Til We Meet Again…Three Tips to Transform your Meetings

Studies have shown that the over the course of a lifetime, the average American spends 3 years in meetings….the equivalent of 1,095 days or 26,280 hours.  Mind boggling, isn’t it?  Yet, how often do we scoot off to the weekly department meeting without a thought that this is one hour (or more) spent I will never get back?  And better yet – how often do we intentionally try to make the very best of it?

In Patrick Lencioni’s book, “Death by Meeting,” he states that the greatest myth about meetings is that they are inherently bad.  In our fast-paced business life, we have come to accept “poor” meetings.  In fact, Lencioni says that bad meetings are simply a reflection of bad leaders.  Ouch.  That hurts. But he’s right.

Leaders – of all types and titles – let me encourage you to reflect on the meetings you have scheduled this week. Pause and be intentional to make them interactions that truly move your initiatives forward.

Here are three tips to improve your meeting effectiveness:

 1.  Purpose-Driven Meetings
Is your organization stuck in the rut of “meeting to meet”?  Have meetings slowly evolved to the point participants dread them?  Push the pause button and determine the real purpose of your meetings:  update, tactical, strategic?  Over time, meetings take on a personality and may slowly lose their original purpose.  If the meeting content has strayed from its original purpose then don’t be afraid to start over.  Cancel the current meeting, create a new meeting charter and invite the right people to the table.  A meeting do-over is not failure; it is courageous.

2.  The No Chairs Concept
Conduct your next “status” meeting standing up – literally.  Update meetings are intended to be brief, tactical reviews to bring teammates up to speed on current deliverables.   The moment participants are comfortable, it is too easy to fall into the long-winded trap.  Updates slowly become discussions and 2 minute status updates become 5 – 10 minute discussions.  And if everyone falls into this pattern, what was originally intended to be a 15 minute meeting morphs into a 30 minute discussion.

3.  Everyone Can Cry “Uncle”
It is easy to begin the pointing game and blame leaders for our meeting deficiencies.  However, I challenge ALL participants to take ownership of meeting effectiveness.  If your meetings have become fruitless,  speak up (delivery is everything here) and suggest some improvements.  Are the right people in attendance?  Are agendas sent in advance?  Do participants contribute?  Are decisions made?  Are outstanding tasks clear and follow up at future meetings?  Questions like these are asked through the lens of trying to move your group forward – not complain.

Meetings won’t go away.  But we can make the very best of the time we invest in them.  These tips are not rocket science; however they are disciplines that require intentional thought.


My Leadership Reflection: What Do You See?

I am blessed to have four nieces and a nephew – and they couldn’t be more different in personality.  One niece is our little performer.  She is eager and willing to “strike a pose” at any time and doesn’t miss a chance to be the center of attention. 

One thing I’ve noticed about her is her interest in mirrors.  She loves to watch herself and it doesn’t matter what she’s doing – eating dinner, “singing”, playing with her hair, etc.  She truly likes and enjoys what she sees.  And truthfully, she is entertaining.

As you think about your own leadership skills, what do you see when you look in the mirror?

In these days of economic turmoil, many companies are taking advantage of the opportunity to re-tool, so to speak, and get back to the basics of business.  And one of the most critical basics to assess is the quality of leadership skills in your team.

But…before we can assess others, an honest look in the mirror – personally -is necessary.

Let me encourage you to pause today in your marketplace role and take a long gaze in the mirror.  Reflect on these three questions in assessing your personal leadership effectiveness:

1.  How would individuals on my team describe my leadership

If my team members were asked this question – without any qualifiers – what adjectives would they use to describe my leadership abilities?  Are expectations and goals clear?  Do they know specifically if they are doing well in a particular area or is there some room for improvement?  Do I routinely engage with them – beyond work topics?  Do they know how the business is doing?

2.  When is the last time I helped a peer achieve his/her goals?

Am I known as a real team player among my peers?  Let’s face it.  The hours in any given day are often quickly snatched with the emergencies of the day – often not due to our own negligence.  Or, we try to sneak in as many minutes as possible to simply get caught up on our own projects and tasks.

While these efforts are important, so are the relationships around you.  The key to this question is really in two parts.  Have I helped a colleague recently?  If your answer is yes, then good.  So consider part two of the question.  How long ago did I help someone else?  “I helped Bob six months ago,” is eons ago in today’s world and in the minds of our co-workers.

The benefit to helping others?  Actually, there are many. The first of which is the reality that helping someone else will impact the greater good. People don’t soon forget when others stop their world and extend a hand when it really isn’t convenient.  They remember someone took the time to help, support and encourage someone else. 

It’s the stuff healthy cultures are made of.  And let’s face it, there will be a day when you will need another do the same for you.

3.  Do I have a realistic view of my strengths and weaknesses?

As humans, we tend to fall into one of two camps.  We are either 1) our own worst critic, or 2) we have blind spots in our performance and refuse to see them.  Let me encourage you to take an honest look at what you do well – and find opportunities that will continue to hone those skills. 

Likewise, identify those gaps in your skill set (we can’t be great at everything) and find ways to shore up those deficiencies.   This does not mean perfect every weakness, but rather surround yourself with people who complement your skills.  They need your strength – and you need theirs.

We’ll focus more on this topic in future articles, but in the meantime, make the effort to gain a realistic profile of your total skill set.   The principle?  I can’t begin to move forward if I don’t know where I am.

So, what do these questions reveal about my leadership effectiveness?  They speak to three key leadership traits:  communication, initiative to help others, and a realistic view of strengths and weaknesses.

These three questions are not “easy” topics to consider.  In fact, they are quite reflective.  But I assure you.  The time is well spent.  And the outcome?  Your leadership reflection is one you and others can’t stop looking at.

