Tag Archives: Management

The Most Important Part of a Productive Meeting

For those of us working in organizations as employees, vendors, or consultants, the ebb and flow of our time is greatly affected by a schedule of daily meetings.   

Influential leaders recognize, accept, and capitalize on the significance of meetings in everyday work life.

They astutely leverage this valuable time to motivate others to collaborate on initiatives, expedite decision-making, and facilitate the production of needed deliverables. While it is true that influential leaders artfully employ efficient meetings, it is also true that running productive efficient meetings increases personal influence. The Catch-22 is that it is much easier to organize and conduct productive meetings if you have a lot of influence as a leader. That said, people in the process of growing their influence can follow certain protocols to improve the efficiency of the meetings they run in order to enhance their credibility, improve their reputation as someone who “gets things done”, and build trusting relationships with others throughout the organization.

Typically, successful meetings embody some or all of the following characteristics:

  • The “right” people attended
  • Everyone was properly prepared
  • There was a steady focus on the right topics
  • The meeting produced well informed decisions and/or tangible results
  • The meeting outcomes were supported by consistent relevant follow up

Leaders whose meetings consistently model these characteristics carefully attend to the three parts of every meeting:  Preparation, Facilitation, and Follow-thru.

Which part do you think has the greatest impact on the effectiveness and productivity of a meeting?

Anyone who’s had a meeting start late, get off track, fail to produce any tangible results, and then end late knows the price to be paid for inadequate meeting preparation.  It’s important to keep in mind the frustration that comes from attending a poorly planned meeting; especially when faced with the decision of how much time and effort to invest before the participants convene.

Though our tendency is to “borrow” time from meeting planning to be used elsewhere, just know that, more often than not, we end up paying back this time plus interest both during and after the meeting!

Starting with preparation, the posts will cover a set of guidelines for how to plan, facilitate, and follow-thru on productive meetings. For optimum results, these methods should be executed in an environment conducive to and supportive of their application. Though not impossible, it is certainly an uphill battle to implement efficiency strategies in a culture that has grown accustomed to or even promotes counter-productive meeting practices. For more information on the impact of organizational culture on meeting efficiency, you may want to first read Productive Meeting Is Not An Oxymoron and/or Culture: The Organizational 12th Man.

 “Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” ~A.A. Milne

FIVE PEAS IN A PEAPOD

This is a catchy little device for remembering all of the steps to take when preparing for meetings:

  1. Purpose
  2. Payoff (3 H’s)
  3. Ponder the purpose
  4. People
  5. Process

            Potential Pitfalls

The first step towards a productive meeting is to develop a brief Purpose statement for the meeting. Answer questions such as:

  • Why conduct this meeting?
  • What do we want to achieve?

Once the purpose is clear, determine the meeting’s  Payoff or tangible output:

  • What will participants have in their Hands (deliverables, materials, action plan, etc.)
  • What will they have in their Heads? (knowledge, information, awareness)
  • What will be in their Hearts? (Beliefs, commitments, values)

Based on what you want to achieve with the meeting and the Payoff for the participants, it’s now time to Ponder the purpose. Ask questions such as:

  • Is this meeting really necessary?
  • Is there an alternative way to achieve the Purpose and Payoff without the time, effort, and/or expense of a meeting?
  • Could we get the same results using an alternative method such as email “round robin”, electronic survey, or one-way dissemination of information?
  • If a meeting is required, does it have to occur face-to-face or can it be conducted via teleconference, or video-conference?
  • If the meeting does need to be face-to-face, what is the appropriate venue (specific room requirements, food, AV equipment, on-site, off-site, etc.)?
  • How much time is needed to cover each agenda item? Is the total time required to complete the agenda too much for a single meeting? Can some of the work be accomplished by participants before the meeting?

Once you’re certain that the meeting does in fact need to be held. Your next step is to assess the People part of the equation. Develop a list of people who must attend in order to achieve the meeting’s Purpose. In other words, if there is no way to fulfill the Purpose without the individual, then that person must be there. Create a separate list of people you’d like to have attend or think could benefit or add some value, but without whom the Purpose could still be accomplished.

