Posts in Management
Imagine Your Next Meeting Being ... Great!

Think of the worst meeting you attended in the past month.  If you're like me, you can quickly recall a 30-60 minute period of time called a "meeting" that was less than stellar.  It might have started late or lacked an agenda.  It might have had too many or too few attendees.  

Sadly, these happen all the time.  Meetings... can't live with them and can't live without them.

But what if they could be different?  What if your next meeting was a gem?  With a little bit of work, it can be possible. 

I was a guest this past week on Principal Center Radio with Justin Baeder.  He's a genius when it comes to thinking through traditional problems in a creative way.  We talked about effectiveness and efficiency and it struck me- maybe we need a new set of "rules" for meetings.  

So here goes:

  1. Don't call a meeting unless you have to.
  2. Begin on time, even if it means that someone will walk in late.
  3. Give folks permission to end early.  
  4. One hour should do it.  A half an hour is even better.
  5. Take notes so that you can follow up.
  6. Meet so as to decide rather than inform.
  7. When you're finished, stand up and leave.  

You might be asking yourself, "I'm not the one running the meeting but I am the attendee.  What can I do to change how meetings go?"  Great question!  It's easy for a boss or manager to put these seven rules into practice but not as easy for an attendee.  My invitation to attendees would be to challenge the person running the meeting with the seven rules above.  You can ask in advance for an agenda.  You can ask when the meeting will end without being a nudge.

Your next meeting doesn't have to be terrible.  It really doesn't.  

Why not give the seven 'rules' a try and watch the difference they make in your next meeting?

*Photo courtesy of FDP

How to Avoid Miscommunication in Email

The head of nursing was furious.  She had just received an email from one of her physicians that read something like this:

To: Barbara Smith

Fr: Dr. James Northern

Subject: Meeting


Barbara wished that she never received emails like this.  Unfortunately from this doctor in particular, emails in all caps were common.  Exclamation points were the norm.  Dr. Northern was an excellent doctor but when it came to email, he was curt, mean and turned people off.  She wondered if anyone had ever given him feedback but she knew the answer to that question.

And so it goes with email.  Emails like that of Dr. Northern are more common than we'd like to admit.  I can remember one from years ago from a colleague that is now legendary.  He was upset at some pizza boxes being left in his classroom.  I can't blame him.  His email, obviously upset, became the laughing stock of the whole school because he accused everyone and their brother of being "churlish and adolescent" for doing such an awful thing.  His anger was justified.  His email wasn't.  

Email, as a mode of communication, has its limits.  The problem is that we often treat it as the be-all of our interaction with peers.  It's not.

If there's one thing that we're trying to cut back on at work, it would be email.  It's not that email is "bad" (it's actually quite useful) but there are some inherent problems with it as a communication currency:

  1. Most people have poor email habits.  Some check email every two minutes while others twice a month.  I know of no one who has a totally clear inbox at the end of the day.  
  2. Email is meant for either sharing information or for asking short questions.  It is not good for conveying emotion or for communicating deeper concepts.
  3. Poorly written emails can hurt a person's platform or worse yet, his relationships with peers.  The email like that of Dr. Northern didn't take anything away from his ability to conduct surgery.  It did hurt his relationship with Barbara.  

Here are some tips for making sure that email is useful and builds rapport rather than creates division:

  • Keep it brief.
  • Avoid all caps unless you are sharing positive information.
  • Avoid sensitive information.  
  • Avoid confrontation.
  • Re-read your email to ask an important question, "How does this sound to the person on the other end?"  
  • Avoid quick-hitting emails that you just fire off while on the go.
  • Empty your inbox twice a week.
  • Remember Ephesians 4:29 which encourages us to "Speak so as to edify..." In other words, if you have something difficult to say to someone, tell them to their face rather than via email.  

Most of us aren't as bad as Dr. Northern in our emails.  Still, we can aim for a higher standard that builds rapport, communicates valuable information and expands professionalism.  

