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Collaboration

Over-Collaboration: Solution #1 – Be More Intentional About Meetings

Our last post talked about the problems of over-collaboration: wasted time, burn- out of some of your most valuable people, and decision/action bottlenecks.  Let’s start with something practical – smarter use of meetings as a collaborative tool. It’s not sexy, but it’s a solution that can save your team thousands of hours per month.

Most people don’t want to be viewed as un-collaborative or leaving someone out of the loop. Nor do we want to be left out of the loop ourselves.  And technology has made scheduling and accepting meetings incredibly efficient.  So, the meetings pile up.  I can’t tell you the number of leaders I’ve worked with who tell me how easy it is to accept invitations without really knowing what the meeting is all about.  Maybe they know it’s related to an important initiative, but they’re not sure exactly why they’re needed for the meeting.

So, the meeting goes on the calendar with all the others and the leader shows up.  By the time they’re questioning whether they really need to be there, it’s often too difficult to extract oneself.  So they’ve wasted 30 minutes or an hour, and they’ve wasted time physically or mentally coming and going to the meeting.  What really matters about this?  There’s the opportunity cost of not being able to tackle higher priority items.

The first solution to over-collaboration is to be intentional when planning, accepting and running meetings.

  • Determine if you really need to meet. Does every one of your meetings have a clear purpose and intended results? Do you really need to meet every week? Every month?  Can you cut the meeting from 60 to 30 minutes?  If it’s just to share information or it’s a low value meeting that seems more habitual than helpful, get rid of it altogether.
  • Be a better meeting leader.  How organized are you?  Consider must-have versus nice-to-have agenda items.  Set expectations and put targeted time limits on the agenda items.  Are you managing the discussion?  Is the person who always talks forever encouraged to get to the point?  Fight the “collaborative” urge to hear what every single person has to say on every single topic.  Do you know how to artfully table an item when you don’t have the right information or the right people at the table to make a decision?
  • When you’re planning your meetings, think about each person you are inviting. Why do they need to be there?  Do they have critical information? Are they needed to make a decision?  Are they there only for internal political reasons?  Are you making an intentional decision to include them or are they invited because they’ve always been at this type of meeting in the past?  Talk with them and encourage them to speak about whether this is a good use of their time.
  • Don’t make attendance all or nothing.  Can one person represent one or more additional people at the meeting?  Can some people be invited only for certain meetings or segments of meetings?  Maybe they can dial in or show up at a specific time.  If you only need me for 10 minutes of a 60-minute meeting, that’s 50 minutes I can spend on other pressing matters.
  • Be intentional when you receive a meeting invitation.  Ask yourself the following questions:  Why am I invited to this meeting? What value will I add to the meeting and the organization’s goals by attending? What will my role be?  Is this an opportunity for someone else on my team?
  • Give yourself and others permission to say no. Too often we feel like we can’t decline a meeting invitation.  It means we aren’t a ‘team player.’ Permit yourself and others to decline meetings.  Teach people how to say no effectively and respect it what someone else says no.  Executives who lead by example can create a culture that makes it acceptable, even desirable to limit how many people attend how many meetings.

Look at the meetings on your calendar over the course of the next month.  Which can you decline going forward?  Which can you delegate to a team member?  Are there some you can attend only part of?

Let’s say you remove just 3 meetings per week for a total savings of 120 minutes, which equates to 8 hours per month.  Now multiply that times the number of people on your team… or by the number of people in your company.  How many hours do you come up with?

What’s the value of hundreds or thousands of hours per quarter better spent on addressing your business challenges?  What’s the value of collaborating more intentionally?

Re-frame Your Feedback

I have a leadership challenge for you. You will need to execute this challenge at the most foundational level of the leadership experience — in the one-on-one relationships you have with individuals on your team or in the company. The challenge relates to feedback.

I’ve found over the years that giving feedback is often not the favorite part of the leadership conversation. I believe this is true because for many of us feedback means hearing something negative. We only think about giving feedback when it’s about what someone is not doing well or about a mistake that person made or about what that person needs to do to improve. For the next week, my challenge to you is to make

Feedback = Positive

One of the things research has proven over and over again. but hasn’t seemed to make it into leaders’ thinking is the power of positive feedback. Several years ago The Corporate Leadership Council did research on the impact of one-hundred-plus performance management practices on bottom-line results and employee satisfaction. Positive feedback was one of seven practices that had significant impact on both results and satisfaction, and the impact was far greater than feedback that was focused on the negative. The ratio of positive feedback and developmental feedback that seems to have the biggest impact is about 4:1 (i.e., 4 positive, 1 negative).

So, your challenge is to catch people doing something right this week. Focus on a couple of team members and try to get close to the 4:1 ratio.

When you provide your positive feedback, remember a couple of guidelines:

  • The feedback should be specific and situational. Tell them the specific situation you are talking about.
  • It should focus on behavior. What did they do or say that created a positive result?
  • It should describe the impact of their behavior. What was the positive impact they created? How did it affect you or the team or the company or the customer.
  • Avoid vague feedback like “great job” or “way to go.” One of the reasons to give positive feedback is to help someone replicate the behavior and results in the future. If he’s not sure what you’re talking about, it’s harder for him to make it happen again.