Before contacting People on either list, take the time to outline the Process you will use to achieve the Purpose. This is a list of the topics that need to be covered starting with a Review of the Agenda and ending with a Summary of the meeting. When you send this out as part of your invitation to participants, include the Purpose, Payoff, and a complete list of People.

A strong influence building strategy is to give the Must Attend participants a preview of the agenda. Ask for their input and ideas. As much as possible, incorporate their suggestions into the final agenda you send out to the group. This will ensure that the individuals critical to the meeting’s success have ownership of the outcome. It’s also an excellent way to secure attendance.

 For the Nice-to-Have individuals on your second list, provide them with a copy of the agenda and take a few minutes to discuss your interest in having them attend and the benefits they can gain by participating. It is important to graciously accept a decline from any of the people on this secondary list. By asking them to the meeting, you are signaling that you recognize their value. Extending them the courtesy of opting out without negative consequence (guilt, griping, grudges), you are reinforcing your understanding of their worth and demonstrating a sincere respect for their time. The trust and rapport you establish with this practice will make it that much easier to obtain their commitment and cooperation regarding future meetings.

You’re not quite done yet; the last step in thorough meeting preparation is to anticipate the Potential Pitfalls. On the tactical side, confirm administrative items such as whether or not the venue selected can comfortably accommodate the attendees. For the more strategic aspects of the meeting, consider questions such as:

  • What questions or concerns could arise about the Purpose, Payoff, or Process? How can these be addressed efficiently either before or during the meeting?
  • What are the “Hot” items that need to be addressed but could end up taking too much time or creating tangential discussions? What can be done to handle these constructively?
  • What items could come up that really don’t have anything to do with the meeting purpose and should not be addressed?

What other strategies have you used to prepare for meetings?

Have you ever experienced an inefficient meeting run by an influential person? What went wrong?

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“Productive Meeting” is Not an Oxymoron

The Stake Out

“Hey,” said Alberts as he struggled to pull what looked like a football wrapped in butcher paper out of his coat pocket. “Anybody want a sandwich?”  Both men shook their heads. “Nah. I’ll just chew on my coffee” said Lewis swirling the dregs in his cup.

“You guys look beat. It’s after 7. What are you doing here so late? What’s the situation?” queried Alberts. Dawes tossed his magazine onto the van floor and stood up to stretch. “We’ve spent all day witnessing a colossal mess of meetings. I haven’t seen anything this bad since that boardroom debacle back in ’98. We thought it was going to be a slow day. According to the room scheduling program, there was a meeting at 8am, one at 10am, an 11am, and then nothing until 2pm with no other meetings after that.” Alberts looked over at the video feed streaming on the laptop screen. A group of distraught looking individuals were huddled at the far end of a conference room. Take-out containers, empty soda cans, and wadded up napkins were pushed into a disheveled mountain in the middle of the long oval table. “So what happened?” asked Alberts squinting at the screen.Meeting