5 Counterintuitive Ways to Stand Out at Work

A young man approached me about 9 months ago and wanted some career advice. His first job out of college was surprisingly hard and the people he worked with were surprisingly ... um, imperfect.

He was surprised that work wasn't easy.

So it goes for many young people entering the workforce today.  A 2010 American Management Association survey found that 42% of new workers lacked the basic skills needed to excel in today's workplace: critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity.  Sometimes, these are called the "4 C's" of the new workworld. 

As I manage both new and seasoned workers every day, I find that there are actually some counterintuitive ways that a person can stand out and really be recognized in the right way.   

Here they are:

1. They volunteer for difficult tasks.   Yes, they actually don't mind doing something difficult for the sake of the organization.  No tough task is permanent and great workers realize this.  

2. They admit when they make a mistake.   We all make mistakes.  I had to call my boss recently because I had miscommunicated on something, big time.  The only thing to do was admit it, fall on my sword and move on.  I actually see it as a sign of pride when someone never makes a mistake- no one is that good.

3. They take feedback and don't get defensive.   There's nothing worse, nothing, than an employee who gets defensive and combative when you try to provide feedback.  Why?  Because defensiveness reveals a lack of self awareness and that leads to someone losing thier job.

4. Their email inbox gets emptied regularly.  You'd be surprised how few people actually get to zero on a regular basis.  (see what the experts say about email here)

5. They work extra hours without complaint.   Bosses don't want to hesitate when something difficult (a project, event, etc.) requires more time than usual.  The team member who doesn't mind putting in a little extra time is a gift to any boss.  

You'll note that I didn't mention anything about passion and nothing about amazingly great ideas.  Nothing about having the latest gadget to make you more productive.  Those are important too but these five steps represent a foundation.  Like your house, a foundation isn't that sexy but without it, you're in trouble.  

 These are just five steps and there are probably many more.  Which counterintuitive things would you add to the list for workplace success?

Photo courtesy of fdp

How to Write Emails that Get Opened

You've done it.  Me too.  You send an email and put a lot of thought into its content and then you wait.

And wait. 

And wait... until the person on the other end responds.  

The longer you wait, the more you get frustrated.  The more you get frustrated, the weaker your relationship with the person on the other end.   

Email, once a way for people to draw closer together, has become a ubiquitous mode of communication. Everyone with a smartphone gets their email on the go and everyone I know has at least two email addresses.

We did a survey a few years ago at work which confirmed what we had thought- everyone is checking email but few are using it productively. 

The Problem with Email 

How many emails are in your inbox right now?  If it's more than one screen worth, there may be a problem.  My garage is like that- there is too much stuff in it and as a result, I not only don't want to go in there but I've forgotten what's in the back corners.  I'm not stewarding it very well which is my bad.

  • Once email populates in your inbox beyond what you can handle, it's like that messy garage and you'll probably avoid it.  
  • Additionally, too much email conditions us to think that a messy inbox (like a messy garage) is the norm.  It doesn't have to be. 
  • Finally, email can be a problem when people check it sporadically.  Imagine if you called someone on the phone and they only picked it up every other day?  Or only once a week?  That's how many people tackle email. 

How to Write Emails that Get Opened 

So how do you write emails that get opened?  I learned a key lesson in this from one of our basketball coaches.  As someone who runs a successful business when he's not coaching, he gets flooded with hundreds of emails per day.  This guy knows how to cut through the crowd and get an email read!   

His ninja trick is this: in the header line, he will write "Conference call this week / IMPORTANT".  The use of IMPORTANT really makes a difference in the subject line without being annoying.  I always open the email and I've started doing it myself.  Not for every email but for the ones that are super important and must get read.  

One way not to get an email opened is to require a "read receipt".  I find these very annoying and don't recommend them.   

Want an additional trick for getting an email opened?  Be brief and stick to just one topic.  Like a neighbor who lives in the house next door, if she talks for half an hour every time you see her, you might start to avoid her altogether. People will start to do this with your email if you are long-winded or cover multiple topics in each email.  

