Leadership Barometer 38 Better Meetings

February 17, 2020

What is the biggest waste of time at your place of work? For most professional employees, the answer is, “meetings.”

Each of us has experienced frustration with ineffective meetings. Most of these are face-to-face situations where a bunch of people gather around a conference table with an objective to accomplish something.

Meetings also happen on the phone and online; the venue does not matter. It feels like the “process” is painfully slow, and the progress is difficult to appreciate.

If you have not experienced this, check your pulse; you may be dead.

More productive Meetings

Let me start with a question. What is the most precious commodity in the world? Stop reading and think about this question. I really want you to ponder what is precious. Is it “love,” “money,” faith,” “family,” “freedom,” “health”? Give it some real thought before you read on.

To answer the question, how would you define “precious?” You might equate it with value in terms of intrinsic or extrinsic reward. You might view it in a social or family context.

I believe there are two factors that make something precious: how difficult it is to obtain, and how important it is. It is the old “supply and demand” analysis. If something is in great demand, but is extremely scarce, it will be incredibly precious.

Take diamonds, for example. They are highly prized by human beings (not sure why) and they are extremely difficult to find (because they look like regular rocks in their natural state and there are so few of them.)

For example, there is a story told by Earl Nightingale about a poor farmer in Africa. He was unable to sustain his family because the soil on his farm was too arid. He tried to grow crops for years and tried to irrigate the land, but the soil was too weak.

Finally, he heard of the discovery of diamonds in a mountain region in another area. He sold his farm and moved to the mountains to prospect for diamonds. He never found any and his family perished.

Meanwhile, the person who bought his land for a pittance found an interesting rock that he took home and placed on his mantle. A couple years later, a visiting geologist recognized the kind of rock and asked the farmer if he knew what it was.

To his amazement, it turned out to be the largest diamond ever found in Africa. Further, the property was replete with similar rocks. It turned out to be the richest area for diamonds in the country.

So, the original farmer was literally surrounded by “acres of diamonds,” but did not realize it. He went to seek his fortune elsewhere and perished with his family due to starvation.

Leaders in the workplace are also surrounded by acres of “diamonds,” but we may not realize it. The diamonds are the people in the organization.

If treated right and exposed to the right environment (like polishing) nearly every person will turn into a valuable gem for the organization. The trouble is, most leaders, just like the original farmer, fail to realize the incredible value that surrounds them every day. What a crime.

If you will accept the “supply and demand” argument for what makes things precious, let’s explore what is the one thing in this world that is truly scarce. What is it that we cannot get more of no matter how we try.

Is it love? No, we can get more of that. Is it money? Certainly not. Is it any kind of metal or mineral? No. Is it faith? No, we can increase that by changing our viewpoint. I submit it is time.

Oh sure, we can increase our total time on earth by improving our health risk factors, but I am talking about the time we each have every day. We each get exactly 24 hours every day. Nothing we can do will increase that. No one gets less, and no one gets more.

We all want more time desperately, but none of us can get more of it on a daily basis it. It is fixed. Therefore, by the law of supply and demand, time is the most precious commodity.

What does this have to do with meetings? Well, if you are like most people, one of your top time wasters is meetings. We need to make them more efficient and productive.

If we do this well, we have more time for the other important things in life. In fact, by increasing our effectiveness at meetings, we can actually “manufacture” time for later use. We can “Save time in a bottle,” as Jim Croce put it.

Would that be worth it? Well, that is probably the easiest way to get some more of the most precious commodity for yourself and your team. Let’s examine some of the typical time wasters in meetings and suggest some antidotes. We’ll start with the granddaddy of them all.

Griping

Griping is the most significant time waster in meetings. Think about it. You know the routine. Everyone arrives at the meeting with their head full of issues and problems they are dealing with in their working world.

As the “early birds” are patiently waiting (by the way, having people arrive late is another huge time waster) for the late members, someone says something like, “Can you believe they are increasing our medical deductions again?”

That gets someone else to chime in on how unfair it is, and pretty soon the floodgates are open. Out pours fresh steaming venom onto the table.