“I’ll tell you what happened” replied Lewis swiveling his chair around. “Our informant completely played down the severity of the situation. This copany is in far worse shape than we thought.” Without pausing to take a breath, Lewis barreled head long into a rant that would make Dennis Miller proud. “The 8am meeting was between Mr. Jenkins, the company President, and his executive team. Three of the eight people scheduled to meet actually showed up on time. Jenkins strolled in at 8:18am with the other four people hurrying in on his heels. It’s their weekly meeting, so no one thought it necessary to put together an agenda. McMichaels, the VP of Operations got hung up on a production issue. Jenkins started brainstorming on the flipchart and before you know it, the 10am group is gathered outside the meeting room watching the executive team through the glass walls. Stevens, a marketing manager leading the 10am meeting, was so intimidated he just stood there without saying a word. Fifteen minutes later, the execs vacate and Stevens finally gains access to the conference room. He had an agenda, which was good. But two people in the meeting never looked up from their BlackBerries. The domino effect of delayed meetings was well underway. The 11am meeting didn’t get into the room until noon. Instead of diving right into it, the group decided to get their lunches. This was no working lunch. We learned some interesting information about everybody’s kids and vacation plans as well as the plot of this week’s NCIS. By the time they started discussing issues, it was 1:05pm. One woman brought up the same production issue that came up in the executive meeting. She would not let it go. No one interrupted her. Halfway through, a guy walked out of the meeting stating that he had to go to another meeting. Having reached no significant conclusions by 2:15pm, the group decided to schedule another time to reconvene on the original points they were supposed to cover. The 2pm meeting participants settled into the room at 2:25p. At 2:26pm, Holt, an analyst, announces that he has a 2:30pm meeting so he can now only stay for a few minutes. Benson joins the meeting at 2:40pm. Despite his efforts at a covert entrance, the whole group stops talking. He explains that he had three meetings booked at 2pm so he decided to attend all three but only stay for twenty minutes in each.” Exhausted from his recount of the day, Lewis swiveled back to the computer screen.

“Wait a minute. Is this the 2pm group still?” Dawes smiled at the shocked look on Alberts’ face. “No man. They cut out at 4:30. This was a quick impromptu gathering that started at 5pm. One of the HR managers asked a few people to join her for a short conversation. She promised it would only take a minute.” “Wow, this company is going to need the full court press” said Alberts as he slumped into a seat. Lewis thought about the true meaning behind Alberts’ words, “the full court press.”

Like so many other companies the Meeting Squad was called in to help, this one was going to need a lot more than just an agenda template and a few meeting ground rules. The heart of the matter lay in the company’s culture. Emanating from the executive team, a host of attitudinal and behavioral miscues had permeated the whole organization. It’s a congenial place to work. Everybody likes each other and no one wants to jeopardize the positive rapport they all share. They’re under a misguided notion that holding each other accountable to meeting rules and etiquette would damage relationships and stagnate creativity. The entire staff has been complicit in allowing meetings to run amok like children at recess. The price is a dramatic loss of productivity and efficiency. However, after years on the Meeting Squad, Lewis knew that “productive meeting” did not have to be an oxymoron. His gaze shifted to the checklist taped to the wall of the van.

The list was titled, Starting with Company Culture. Here’s what it said:

Grassroots: locate people already conducting well-run meetings or find willing converts. Be sure to identify respected individuals with credibility. Designate these individuals as Meeting Champions. Equip the Champions with the tools and techniques to run productive meetings. Check in often to hold them accountable and encourage them through the challenging moments.

Coalition: build a network of influential managers willing to support the culture change initiative. Elicit their help in drafting a Meeting Manifesto outlining guidelines for redefining the company’s culture around meetings. Leverage the influence of the Coalition to gain access to senior management.

Top Down: present a business case to the executive team illustrating the tangible improvements to morale, productivity and output that can be achieved by implementing a company-wide strategy to improve the effectiveness of meetings. Encourage the executive team to edit and help finalize the Meeting Manifesto. Teach the executives the meeting leadership principles and tools needed to make the Manifesto a reality. Earn permission to hold them accountable to communicating the Manifesto and modeling the desired attitudes and behaviors.

Roll-out: when sufficient momentum has gathered around the idea that the meeting culture is changing, train the remaining staff on the tools and techniques required to run efficient meetings. Establish a recognition program to reinforce consistent application of new guidelines and methods. Help departments with their own sub-cultures tailor the meeting norms to fit the nuances of their environment. Continually assess progress and make modifications to incorporate best practices.

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How to Delegate Effectively

Last week’s post, The Pros and the Pros of Delegation, covered the What and the Why of effective delegation. This week’s post is about the How. Here is a step by step guide to assigning a task to someone else and then putting a system in place to provide that person with meaningful support.

1. Deciding to Delegate

The first step in delegation is deciding whether or not a responsibility or task should be delegated.

A good rule of thumb is for business leaders to spend the majority of their time on tasks and responsibilities that directly impact organizational or personal objectives.

