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.


Successful Supervisor 47 – Coaching People on Money Problems

October 8, 2017

I am not aware of any individual who has not had money problems at some point in life. One question I ask in all my seminars is, “Show of hands, how many people in this room are making too much money?” I have never had a hand go up.

I do include the tips in this article in my leadership training course, not so much for the people in the classes, but to help those people advise their workers and their children.

We Know the Rules but Many People Ignore Them

We all know the rules for fiscal wellness and security, and we know for sure the things to avoid doing.

The problem is that once people get to a certain point by ignoring the rules, then life can become unbearable to the point where some people resort to socially unacceptable behavior or even suicide.

The wise supervisor helps people avoid falling into the inevitable traps.

In general, one’s fiscal responsibility is built upon the values that were programmed in at an early age. However, two children from the same family can have very different fiscal values.

We all have values, although many people cannot articulate them. As a starting point for a supervisor, it really helps if you encourage people to clarify and document their values with respect to money. That forms a solid foundation for dialog.

In addition, it is important to select a life partner based on the mutual understanding of values. Most people select a partner and create a life together, which includes raising children, in the majority of cases.

Knowing and stating your fiscal values is a critical element in good parenting.

Below is a list of things to do or avoid to have a good chance at a strong financial position when you retire and beyond. You will recognize them all, but ask yourself seriously whether you or some of your workers are making these mistakes.

1. Credit cards

This is the granddaddy of all financial problems, yet the rule is quite simple. Always pay off the full balance on each credit card in the month it is due.

When you yield to the temptation to buy things on time, it becomes like a giant sucking force that takes you to fiscal ruin in most cases. Once you are caught in the vortex, it is nearly impossible to extricate yourself.

I finally got that message across to one young person when I pointed to a large flat panel television. I said, “I can buy that TV for $150, but if you buy it and pay the minimum each month, it is going to cost you over $400. I don’t know what kind of job you have, but if you need to pay over twice as much for the things you buy, you will always be forced to do without.”

In the age of instant gratification, it is very hard to have the discipline to postpone a purchase until you can afford it. So many people get sucked in, and it is many times more of a challenge to dig out than it is to just wait till you can afford to pay for the item.

As a supervisor, you need to help all people understand the logic of this truth. I also advise that you not offer to help bail out those who are in credit card debt, because their quicksand will immediately start grabbing at your own ankles.

2. Save at least 10% of EVERY paycheck

If you simply keep the discipline to put away 10% of your earnings, eventually you will become rich. Here is the trick to this. Kiss that money goodbye and don’t ever touch it until you are a wealthy person. Some people call this philosophy “pay yourself first.” The cumulative effect of saving even small amounts of money religiously over several decades is the engine that can create generational wealth.

The challenge is getting over the mental hurdle of making $X each payday but only being able to use $.9X. It is a mental exercise. Because we all have money withheld automatically for taxes and Social Security, it is possible to put an additional 10% out of reach, but it takes fortitude to do it.

3. Participate in the 401K plan to the maximum

When you have access to a 401K Plan at work, it is like the government is paying you to save. Of course, you do not get the money up front, but the deferred taxes add up over the long haul. If you have the fortitude to invest in your own future by using this mechanism, it significantly enhances your “nest egg” because you are using pre-tax dollars to build up your assets.

If you do not have a 401K plan at work, start an IRA and put the maximum in that each year.

4. Diversify your financial portfolio

You were probably taught by your parents to “never put all your eggs in one basket.” It is intuitively obvious that diversifying your investments lowers the risk factors associated with different kinds of investments.

It is important to constantly scan your portfolio asking the question of whether you are in the best position for current conditions.

Making small changes frequently to the blend of investments is better than making mega changes hoping to catch a whopper of a deal.

Most people are not skilled enough and do not have the time to figure out the best blend of investments for any point in time, which leads to the next tip.

5. Get a trusted advisor

You must be very careful who you select as a partner with your investments. Many people trusted Bernie Madoff with their investments and lost everything. Another old adage comes into play here: “If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.” Look for a firm that has a long history and an agent with whom you can talk with openly and that you trust completely. Beware of hucksters that promise unusually high returns with low risk.

Look for an individual who will probe deeply into your financial profile and risk tolerance and set up a system that is made just for you. Monitor all transactions and discuss the logic with your agent often.

Some Philosophical Ideas

Keeping out of financial trouble is possible if you follow the rules above, but there are also some thinking patterns that can help keep you fiscally strong.

1. Act and think like you are poor, and you will become rich

This idea is just a different mindset. You know that you have enough money to buy a fancy boat, and yet you don’t buy one because you are pretending you cannot afford it.

There are thousands of temptations in life, and if you yield to them you will drain your resources down quickly. You do not have to starve yourself of all indulgences to the point that you live like a monk, but it is important to never touch your “nest egg for the future.” Spend on the things that are important to you and let the trivial or tempting go.

2. Own your dwelling as soon as possible

Paying rent to have a roof over your head is necessary at some points in your life, but you should not make it a long term philosophy. In the final analysis, it is usually better to own than to rent your abode.

There are many different life and financial circumstances in which renting can be the better option, especially if the living situation is short term. The rule to own your home whenever possible needs to be tempered with the specific situation, and a good financial advisor can be helpful for specific advice.

Paying for a mortgage so you eventually own your home “feels” the same as paying rent, but there is a huge difference. In the former case you are building up equity, so eventually you have something to show for the monthly payments instead of a bunch of cancelled rent checks.

My father taught me to think of it this way. When you are paying rent, you take money out of your pocket and put it into the pocket of the landlord. When you pay a mortgage payment for a house, you take money out of your pocket, but actually put some of it back into another one of your own pockets.

3. Think about family size

There are no right or wrong answers to how many children to have. Each couple will decide for themselves, but do recognize that it is expensive to have kids. If you add up the cost of having a child these days, it is estimated that before that child is out on his or her own, the out-of-pocket cost to you will be over $250,000 BEFORE you add in the cost of a college education.

4. Don’t pay extra for frills you don’t need

Some people buy the top-of-the-line model of everything. For example, they will buy the high end washing machine for $1200 even though the standard version for $700 will be perfectly adequate to clean their clothes.

Recognize there is a hefty premium price at the high end of any product line. This is because the manufacturer knows some people will pay an exorbitant price to get the best there is, so they make those people shoulder a huge markup.

Use Common Sense and Discipline

Using simple common sense and having the discipline to postpone or skip some purchases that would be nice to have are the best approaches to financial security.

You probably already knew everything in this article, but some of your employees or perhaps your adult offspring have not fully understood the significance of these concepts.

Do them a big favor and print out this article for them to read. It may help them live a more comfortable life, and perhaps even have some money to pass on to future generations.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

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 500 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


Money and motivation

August 3, 2009

It has been studied for years and Behavioral Scientists have concluded that money is not a prime source of motication. Motivation comes from intrinsic sources such as recognition, autonomy, accomplishment, etc. . In todays environment, those conclusions may be less compelling than in the boom times of the 1990s. What is you opinion of whether money is a primary motivation for most people in the US? http://www.leadergrow.com/CultureandMotivation.pdf