When everyone has finally arrived and the group is immersed in self-pity and derogatory remarks about the cost of medical insurance. If gone unchecked, this can go on for most of the meeting, completely usurping the original agenda.

The antidote to this waste of time rests with the leader. He/she is responsible for keeping the agenda and not letting the meeting lapse into a gripe session. An easy technique is to acknowledge a need for the group to do some venting, but put a “stop loss” on it.

The leader might say, “It looks like there is a lot of energy around the medical deductions. How much time do we want to spend on this subject before we launch into the positive things that must be accomplished in this meeting?”

The group might agree to spend 5 more minutes venting. It is now up to the leader to stop the discussion after the 5 minutes and say, “OK, we all agreed to move on after 5 minutes. Any more gripes about the benefits will be done outside this meeting. Let’s move on to the agenda and make some positive steps toward our vision.”

If people persist in venting, it is up to the leader to shut this down.

Have an agenda

An agenda is very important for any meeting. If it is worth getting everyone together, it is worth a few minutes to set the topics and objectives for the meeting. This can prevent wasting time when the team wants to wander off topic. Again, it is up to the leader to keep the group on task.

Summarize frequently

An often-ignored technique in meetings is the periodic summary of decisions. This can be a real time-saver. After 10 minutes of discussion on the new safety policy, the leader might say, “Let me summarize this discussion. We seem to be agreeing that we will set a new goal of zero lost time accidents for the next quarter. Is everyone on board with this decision?”

If the entire group agrees, then move on to the next topic. Have the notes indicate a decision was made by the group. If this step is omitted, there is no firm commitment to the decision.

People will talk around and about a topic and everyone will have their own opinion of the outcome. You can leave a meeting with wide variations in people’s minds about what actually happened. Summarizing each point as it is made, prevents this problem.

Summarizing also puts a cap on each topic, so the group moves through the agenda efficiently. The role of the leader is to facilitate the process. Done well, this will maximize the benefit of the time spent together.

Handling opposing views

Disagreements can create an incredible waste of time. A point is made, then someone offers a counterpoint. This lapses into a discussion back and forth about the issue. It can, and often does, become acrimonious.

As people “dig in their heels” to defend their position, the argument becomes more intense. Often it gets personal with statements like, “you are always trying to harpoon everything we are trying to do in this team.”

The crime is that, many times the individuals are not that far apart. They are just not listening to each other. I have been in meetings where two individuals spend a lot of time in “violent agreement” with each other, but neither of them realizes it.

Reverse roles

There are two antidotes for this problem. First, get the opposing parties to express the position of the other person in their own words. That will uncover if the argument is a “tempest in a teapot.” It also ensures that each party really understands the opposing viewpoint.

Agree to Disagree

The other technique is the “Rule of Three.” If the point- counterpoint goes on for three iterations, it is unlikely either party is going to “win” the argument. This is the time for the leader to say, “I think you two should agree to disagree on this point. It is evident that neither of you are going to sway the other, so let’s table this discussion or take it outside so we can get back to the agenda.”

Using the Rule of Three can save huge amounts of time in meetings.

Be Punctual

The leader is responsible for starting and ending each meeting on schedule. It is impolite to arrive late for meetings. As a leader, you can stop this behavior simply by not waiting for the lagers.

Make sure there are some important decisions at the start of the meeting. If someone comes in late, do not go back and review what was already done; let the inconsiderate person catch up after the meeting.

I use a technique in my on-ground classes where I go over the hints for the next week’s assignments at the start of the class. Once I had a tardy student turn in the wrong assignment. She came to me and complained that I did not explain the rules well. I told her that the rules were explained at the start of the previous class, but she was not in attendance at that time. She quickly got the message.

The same rules apply in the online environment. If you make a commitment for the start of a meeting at 8 pm, be there at 8 pm. Recognize that there are family or personal emergencies that can make that impossible in rare instances.

The problem is that some people have a tendency to excuse themselves from their obligations on a regular basis. This behavior needs to be extinguished by the team. We need to be sensitive to real emergencies, but intolerant of those who habitually make excuses for holding up others.