Employees and Online Activity: Where is the Legal Line?

As an emerging technological craze, blogging and online networking are receiving increasing media coverage and grabbing more and more headlines. 

In December 2008, Facebook reported 55 million unique visitors, a 57% increase in one year, and the percent of adults using social networking Internet sites has increased from 8% in 2005 to 35% in 2008.

With so many more adults using these sites, it is likely that some of your employees are blogging or going onto Facebook or Twitter, possibly posting material that you think runs counter to the interests of your business.

What can you do? What should you do? It is important to note that it is not only legal but also common for employers to monitor blogs and social networking sites.

The 1st Amendment protects most types of speech, including employees who blog.  Typically what employees are posting to their websites is protected speech.  However, these employees are most likely not protected from the consequences of said speech.

A large majority of states, including Tennessee are “at will” when it comes to employment.  Being “at will” allows employees to quit at any time and employers to fire employees at any time for any legitimate reason. 

Therefore, even if the blogger doesn’t comment about work, but the employer determines the employee somehow reflect badly on it, it’s within its rights to dismiss the blogger.  

In light of this fact however, five states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, New York and North Dakota) have statutes protecting an employee’s lawful off-duty conduct, and similar legislation is pending in Michigan. These laws prohibit employers from taking adverse employment actions based on the off-duty legal conduct. 

It’s important to know that increased activity is beginning to surface around the country to gain more definitive guidelines for both employers and employees related to online activity.  While these actions do not apply directly to employers in Tennessee, their outcomes could impact the guidelines they follow.

Stay ahead of the game and consider the importance of a policy regarding blogging—either as a separate policy or as part of your electronic communications policy. The policy should include the following:

  1. Do not blog on company time.
  2. Do not disclose confidential information.
  3. Do not include defamatory or racially or sexually offensive material.
  4. Do not disparage the employer, its employees, its products, or a competitor.
  5. Do not use the company logo.
  6. Be truthful and respectful. 

Last word of advice:  Given the increasing use of blogs and social networking sites, it is important that someone in your facility keeps abreast of how technology continues to impact business – including the impact to employee online activity.

 Sources:  Blogging and the Law;  Joanne Deschenaux, SHRM.

Four Tips To Keep Your Head on Straight

When was the last time this thought went through your brain, “If he is late one more time, that’s it, I’ll blow my top!”? It’s the classic scenario of how difficult it can sometimes be to remain the leader you want and need to be in the workplace.

However, we can’t escape the brutal facts: 1) we are human; 2) we work with humans; and 3) at some point, emotions fuel our actions. Scientists who study the structure and functions of the mind suggest that two different sides of the brain control different “modes” of thinking – a logical versus emotional approach.

Both functions are essential to keep us balanced, engaged and well…human. And while the emotional aspects of leadership are often the very characteristics that encourage and support relationships in the workplace, they can also create traps when emotions are not kept in check.

Let’s revisit the scenario described in the opening paragraph. As leaders, we can expect to face situations that tend to “push our buttons” in the workplace. The habitual tardy employee, the person who continually sees the glass half empty regardless of the situation and even the subtle trouble maker can get the best of us if we are not proactive when faced with these episodes in the workplace.

Remember, the moment you respond to an employee from an “emotional” perspective is the very moment you are no longer in control of the conversation. We cease to speak or even think logically, if the emotional hemisphere of our brain is directing our actions.

And the moment we are no longer in control means the employee now is – which a very dangerous place to be as a leader. So, what can you do? The key is remaining proactive and keeping your thinking (and actions) logical.

Here are some practical suggestions:

  1. Set expectations early. If you have a certain “hot button” –and we all do-, be fair to your staff and let them know.
  2. Don’t allow infractions to build to the point they annoy you. If an employee is late enough that it hits your radar, address it immediately. Don’t wait for the one day their tardiness sets you off.
  3. Be aware of your “warning signs”. Our bodies will manifest an emotional elevation in some way – tenseness, a rise in blood pressure, lack of patience, etc. Know yourself so that when you sense your body responding you can act on it before it gets out of control.
  4. When you sense your emotions rise, complete a mental activity that forces your brain to switch hemispheres – name the planets, count to 20 backwards, etc. – any thinking activity that forces you to slow down and use a different part of your brain. The major key in being successful in this area of leadership is being aware that at any time, each of us is capable of falling into emotional traps.

Take advantage of these practical tips and don’t become the next victim of leadership.

Is it possible to communicate too much?

Human nature is an interesting case study.  In the absence of information, we tend to create our own.  Think about it.

How often do we hear sentences that begin with, “Well, this must be what is going on.  They would tell us otherwise…”.  Or.  “I can put two and two together and this is what I think is happening…”.  It’s classic behavior.

We make up our version of the truth if no one is keeping us informed.

Simple problem with a simple solution, right?  But it is often the most common, yet difficult problem facing businesses today.  Leaders’ intentions are well-meaning but unfortunately, the follow through doesn’t always occur that plays out those good intentions.

So, what is the solution?  It really is true…you can’t communicate enough in your organization.  It starts with the vision – where is your business going?

It’s a simple fact:  people are drawn to activities and causes that inspire them.    And that inspiration comes from vision.

Is your organization trying to grow a specific product or reach a certain demographic?  Then that’s what your employees need to hear…and they need to hear it often.  How visible is your vision throughout your organization?  How often is it talked about?

People are hungry for vision.  They really do want to be involved in something that matters.  Give them a reason to “sign up”!

Not sure what your vision is?  Then slow your world down and answer this question.  It will transform your business.   Finding your clear vision may take some time and more than likely, it will simplify your activities calendar.  And at the end of day, your business will emerge with a clear, strategic path for the future.

That’s your message.  Talk about it.

And to answer the question…no, it’s not possible to communicate too much!