These mission-critical tasks that affect long-term success require leadership attention. Everything else is fair game for delegation.

This cut and dry rule of thumb is good when there is a clear delineation between mission critical and non-mission critical activities. For situations with more of a gray area around the nature of responsibilities, use the following questions to determine whether or not a task is worth delegating. The more yes answers, the more likely a task or responsibility should/can be delegated:

  • Does someone else have (or could be given) the necessary information or expertise to complete the task?
  • Would this be an opportunity to grow and develop another person’s skills?
  • Is this a recurring task?
  • Has this task not yet been delegated because of expediency, habit, or because it falls squarely in the leader’s comfort-zone?
  • Can you schedule sufficient time to delegate appropriately and thoroughly?
  • Can enough time be allocated for adequate training, questions and answers, progress checks, and possible rework?

2. Selecting the Right Person

To ensure that the task is completed to the leader’s satisfaction, it is crucial to select the “right” person for the job. Effective delegation is about assigning challenging jobs to the person most qualified to complete the work as well as most interested in taking on the challenge. When deciding with whom to trust a task or responsibility, consider the following questions.

  • Once trained, will this person have the capacity to do the job unsupervised?
  • Does this person have a track record of open communication?
  • Do this person’s strengths match the required skill set and/or knowledge base to successfully complete the assignment?
  • Is it realistic to add another responsibility to this person’s workload?
  • Do you trust this person enough to be patient as he/she progresses through his/her learning curve?

Again, the more “yes” answers, the more likely the individual is a good candidate for delegation.

3. Setting the stage for success

When the time is right to assign a task or responsibility to the carefully chosen person, use the following steps as a check list. Covering each of these items gives the person receiving the assignment the best possible chance for success.

  1. Gain the Person’s Buy-In. At first, the person receiving the assignment may not see all of the benefits of having something added to his/her workload. Before speaking with the person about the assignment, consider what he/she values. What outcomes would this person deem worthwhile? Then, when presenting the assignment, take the time to discuss the upside to successful completion of the task from the other person’s perspective. Cover the impact on financial rewards, future opportunities, recognition, and other desirable outcomes that would motivate the individual to willingly take on the challenge.
  2. Set Clear Expectations. Include specific parameters around performance standards, a detailed explanation of the desired results, the scope of the individual’s authority, available resources, communication strategies, and schedules. As much as possible, capture this information in writing.
  3. Explain/Coach/Train. Make sure the person knows what works. Alert the individual to potential pitfalls as well as methods that have had less success in the past.
  4. Keep an Open Mind. Unless the particular steps to completing a task or carrying out a given responsibility are truly “written in stone” or must comply with a particular mandate, maintain the flexibility to consider different methods. Be willing to entertain the possibility that the other person may devise a better way to get the task done. Whenever possible, focus on the end-result and leave the means (the how to get there) up to the individual. The more input a person has in the task/responsibility, the higher their level of personal ownership; which will in turn enhance their attention to detail and the quality of their output.
  5. Maintain Communication. Talk about what needs to be done and the specific output you expect. Proper communication prevents misunderstandings and helps the other person to fulfill his/her potential.
  6. Establish and Adhere to a Periodic Review Schedule. Make yourself available for progress reports and questions.CB100472
  7. Try Not to Catch “The Boomerang”. If there is a problem, don’t allow the person to throw responsibility for the task back to you. When presented with an issue, avoid the urge to provide an immediate answer. Ask the person to provide recommended solutions instead. Then, ask the person to prioritize the options and explain the rationale he/she used. Work with the individual to select and refine the best option until a mutually agreed upon solution is developed.
  8. Provide Recognition. Be generous and genuine with praise. Give recognition in a manner that is most valued by the individual. For example, publicly thank an outgoing ambitious person in front of an audience of organizational leaders.

Well executed delegation is a morale booster, a tremendous force for productivity gains, and a significant development tool.

