I am falling in love with all the processes surrounding meeting scheduling, but the more time I spend with executives and personal assistants, the more evident it becomes that scheduling a meeting involves three independent and distinct actions performed by separate actors:
A formal meeting, in its purest definition, is the deliberate coming together of two or more people. If we assume this does not happen by chance, the host needs to sell the idea of the meeting to the guest. This is nothing more exotic than me trying to persuade Roger to meet up for a chat about my new venture or a potential engineering applicant sending me his CV and suggesting we talk over the phone. Even internal meetings need selling, though some can be dictated; however, that’s really just a more aggressive form of selling. This is rarely a task you outsource, and the primary owner of this step is the host. Once sold, the result is what I call a verified meeting.
Negotiate Date/Time and Location
Now that you have a verified meeting, you embark on the task (and associated pain) of negotiating date, time and location—the minimum set of variables. This is where you’ll see a handoff to a personal assistant, which in itself is a very delicate matter. An inauthentic or clumsy handoff can undo your persuasive efforts and “unsell” the meeting, which means it won’t take place. This is especially true when you are trying to arrange a meeting with someone who resides above you in the social hierarchy. I purposely use the word “negotiate,” instead of “discuss,” to highlight the fact that the host’s and guest’s preferences are not necessarily, if ever, aligned. It’s obvious to all of us that social dynamics (power) are built into meetings, often dictating the course of the negotiation, and that this is OK.
Once host and guest agree upon a meeting date, time and location, an invite must be sent to the host and guest(s) to successfully finalize the full meeting scheduling task; if technically possible, the invite should be directly inserted into each participants’s calendar application. While the insert can certainly be chock full of useful information about participants, travel time, dial-in number and accompanying codes etc., this step is entirely void of social dynamics. The only risk is that the insert is somehow incorrect, whether that’s the date or time or some other meeting detail.
In real life, most of us do all three independent actions ourselves and thus are blind to the fact that these are distinct actions. By analogy, an Account Manager doesn’t do Debt Collection in any reasonably smart organization. Perhaps we need to see the separation of these meeting scheduling actions as a natural split between responsibilities rather than a luxury for only the most senior executives.