These are only a few of the rules to make better use of time in meetings. Most of these are common sense ideas, but they are often forgotten in the normal work environment. The best way to make sure you are not wasting time is to remember how incredibly valuable it is, and act that way.

The preceding information was adapted from the book The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.


Difference Between Micromanagement and Harrassment?

April 16, 2019

Two words that get used a lot these days are micromanagement and harassment. If you are being micromanaged, you will usually experience feelings of being harassed.

Conversely, if you are experiencing harassment, most of the time it is not due to micromanagement.

This article dissects the two concepts and provides some guidance for managers who, despite their good intentions, often end up doing more harm than good.

Harassment

Harassment is the abusive behavior toward another person that has its roots in a desire to annoy or hurt the other individual in some way. The practice is normally intentional, although it is possible for a person to harass other people without being aware it is happening. Harassment is close to the concept of bullying, and it is becoming more prevalent with electronic communication, especially among adolescents.

Except in the rare extreme cases, the manifestation of harassment exists first in the opinion of the person who is being harassed. If I will not let you get to me no matter what you do, then you are not going to be very successful at harassing me.

In fact, I may get a perverse pleasure out of thwarting your attempts to bother me: a kind of reverse harassment.

On the other hand, you may be such a sensitive individual that the mere thought of a certain person walking into the room sends you into a flight of panic: a kind of self harassment called paranoia.

We are all aware of the destructive nature of harassment that evokes anything from mild discomfort all the way to suicide. The distress is always amplified if the person being harassed believes he or she cannot escape and has to endure continual suffering.

Micromanagement

Micromanagement usually doesn’t stem from sinister motives. To the contrary, it is normally the desire of a manager, or person in charge of getting things done, who wants things to go well but is misguided in the best way to accomplish the task.

It reminds me of my favorite Star Trek Quote when Mr. Spock says,

“It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.” (TOH Charlie Green).

The micromanager is not trying to annoy the victim (usually) but only trying to get things done according to his or her warped definition of how to accomplish the objective. In the process, of course, the victim has to endure the constant meddling that feels very much like harassment.

We are all aware of the antidote for micromanagement, which is for the manager to set the objective and some broad guidelines and then back off to let the individual figure out the details on how to get the job done.  The manager might say, “I’m not going to hover over you while you get this done, but I’m available if you need me.”

Unfortunately, a little concept called “trust” is missing, so the manager does not believe the individual is capable of getting the job done without constant supervision. This lack of trust is the root cause of most micromanagement.

We deal with the manifestations of micromanagement to some degree in most work settings. It is only the most extreme high trust environments where managers are willing to actually stand by and let subordinates do things wrong in order to learn what does not work.

We learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes.

They would rather intervene and at least suggest that holding the soldering iron by the pointed end might not be the best method. I use that extreme case because the motive of the manager in this case is to prevent the employee from doing bodily harm. What could be more noble than that?

Often what feels like micromanagement to the employee is done for the benefit of the employee.

The grey area between good intentions and oppressive hovering is playing out in the workplace every hour of every day. Managers find their own equilibrium, and employees either complain (or not) behind the break room doors. Eventually a good employee will get tired of the intrusion and simply leave the organization. This reaction is a prime cause of the disruptive and expensive problem called turnover.

The extreme case, where managers tell people how to do their work for the sport of always getting it done their way, crosses the line into harassment. Even if the conscious objective is to get the job “done right,” the spirit with which the manager directs every movement is debilitating.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Rumors and Gossip – 7 Tips

May 15, 2011

Rumors and gossip can be debilitating for any organization. They create a kind of parallel universe that siphons vital energy away from important work. They cause a need for leaders to do the same damage control they would do if the rumors were actually true. Reason: What people believe is reality to them. If many people in an organization believe there is going to be a cut in salary, even if that is not the case, the leader must do the damage control as if it was actually going to happen. In the hyper-competitive global marketplace, organizations cannot afford to cope with distracting ghosts born through the rumor mill.

Let’s explore several thoughts about the impact of rumors and how to prevent them from starting in the first place.

