Red, red lines
How do you prepare for a meeting?
If you’re a banker, the answer is… it depends…
If it’s an external meeting, with a client or third party, you tend to rely on your team to brief you. And you usually do it… on the way to the meeting.
That could take many forms.
If you are lucky and the meeting is, say, a flight away, you have a few hours to read some materials, perhaps, or discuss the background over a cup of burnt coffee on the plane. If you are unlucky, you get briefed on the central line en route from Liverpool Street to St Paul’s and hope the team didn’t miss any salient facts in the few minutes’ worth of chat you got… and you didn’t miss anything as you were struggling to listen over the rattle of the train. Incidentally: true story. Of course.
Occasionally you get prepped as you walk from your office to the meeting room next door.
If it’s an internal meeting with juniors, you just don’t prepare at all. You turn up and ask questions that are neither relevant nor useful. You derail the meeting or don’t pay attention and leave, leaving them stressed about how they missed the mark and confused around actions and follow ups.
If it’s an internal meeting with seniors, you clear your diary and spend weeks going back and forth with your team till you have the perfect deck.
That’s how it’s usually done. Banking 101.
It is how we do things.
It is also immensely wasteful of time, energy, opportunity and effort.
It is a terrible use of human endeavour. It’s a way of working that routinely squanders more than it may accidentally achieve. So stop it.
Stop winging it and start preparing for meetings.
And by that I don’t mean just read the agenda and the pre-read.
I mean spend time thinking about what you want from the meeting. Spend time working out with your team what that is and spend time being on the same page as each other.
Move away from ‘smart enough to wing it’ to ‘smart enough to know better and come prepared’.
The first thing to do is work out what a good outcome is.
What is this meeting about? What is it for? What’s at stake? What’s at risk?
The vast majority of people attend meetings without thinking that question through.
I once tried in vain to get some senior folks to spend some time on a thing (I can’t tell you what it was, it would expose who they are, but trust me that it’s not relevant to the story).
Anyway. I explained why this was vital. Why it needed their attention. Why it needed no more than an hour or two of their time.
No dice. The seniors were way too busy. You wouldn’t understand. Waaaay too busy.
So I booked in a meeting with them. Back in those pre-Zoom days.
They all trooped in.
Coffee was poured. Biscuits passed around.
Are we good for time, I asked? Do we have you all for the full two hours?
Oh yeah, for sure, they said. My work was important to them (read: their bosses were looking as my work was important to their bosses’ boss).
So this meeting is now cancelled, I said.
But you can do the thing you had no time for. With my thanks. I will wait. I have my laptop.
And I had to wait, of course, to ensure they didn’t sneak away.
You may need to block prep time in your diary. In fact. You will have to block it. So do it.
Intentionally. Block the time to work out why you are going to the meeting and work out what you want from it.
Not in a ‘I want good things’ way.
Which good things? And how hard are those good things to obtain? Why may you not get them? What are the arguments you will face and the counter-offers that may be thrown at you? What are the things you should try to think through so you don’t end up doing all your thinking on your feet in the room?
We’ve talked about the department store Santa before, right?
You don’t ask for ‘presents’. Or ‘stuff’. You ask for a red bicycle and hope your dad is listening.
But to do that, you need to work out that you want the bicycle rather than the whatever else you may want.
Spend the time thinking about what you need and want. Specifically and in detail. Think about the smallest version of what you want that still works. Give yourself some space to manoeuvre.
Work out the reasons why you want the thing you want.
If you don’t get the bicycle but get a scooter, are you equally happy? If you don’t get the red bicycle but get a red football kit, are you happy? Were you trying to get a means of getting yourself to school or something in the colours of your favourite football team?
If you can’t get what you asked for, is there another way of getting to a good outcome?
If you don’t get budget but get people, can you achieve the same ends?
If you don’t get people or budget but service credits from existing suppliers, can you achieve the same ends?
If you get enough budget to get started but not finish, can you make enough inroads before you are due back for more money?
What is the thing you are trying to achieve with the thing you are asking for, and are there other ways of achieving it? Equally, are there ways in which you may get what you asked for in a way that isn’t helpful in the slightest?
My old boss was ex-military and described this situation by using the dramatic example of a soldier who was asked to guard a bridge but was not told why.
They needed to guard the bridge so that the village on the other side of the river could not be accessed. But they were not told anything other than ‘protect the bridge’. The assumption was that the enemy would appear on the far shore and would need to cross the bridge to access the village. So when the enemy appeared from an unexpected direction, the solder guarded the bridge and let the village burn.
Admittedly, most of your missions won’t be as dramatic, but it’s good to know why you need the thing you need and what the alternatives may be. Or what the discounts that may render it unusable may be.
Those things may just not be obvious. Would you rather know and not find out by getting it wrong?
You also need to spend some time thinking about what you don’t want.
You need to spend some time defining, with your team, what is a bad outcome for this meeting you are going to. What does ‘bad’ look like?
If it’s a negotiation, what are you not going to give in on? What are you not going to give up? What are the lines you won’t cross, the things you won’t ‘trade’?
In the rare occasions you prepare for a meeting, you define ‘good’ and assume the rest follows.
Take the time: what is this for? What happens if it goes well? What happens if goes poorly? What is at stake? What moonshots will I go for? What lines am I not prepared to cross?
This is the thing you should spend the most time on and make sure you specifically align with your team on. What are our red lines? The lines we won’t cross? The things we won’t give up? The things that become the hills we die on?
Have the red line meeting.
Be clear. Be specific. Be confident that you are aligned with your team.
If you don’t spend time spelling out those red lines and sharing with your teams, you may find yourself on the far side of the wrong line after the meeting you didn’t prepare for is done.
And then there is no way back to a place where you hadn’t given up the thing you shouldn’t have given up, crossed the line you shouldn’t have crossed.
Do the work. Prepare for the meeting. Call out the red lines. Make sure you all agree and understand.
Then go to the meeting. Remembering what good looks like, fully prepared to negotiate and adapt. And fully cognisant of the lines you won’t cross.
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem. She is chief client officer at 10x Future Technologies.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!