The key phrase is “well executed.” Haphazardly throwing responsibility over the wall in hopes that the other person actually catches it will only frustrate the person hit with the added burden and cost the leader precious time fixing mistakes and rectifying issues. When delegation is properly leveraged, leaders are free to concentrate on organizational imperatives and the individuals entrusted with tasks and responsibilities grow their skills and enhance their importance within the organization.

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The Pros and the Pros of Delegation

utilitybeltDelegation is a vital yet often underleveraged tool in the “Leadership Utility Belt.” Long-held misconceptions about delegation cause many leaders to deprive themselves of this valuable resource. When used effectively, delegation improves productivity, develops employees, and makes the assigner and the assigned more influential.

A Few Rotten Apples Have Spoiled the Bunch

Delegation has a troublesome track record. Throughout history, less than noble superiors have proudly carried the flag of delegation as they foisted undesirable time-consuming menial tasks onto their underlings. This particular style is referred to as “seagull management.” seagullManagers swoop in dump all over their team and fly off without so much as a backwards glance. For those who’ve experienced life in the “drop zone”, the blatant abuse of an otherwise virtuous process has left a nearly indelible stain on the reputation of delegation.

Setting the Record Straight

Delegation is not the assignment of unwelcome tasks to the person least likely to protest. Nor is it an abdication of responsibility. The giver and the receiver of delegated assignments are equally accountable for their timely completion. Delegation is entrusting people with responsibilities that match individual strengths, holding them accountable to performing to their highest potential, and providing them with the support needed to succeed. Tasks and responsibilities are given to the most qualified person who is also the most interested in the challenge.

Another misconception about delegation is that it takes more energy and effort than it’s worth. For example, leaders who earned their role through personal excellence are often reluctant to put their tasks in the hands of another. These individuals fear that the other person will either not complete the assignment as well or might take a different approach to completing the task. When these leaders think about what it will take to get someone else “up to speed,” they conclude that “it’s just faster if I do it myself.” While it is true that effective delegation requires an upfront commitment of time and attention this should not be viewed as a hassle. The rewards of well executed delegation dwarf the initial investment of time and energy.

The Pros to Delegation

Assigning certain responsibilities to individuals who can complete them even when the leader is not present, frees the leader to focus on mission critical activities. Well organized schedules and balanced workloads allow leaders to oversee operations, spend time coaching, and think strategically.

If you are holding tight to non-mission critical tasks that you’ve mastered long ago, take a moment to consider why. Are you spending time on these tasks because the more vital issues awaiting your attention will force you out of your comfort zone? You could be stunting your growth as a leader if you tether yourself to tasks and responsibilities that can and should be delegated to your team.

Leaders who delegate correctly improve the overall responsiveness of the organization. People closest to day to day issues have the most relevant and recent information upon which to base intelligent decisions. By empowering these individuals with the authority to carry out their assigned responsibilities, the leader is facilitating the organization’s ability to react to or even anticipate environmental changes.

Delegation brings out the best in people. Participation in the decision-making process improves employee morale and performance and earns sincere buy-in to organizational initiatives.

When a leader delegates meaningful challenging work to motivated employees, the recipients of these assignments are given opportunities to add value, build their credibility, prove their trustworthiness and ultimately strengthen their influence in the organization. Delegation is trust in action. Trust granted is repaid by employees in the form of positive results and loyalty toward their leader. Being surrounded by a core team of competent energized influencers increases the leader’s ability to influence change and expedite decisions.

In the next post, we’ll cover how to delegate effectively.

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How to Successfully Transition into a New Role

When people ask you “So, what do you think?” they’re not really asking “So, what do you think?” That question is a euphemism for “So, we worked really hard on this and need validation. Please find a way to praise this.”

I was recently interviewed for an instructional designer role on a project. One of the interviewers pointed out that I would be joining a team of four that had been working together for three years. She asked me how, given the project’s 30-day deadline, I would handle becoming part of an existing team. My initial response was to make the point about the true meaning of “So, what do you think?”

