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Archive for November, 2014

TPOV: Make Meetings Matter

November 23, 2014 2 comments

One of my counselees complained to me this week that ever since he got promoted to an executive position, he was getting bombarded with so many meetings.  It has come to the point that he no longer has enough time in the day to do any actual work, since all his time is spent attending one meeting after another.

Meetings are a part of the modern day office life and are supposed to be useful.  However with so many meetings scheduled and where one’s presence is requested, it can become more of a time suck and energy vampire.  “Death by a thousand meetings” is a common pain experienced by many office workers in general, and by executives in particular.

When planning for meetings, respect people’s time, and most especially their personal time.  I try to schedule all my meetings during business hours.  If for whatever reason that won’t work, then I schedule it over lunch.  I avoid scheduling anything after office hours because doing so would already encroach in people’s personal time outside of work.  Meetings during the evening cannot be avoided if I need to talk to someone from a non-overlapping time zone, and so the best that I could do is limit them to just two days a week.  Friday nights are always off-limits for me.  We already spend the best part of our lives at work, so asking for any more of people’s time is always asking for too much.

When you call for a meeting or attend one, the goal is to ensure that it really matters.  It should communicate what it should, and if needed produce the decision that’s required to move things forward and get things done, or at the very least identify any open items that require closure.

Too many meetings that don’t have any value are simply a waste of our limited time.

Speaking for myself, this is how I make meetings I attend or schedule efficient:

I don’t hold any All-Hands Meetings for my group of teams.  I never had.  And, right or wrong, for as long as I am in charge of my particular “fiefdom” in the office, I don’t ever intend to do so.  If there’s ever any critical information that needs to be cascaded and actions implemented, then I’ll call an ad hoc meeting of my management team, let them know about it, have a discussion on the required decision, then have such information cascaded and / or implemented as appropriate – from experience, it’s easier and faster this way.  Such information can also be shared in the existing regularly-scheduled team meetings.  The unfortunate reality is that it’s hard to find the time and logistics to get everybody together, especially as one’s team gets bigger, so re-using existing team meetings is the fastest and most efficient way to get this done.  The use of collaboration technologies that facilitate virtual meetings helps tremendously in getting people together, if only online.  The only time I’ll actually call for an All-Hands Meeting, where everybody needs to literally and physically show up to a venue, is if it’s the only way to best cascade a particular piece of information and get the feedback needed.  We’ve managed to do without this thus far.

Whenever I call for a meeting, I set the agenda and stick to it, and I prepare what will be discussed and enable people to do the same.  As needed, I send ahead of time the material that will be discussed to give people a chance to review it.  This makes the meeting more efficient because people come prepared with ideas or at least questions to clarify intent further.  I keep the momentum moving by soliciting feedback and even ideas on what will be discussed as we come closer to the meeting so that by the time we finally meet, we’re close to coming to a decision, or sometimes there’s already a decision and it just needs to be confirmed with all stakeholders concerned to ensure everyone understands the same thing.  The updates from any action items identified from the last meeting are also discussed.  Any new action items are assigned and given a deadline.

You can only spend so much time in a meeting before it feels like a chore to endure.  Meetings should be no more than one hour.  As much as possible during my meetings, I try to communicate and discuss all the critical information within the first 30 minutes.  The only time we make use of the latter 30 minutes is if we have a heated debate on what the action item or decision should be, otherwise we end 30 minutes early.  Sometimes the resulting action item can be that we need more information to make a decision, and we’ll need a follow-up meeting to close out the open items, and this is fine.  One way or another, by the end of the meeting: (1) People know what they need to know, and (2) People know what needs to be done either because a decision has been made, or to come up with the best decision for a particular course of action.

When planning for meetings, respect people’s time, and most especially their personal time. I try to schedule all my meetings during business hours. If for whatever reason that won’t work, then I schedule it over lunch. I avoid scheduling anything after office hours because doing so would already encroach in people’s personal time outside of work. Meetings during the evening cannot be avoided if I need to talk to someone from a non-overlapping time zone, and so the best that I could do is limit them to just two days a week. Friday nights are always off-limits for me. We already spend the best part of our lives at work, so asking for any more of people’s time is always asking for too much.

When there is an opportunity to do so, I take it upon myself to be the one to suffer the pain of attending the multitude of meetings out there, as I see fit.  (My particular role in the office gives me the opportunity to do so.)  If it’s important enough that other people from my team are also looped in, then and only then do I ask them to attend.  Otherwise, I get the key take-away points that are relevant and / or require action from my teams and share that with my management team; they can just ask me any questions or raise any concerns.  Taking this “hit” for the team ensures the people remain focused on more important things, too.

On a somewhat-related note: In my approach to team building, I emphasize intimacy over what I’ll just describe as “over-inclusiveness.”  Team building sessions will just be within teams that actually work closely together, and not all of my teams attending an activity organized for my group as a whole, which for me makes more sense.  Besides, logistically speaking it’s already hard to organize an activity for one team, what more to have more people in the count.  Obviously there’s a risk of creating silos between my teams that ultimately need to collaboratively work with one another; that is mitigated by having large-gathering activities – not ones organized within my group, but those organized by the company as a whole.  So for example, if there’s a year-ender party or something like that, then that’s when we start being inclusive with other teams in my group by organizing a “united front” in attendance to such activities.  The people will cluster together, but in this context we’ll cluster as a group.

Do what makes sense; use your judgment call.  If you feel you will not be able to contribute any value, or get any value, out of a particular meeting, then decline it and / or delegate attendance to someone else from your team, if doing that makes more sense.

At the end of the day, keep meetings at the absolute minimum that’s needed to cascade information, get status, and make decisions.  It’s more important for your people to focus on their work and get things done than attend meetings that will not help them in any way.

Categories: Ideas and Philosophy

Leadership: The Value of a Very Good Leader

November 1, 2014 2 comments

I wondered why it’s common practice to pay people occupying senior leadership positions in a company (i.e. President, CEO, etc.) sometimes an exorbitant amount of money.  What these people do every day is to sit in an office, read e-mails, attend meetings and do other such “admin” work.  Compare that to people who are on the field doing all the “actual work” to make things happen.  It seems like those at the bottom of the corporate ladder should get a higher share of the reward for the contributions they put in compared to the paper-pushers at the top.

It’s not easy to see, but these highly-paid people, though it seems like they’re doing comfortable jobs, are actually the reason why those under them have a job to do in the first place.  In other words, they’re paid to be leaders who make the decisions on what needs to be done to drive the company forward and be successful.  For very good leaders, every dollar paid to them to make a particular decision is a dollar well spent because it’s what they decide to happen that makes everyone in the company prosper.  In the same token, they have just as much command responsibility for decisions that are not good, and so it’s usually fair to hold them accountable for screw-ups and get them out of the way for the same reason.

Sometimes in life, you cannot truly quantify the value of a very good leader.   Beyond just good decision making, very good leaders provide people a grand mission and vision that motivates them to work for a shared and mutually beneficial goal; give them an opportunity to be part of something bigger and greater than themselves; and because people trust them, also give everybody a sense of security.  If you have a leader who can inspire you to be better beyond your own self-beliefs, who you have absolute confidence that everything will be alright and more for as long as he’s the Captain of the ship because he has the best interest of everybody in mind, then it’s worth every moment to be led by such a person. And it’s worth whatever it takes to keep these leaders in your world.

Categories: Ideas and Philosophy