further attention or resolution. These minutes should outline responsibilities, deadlines, and specific actions to be taken. Additionally, quantifiable analysis should be a primary focus. Analyzing discrepancies using specific data points, whether related to budgets, sales, or other performance metrics, allows for a more comprehensive understanding and targeted problem-solving. Finally, a conducive meeting atmosphere and culture should be cultivated, focusing on constructive discussions rather than blame or reprimand.

In today’s rapidly changing and highly competitive market, failing to conduct operational analysis meetings is incomprehensible. Continuously improving the quality of these meetings is a low-cost, high-return initiative to enhance operational management.

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