I explained that this was a lesson I learned the hard way at the tender age of 23. On the first day at my first “corporate job,” I attended my first staff meeting. Because I had written and produced a newsletter for my previous employer, my boss asked me to take a few minutes and share my thoughts on the department’s newsletter. Now, what I thought she meant was that she wanted me to share my thoughts on the department’s newsletter. What I later learned was that she meant she was giving me an opportunity to make nice endearing comments that would help break the ice and encourage people to trust me.

I used to think “wet behind the ears” had something to do with residual birth fluids on a new born mammal. That night, I came to realize it refers to the tears that pool behind your own 23 year old ears as you cry yourself to sleep clutching your pillow like a security blanket. You see, after I gave my opinion of the newsletter which included pointing out the vast number of typos and poor layout, my boss called me into her office and informed that I had just alienated all of my co-workers. It was at that very moment that I learned the concept of “earning the right.”

Respecting the rule of “earning the right” means recognizing that every time we enter into humblepiea new situation, whether it is a job, a promotion, or a position on a team, we are instantly demoted to freshman status. The glorious achievements that earned us entry into the situation do not provide instant rapport, credibility, and trust with the group. We have to earn those through our actions within the current situation. We have to “earn the right” to provide constructive criticism, challenge existing decisions, and have our ideas considered and adopted. This transition process requires swallowing a big slice of humble pie. Despite my desire to quit, take a vow of silence, and join up with a cloister of monks, I returned to work the next day, apologized to my boss, and asked for her advice on how to mend the fences. It really wasn’t that difficult to humble myself. Although I had early wins in my first job out of school, my co-workers had far more corporate experience so it was easy to drop the arrogance and begin to learn from them.

The interesting thing about humble pie is that, like cotton candy, the older you get, the harder it is to choke downcottoncandy large quantities. Leaders with a track record of success typically find it harder to accept that humbling walk back to square one. Shedding the arrogance borne out of success and learning what you need to know about your new situation before trying to change it is a crucial first step.

Just three years later, I was managing a team at the same company. Our leadership group decided that it was more economical to outsource our department and sell our services back to the main company. In other words, we were going from cost center to profit center. A seasoned industry professional from a prestigious management consulting firm was brought in to spearhead the new organization.

We all sat around a conference room table; eyes anxiously darting back and forth awaiting his arrival. When he strode into the room (not wanting to dive into a trite metaphor, I’ll just put this image in your head, “foghorn leghorn”), he clearly had not considered the possibility that we might not trust or even like him. In an attempt to cast a vision of how much better things would be under the new arrangement, he began disparaging much of the work we had been doing. For example, he held up a black box containing a series of self-study booklets. He insulted the look of the packaging and the flimsiness of the contents. Little did he know, for the last 2 years we had poured our hearts into writing each booklet. He never bothered to find out that we spent months agonizing over packaging options, color schemes, and types of binding. In that instant, he demoralized the team, insulted us, and alienated everyone at that table.

I wondered how someone with so much experience and such a pedigree could make such a rookie mistake. How did he not know the “earn the right” rule? The man never recouped our trust. He walked into the room assuming that his past success and vast experience was enough to win us over. He made the mistake of thinking his resume bought him instant trust and credibility.

The team interviewing me wanted an outside resource for an objective point of view and fresh ideas. My response to the interviewer’s question about how I would handle coming into an existing team was simple. When asked, “So, what do you think?” my answer is tell me how we got to this point. What’s the history behind the decision and the cultural context? Chances are by answering my question; they’ll either validate their choice or recognize areas for improvement. Giving my opinion out of context is meaningless. Providing a sounding board for them to self-assess adds value and speeds me over my learning curve. Over time the deliverables I produce, my loyalty to the team and the value I add will earn me the right to proffer an opinion. As Michael Watkins states in his book The First 90 Days, “It is essential to figure out what you need to know about your new organization and then learn it as rapidly as you can.”

Remember, when you find yourself transitioning into a new role, bypass the hubris, no matter how tasty it looks, and go for a big whopping slice of humble pie.

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