Earlier this week I got an email from a friend asking whether they should roll out business reviews at the company they’d just joined as the head of engineering, and inevitably the answer is, “Maybe!”
I recently pulled together a template for Monthly Business Reviews, which are an exceptionally effective meeting format for operating a business: each functional leader writes a metrics-heavy report about their past month, and discusses it with the other functional leaders. A well-run business review gives you a good sense of what’s happening, a checkpoint to ensure everyone is headed in the same direction, and an opportunity for teams and stakeholders to raise the alarm when they notice something going wrong.
As much as I think highly of these meetings, I’ve also seen business review rollouts go quite badly, so I took that email as an invitation to write a few notes on why you might not want to roll out. Some anti-patterns to avoid are:
- Business reviews don’t solve a relevant problem. If teams are highly aligned, execution is strong, and existing leaders have strong judgment, then it’s unclear why you’d want to roll out business reviews. You’ll be spending time on something you’re already quite good at!
- Missing leaders to write the business reviews. Sometimes folks want to roll out business reviews, but they simply don’t have the existing team to run constructive business reviews. This happens most frequently when the existing team is small and the existing leader is so consumed by operating their part of the business that they can’t step out to think about improving it.
You don’t necessarily need to replace those existing leaders, rather they need your help creating mental space before they’ll be able to absorb a shift in the business’ operations like moving from ad-hoc execution to a business review-driven approach.
- Your CEO isn’t committed to doing the work. Business Reviews are particularly valuable when the organizational tie-breaker is present in the review and engaged in breaking ties. This takes a lot of time, although it generally takes less time than not doing it. If the CEO doesn’t commit to the necessary time to prepare, participate, and engage during the sessions, then your business review is unlikely to succeed.
(If you’re doing a business review for e.g. teams within engineering, then you don’t need the CEO there, but in that case you do need the head of engineering to be heavily engaged.)
- You can’t agree on a standard format. It’s my lived experience that the format itself is important but there are many different formats that can succeed. However, the inability to agree on and enforce a standard format means that no one sufficiently important in your company is paying enough attention to the format for it to succeed.
- Presentation quality doesn’t rapidly increase over time. When you initially roll out business reviews, the presentations are going to be rough. That’s expected and normal. Don’t get discouraged if the first pass isn’t good. What is concerning is when the quality doesn’t improve. Someone must be giving feedback to presenters and holding them accountable for the quality of their presentations. Further, this feedback needs to be good feedback. Again, this is a sign that senior leadership is either not paying attention or not aligned on the business review’s goals, both of which are good predictors of a bad outcome
- Presenters are allowed to persist in meeting anti-patterns. The discussion’s format must focus on introducing concerns and new information to the review-writer. It must not be a reporting forum that consists primarily of presenting the written report. For example, a great session is when stakeholders in the audience flag concerns about execution, say, flagging that a recent partner launch went more poorly than represented in the written report–this means you’re creating alignment. Conversely, it’s a perfunctory waste of time when it’s dominated by someone “sharing context” about their execution in the live session. That should be in the written report. Doing it live is wasteful disrespect of the others gathered to improve organizational alignment and execution.
- Attendees are allowed to be unprepared or otherwise disruptive. You cannot build alignment across a leadership team if some members are unwilling to prepare for the peers’ business reviews. At best, this means significant meeting time will be consumed with irrelevant or misguided discussion.
In summary, business reviews require significant maintenance from senior-most leadership or someone that senior-most leadership has empowered to operate in their stead. Without that maintaining attention, business reviews will rapidly become overhead rather than leverage.