This newsletter posits that cancelled meeting are anathema to good organization, are counter-productive and because they are disrespectful of those who planned on fulfilling their commitments, repeated cancellations will lose you friends.

  1. Why Meetings are cancelled

 While there may be a thousand reasons to justify cancelling meetings, the two more common ones are (a) some members cannot attend and (b) a more important event has occurred.

  1. The Rule that we propose

 Never cancel meetings – except in the case of national disasters.

 However, never say: never.  So yes, to be reasonable sometimes it does make sense to delay meetings – but not for long. Or you might even have to cancel them.  Always, a balance has to be reached.  Some reasons to persuade you not to cancel them, without serious aforethought, are:

  1. Reasons for not cancelling

a) Cancelling penalizes those who would meet their commitment and rewards those who cannot meet their commitment

b) Cancelling because Harry cannot attend will only be followed, at the new date, by the discovery that Mary cannot attend

c) Finding a new date for a variety of busy people is a nightmare

d) Whatever the meeting was to achieve will be delayed, and may never get done

e) Cancelling plays into the hands of people who do not wish this issue to be resolved.

The following paragraphs examine each of these.

3a. Penalizing the Conscientious

 The moment you cancel a meeting, you are, in one fell swoop, both rewarding those who have chosen (and it is always a choice) to not meet a commitment and punishing those who are willing to conscientiously fulfill their obligations.  Those who do plan to attend the meeting will, in all likelihood, have done their preparations for the event and may have deferred other opportunities in favour of the meeting.  With the cancellation these conscientious people will lose the crispness of their preparations and perhaps have to review the material again before the new date – a waste of their time.  People approach a meeting with a certain level of positive anticipation; cancellation reverses that to disappointment.  A cancellation means one less commitment fulfilled which tends to strain the mutual respect and thus, the friendship.  No doubt, lack of respect on the side of the canceller is displayed: “Your preparations, your time and your plans can be deferred in favour of my preparations, my time and my plans.  You are second; I am first.”

3b. Someone will be absent

 A frequent reason for cancelling arises when, at the last minute, one of the team members cannot make the meeting.  So, diligently, the group rearranges the plans for a new meeting time only to find that, again at the last minute, someone else cannot attend.  No kidding!  Realize that life is full of change; busy people will have thrust upon them many unavoidable expected obligations.  Almost always, for every meeting, someone will not be able to attend.

My most painful memory was a 2-day training meeting that had been scheduled some months previously.  As we neared the date, a member was unavoidably drawn away.  Despite my suggestions that we proceed anyway, the most important team member insisted that the meeting be deferred, which because of people’s busy schedules would postpone the event another two months.  So, as we arrived near the new date, this most important team member herself had to fly overseas for a family tragedy.  She insisted we proceed this time because the lack of training meant certain key activities could not be advanced in the company.  We did meet and train.  She herself would not be able to perform the function – an essential part of her job description. 

3c. Organizing a New Meeting

 As any business person realizes, trying to arrange a meeting time with a group of busy executives is a harrowing experience of give-and-take, compromise, long-distance calls, messages back and forth ad nausea and, frustration.  (It is for that reason we always recommend that the next meeting date be set at the end of the current meeting when everyone is present.)   The point is that cancelling a meeting places the unpleasant rescheduling task on someone’s shoulders – a further waste of time caused by the cancellation.

The solution of absenteeism is to send a representative to the event, fully delegated with the authority to participate in the discourse, and make decisions in place of the absent person.  Not only does this allow the event to progress, it also trains a new person for increased responsibility, it trains an executive in the skill of delegating, and it imbues the absent person with at least a partial knowledge of the proceedings (in a later exchange with the delegate).

In one situation where I was the presenter, the seminar was postponed, despite my protests, to a week later because of one potential absentee.  As the canceller set about to reschedule, she discovered after a week, every time slot in the window available would have at least one person absent.  She called me apologetically two days before to revert to the original time.  Since I had already rearranged my schedule to the new expectation, I had to undo my plans (that affected only me, as it happens).  I had to quickly prepare in one day what normally takes a few days.  Beside my all-night-stand preparations, which left me as a less than fully alert presenter in the morning, some last minute printing of seminar material was compromised for which I had to apologize to the audience and accept the blame.  Not only was this a waste of time, it put the presentation itself at risk (as well as the prospect of my future business with this client).