Trust is an antidote

Trust and rumors are mostly incompatible. If there is low trust, it is easy for someone to project something negative for the future. When trust is low, these sparks create a roaring blaze like tinder in a sun-parched and wind-swept desert. If trust is high, the spark may still be there, but it will have trouble catching on and growing. This is because people will just check with the boss about the validity of the rumor.

When trust is high, the communication process is efficient, as leaders freely share valuable insights about business conditions and strategy. In low trust organizations, rumors and gossip zap around the organization like laser beams in a hall of mirrors. Before long, leaders are blinded with problems coming from every direction. Trying to control the rumors takes energy away from the mission and strategy. Building high trust is not the subject of this article. I have written extensively on how to build trust elsewhere, and there are numerous other authors who write about it.

Rumors generate spontaneously

Just as a fire can be kindled spontaneously, so rumors and gossip can develop without any apparent external influence. I believe it is part of the human condition to speculate on what might happen. This tendency is greatly enhanced in a culture of low respect. Often it is a void of timely communication that causes a rumor to start.

Nature hates a vacuum. If you have a bare spot in the lawn, nature will fill it in quickly, usually with weeds. If you take a pail of water out of a pond, nature will fill it in immediately so no “hole” exists in the surface. We can hear the sound of air rushing into a coffee can when the opener first compromises the vacuum. So it is also with people. When there is a vacuum of credible information, people fill in the situation with information of their own invention – usually “weeds.”

Rumors wick energy away from critical work

Dealing with the reality and consequences of gossip is a significant tax that is paid by organizations that have a culture which breeds false information. My swimming pool is cloudy now because I did not maintain an environment inhospitable to algae. Now I must invest in pounds of expensive chemicals and do extra work that would not have been necessary if I had exercised the right ounces of prevention a few weeks ago.

Seven tips for leaders to reduce the impact of rumors:

1. Intervene quickly when there is a rumor and provide solid, believable information about what is really going to happen. It is best to have this intervention before the rumor even starts, but it is essential to nip the problem as soon as it is detected.

2. Coach the worst offenders to stop. Usually it is not hard to tell the 2-3 people in a group who like to stir up trouble. They are easy to spot in the break room. Take these people aside and ask them to tone down the speculation. One interesting way to mitigate a group of gossipers is to go and sit at the lunch table with them. This may feel uncomfortable at first, but it can be very helpful at detecting rumors early. Just as in fighting a disease, the sooner some treatment can be applied, the easier the problem is to control.

3. Double the communication in times of uncertainty. There are times when the genesis of a rumor is easy to predict. Suppose all the top managers have a long closed-door meeting with the shades pulled. People are going to wonder what is being discussed. Suppose the financial performance indicates that continuing on the present path is impossible. What if there are strange people walking around the shop floor with tape measures? There could be a consultant going around asking all kinds of probing questions. All these things, and numerous others, are bound to have people start speculating. When this happens, smart leaders get out on the shop floor to interface more with the people. Unfortunately, when there are unusual circumstances, most managers like to hide in their offices or in meetings to avoid having to deal with pointed questions. That is exactly the opposite of the most helpful suggestion.

4. Find multiple ways to communicate the truth. People need to hear something more than once to start believing it. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer for 2011, nearly 60% of people indicate they need to hear organizational news (good or bad) at least three to five times before they believe it.

5. Reinforce open dialog. If people are praised rather than punished for speaking out when there is a disconnect, they will do more of it. That mechanism is a short circuit to the rumor mill. It also helps build the trust level, which is the best way to subdue the rumor agents.

6. Model a no-gossip policy. People pick up on the tactics of a leader and mimic them on the shop floor. If the leader is prone to sending out juicy bits of unsubstantiated speculation, then others in the organization will be encouraged to do the same thing. Conversely, if a leader refuses to discuss information that is potentially incorrect, then it models the kind of self control that will be picked up by at least some people.

7. Extinguish gossip behavior. This may mean breaking up a clique of busy-bodies or at least adding some new objective blood into the mix. It might mean having a “no BS” policy for the entire team.

In today’s climate, it is essential to mitigate if not eliminate the impact of rumors and gossip in the workplace. It takes a strong and vigilant leader to do this well, but it has potentially huge benefits to the organization.