Email is here to stay.  It's imperfect, to be sure, but with the tricks outlined above, you'll be more likely to get certain emails opened and get your most important work done.  

What tips do you have for getting more emails opened?

Photo courtesy of FDP

Which Details Are You Noticing at Work?

Herb is my neighbor and I've noticed that his car is missing for each of the past three Sundays.  Not one to get up early on a weekday, I put two and two together and realize that he's gone fishing.  Not an expert in marine science, I then wonder if the fish are more hungry on a Sunday.

But I digress...

This is interesting to me.  A friend taking time to do something that matters to him.  No fanfair.  No big announcement. Just something he does.   

This happens at work all of the time.  You pass a teacher in the hallway who is especially chipper... or blue ... or stressed.  This is life after all and teachers and school folks are hardly immune to the heaviness of life.  School leaders too. 

It's a Sunday in July as I'm writing this.  I'm on the porch and noticing the birds outside.  Very loud today.  The sun is kissing a large ornamental grass by the front walkway and some perrenials are about to explode with color by the driveway.  I'm noticing things.  

Mornings seem like a more clear time to "see" than at other times but maybe that's just me. 

What are you noticing?  It may be at work with folks heading off for vacation or kids "reporting for duty" at summer school.  Or, it may be when you get home after a long day and your wife isn't smiling because something's gone wrong during the day.  Notice these things.  Take a short, subtle inventory in your mind. 

Noticing takes time.  It takes humility.  It should, ideally, nudge us to action of some kind.  This might be a note in someone's mailbox to encourage them or picking up the phone to tell someone you care about them.  Something like that but in your own way and for (and with) your people.

What are you noticing today?  How will it nudge you to greater leadership, attentiveness and action? 


The Case for Offsite Meetings

We sat around the table and reflected on five years of offsite meetings.  "How many has it been?  Ten?  Twelve?"  Amazingly, we had been doing offsite meetings for five years and meeting offsite at least twice a year.  The people have changed but the process was in tact.

I learned this from Fr. Michael Martin, OFM Conv. who took his team years ago to local colleges, country clubs and meeting locations. He was, and I'm sure still is, a genius of executive team building.   

 Why go offsite?  Simply put, getting your team out of the office (or off campus) decreases distractions and promotes higher level thinking.  You'll also build community within your thought leaders and you'll be able to solve big problems. (or at least take a bite out of them)

Our team does it one way but there's no magic bullet here- what works for us might not work for your team.  Still, give this a try: 

1. Find an attractive meeting place.  We've met at retreat centers, business offices and restaurants.  Places that can provide food are best and you won't want to take your team too far away... a 45 minute drive is probably the most folks will want to travel.  People feel special when they can meet in a cool location.

2. Request one page reports prior to the meeting.  Folks should share what "wins" they've experienced and what bothers them.  This promotes vulnerability which builds teamwork.  

3. Practice constructivist leadership as you build the agenda.  Ask for input as you build the items that folks want to talk about.  You'll have some topics that you can "seed" the meeting with but there's no harm in letting the team build it with you. 

4. Use breaks often.  Take a break every 1.5 hours and let people know that there's light at the end of the meeting tunnel. 

5. Establish the Red Card process.  If something should not be in the minutes (and you'll want a meeting minutes taker), tell the note taker something like this, "Susan, this is a red card-" and then talk about whatever. 

6. Promote positive speak.  Remind people that the purpose of the meeting is not to speak negatively about anyone.  The meeting is not served well by speaking badly about anyone.   

7. Use the Parking Lot.  Not the pavement outside of the building, but a large piece of newsprint that you can use to "park" ideas that are worthy of discussion at a later time.  This gives people permission to surface issues without sidetracking the agenda.   

8. Wrap it up.  At the conclusion of the day, ask folks for their (brief) reflections on the day.  Again, this is a constructivist technique for sharing leadership with the group. 

These eight points work for us.  How about for your team as you seek to equip them as digital change agents?