3d. Progress Delays

 Cancelling a meeting at the very least delays the outcome of that meeting to the new delay date.  Presumably a meeting has been called for an important reason.  This important purpose will now be delayed and suffer the consequences of the delay – another unnecessary price paid for rescheduling.  Sometimes that one delay forces subsequent delays because of missing a window of opportunity.

A follow-on aspect of the delay of the example in paragraph 5 above was that another client of mine, client B agreed to allow the lady, from client A, to attend client B’s similar session.  Well, due to unfortunate circumstances – they always are – client B postponed its session too.  This most important lady’s exclusion of the training for this role became permanent.  She never did get this training and performed as a lame duck in her position, always calling on others to take over the function – requiring two people to do the job instead of one.  The point is that a harmless, and unnecessary, delay turned out to cause a permanent disruption.

 3e. Manipulation by Cancelling

 I believe that cancelling a meeting is sometimes a conscious, and always at least a subconscious, manipulation by one party over the others.  Two common causes are (a) an attempt to avoid dealing with the issue of the meeting (b) an inability to organize one’s time to properly prepare for the meeting.

Some people simply don’t want to face certain concerns, or at the very least, postpone them indefinitely.  Cancelling a meeting on any pretext accomplishes that nicely, especially since cancelled meetings are a commonly accepted practice in our society.

Many people cancel meetings because they, themselves, have been unable or unwilling to prepare for the meeting.  They may even admit that they are not ready for it.  It has been my own experience that this most distressingly occurs in my encounters with the legal profession.

Obviously such delays penalize the conscientious in favour of the slackers.  And clearly such manipulation shows disrespect for the others.  In my business, I apply financial penalties for postponements of contracted events. So, a cancellation can cost cold hard cash.

  1. More Experiences

One year, close to Christmas time I was asked by a panic-stricken administrator to cancel a regularly scheduled meeting because so many people were calling to indicate they could not participate.  (Guess what was really diverting them!)  The administrator and her boss were aghast that I (the chairman) said that the meeting would proceed even though it appeared that only three of us would be there.  The meeting did go on as scheduled; two unexpected people showed up; five of us addressed key issues whose delay would have been close to catastrophic for the group.  The administrator beamed afterward how we ‘got more done’ than at many of our previous meetings.  You never know what the outcome of any meeting will be, even poorly attended ones.  By proceeding with the event you also send the message that you will not cancel in future (and by implication – don’t try to manipulate things) and also, in this case: “look at what you missed”.

Even a two-person meeting should proceed because it will get results and it will emphasize the philosophy of ‘no cancelled meetings’.  By the way, a two-person meeting will skew the results towards the personal agendas of the two attendees.  When the minutes are distributed (and read) they often force the absent people to recognize that their own positions are being jeopardized, and hence, stress the importance of their being at the meeting – at all meetings.

On the day of a 9 AM meeting in a city one hour’s drive from my office, a howling blizzard made getting there less than convenient.  I, determined not to be the source of a cancellation, decided to do my best to be in Cornwall on time.  I left an hour earlier than usual and to my delight found the highways were devoid of other vehicles so the drive was pleasant and interesting with snow whirling all around (my car is well winterized). I arrived at the meeting to the amazement of the chair person, not because I had braved the blizzard, but because most of the local members, only a few kilometres away, claimed they were unable to attend – ironically even while I was there, able to listen in as they made their excuses.

  1. Conclusions

 The summarized messages from the above are:

  • Never cancel meetings
  • Cancellations reward slackers and manipulators
  • Cancellations punish good employees
  • Cancellations waste people’s time
  • Cancellations cause people to disrespect the canceller
  • Cancellations display a lack of respect for others
  • Cancellations cause disappointment
  • Cancellations cause frustration
  • Someone will always be absent from a meeting
  • Cancellations delay actions being taken
  • Delays cost money
  • Cancellations can prevent actions from ever being taken
  • If you can’t attend, send a representative, fully delegated
  • Reversed rescheduling (reverting back to an original schedule) causes wheel-spinning and duplication
  • Reversed rescheduling can put the quality of presentations at risk
  • Some people use cancellations to make up for their own lack of preparation
  • Cancellations are used to avoid dealing with issues
  • Cancellations can cost cold hard cash
  • Go ahead with a planned meeting even if it includes only you and one other
  • A two-person meeting skews the results towards the agendas of the two attendees forcing the absent people to recognize their own positions are being jeopardized.
  • Don’t let a blizzard stop you
  • Cancelled meetings = lost friends