Tic, toc, tic, toc — Getting Beyond Time Wasters

Time Wasters

I don’t know about you but the first half of the year has flown by for me.  Time has a way of doing that, moving quickly.  So, it’s important that we use our time well. Here are three tips for making the best use of your time:

1) Weigh urgency and importance.  We all have things in life that need our immediate attention.  We also have things that are important for us to achieve the outcomes we desire.  They are not always the same thing.  If something is urgent and important, it usually gets our time. However, if it’s important and not urgent it is very easy to not give it the time it needs. Take a look at how you’re using your time.  Are the things taking up your time urgent? important? urgent and important? or urgent and unimportant.  If too many are in the last category, you probably feel frustrated.  Recalibrate and determine how to move those things off your plate and make more room for the important and not urgent.

2) Build mental breaks into your day.  If you don’t build in mental breaks, you become less effective. And more prone to get distracted by Facebook, fantasy football or your text alerts.  However, if you know you will be taking break to get your electronic fix, you can spend time truly focusing on what needs to be done rather telling yourself ‘I’ll only take a minute to check…’ Research shows it takes 25 minutes for us to completely refocus after an interruption. So that ‘minute’ becomes more like 30.

3) Create blocks of time for just you.  When you lead other people or work in a team, it’s easy to have your time become booked with meeting after meeting or for people to continually stop in because of your open door policy.  All of us have work that needs our undivided attention.  Build times into your calendar that are sacred so you can focus on that work.  Let your team members and other people who may need to know that at a certain time, you’re going to be in your office (or cubicle) with the door (or imaginary door) closed so that you can focus on work that needs your undivided attention.  Ask them to please not disturb you unless absolutely necessary.  Then close your door and get to work!
Cheers!
Edith

Make Your Team Smarter

Executive Team

Executives  and managers are an action-oriented group. That’s usually one of the characteristics that has made them successful. They see something that needs to be done and make sure it gets done. Unfortunately, when they’re working as a team, that drive for action makes the team do dumb things.

 

The dumb thing they do is jump right into solving the problem — identifying courses of action, recommending solutions, pushing to make a deadline.  But, wait, isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?  Well, yes, but there is a better way to do it. You see by just jumping into solution-mode, the team often plunges into conflict because they never agreed on what the issue was they were trying to solve, never spent a few minutes setting up a process, and haven’t really vetted the reasonableness or effectiveness of a solution.  Then, it’s  well into the conflict before they realize that the reason for the conflict is that they are not all on the same page. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big proponent of constructive conflict in teams. However, this type of conflict is an unnecessary time waster.

 

The drive for action often makes people feel like they’re ‘wasting time’ by spending time making sure everyone is on the same page about what the issue is, have criteria for successful solutions, and have put at least a small amount of structure around how we’re going to drive to solution. Actually, the exact opposite is true.  By doing some initial level-setting and planning early on, the likelihood that a team will come to the best solution and be able to implement it quickly is greatly increased.

 

Stepping back to move forward leverages everyone’s best thinking.  It makes the team smarter.

Perils of Competition

winning culture

 

I heard a thought provoking talk by Margaret Heffernan recently. She is a business thinker and advisor to CEO’s whose TED talk has had 2 million views. The topic was about the often unintended negative consequences of businesses and a country obsessed with competition and winning.

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar:

 

  • “The only thing that matters is getting results.”
  • “I need to make a name for myself in the company. That doesn’t happen by helping someone else.”
  • “We use forced rankings for our performance reviews.”
  • “We have an employee of the month.”

Those all reflect how we create high performance and achieve our goals, right? From the research Heffernan has done and, quite honestly, from our own experiences, that is often not true. What are some of the real consequences of the thinking reflected in these statements? Let’s take a look:

When the only thing that matters is getting results, how you get those results can promote very bad behavior. Look at the cheating scandals at universities. Think about the decisions financial institutions made that led to the financial crisis. Think about some of the people you’ve known who will do anything to win. It’s not pretty.

When career success hinges on how I and I alone make a name for myself, I won’t share information or expertise. I will maximize my performance and in the process sub-optimize the performance of others.

Forced rankings promote mediocrity. If only a small percentage can ever be ‘superstars’ then it doesn’t really matter if I work really hard because I probably won’t join them. The odds are not in my favor. On top of that, if I become part of that group, the game becomes too costly for me if I fail.

By having any recognition system that only rewards one person or a very small number of people, like employee of the month, the vast majority of your people are demotivated. Again, if only one of us can win, the odds are that I won’t be one of them.

Heffernan suggests that promoting collaborative behavior will lead to far greater success. Her research shows that companies that have long-term success not only measure and reward results, but put an equal emphasis on how one got results. They have cultural norms that promote people spending time in conversation and congregation with each other. She told the story of one company that did not allow coffee mugs on desks. It was not because they didn’t like how coffee mugs looked or feared a spill. They wanted people to get away from their desks and congregate around the coffee maker so the would begin to have conversations with each other and share ideas about their work and where the company was going.

What’s the norm at your company — collaboration or competition?

The Journey to Excellence

Tom PetersBack in 1982, Tom Peters went In Search of Excellence and profiled 40+ companies who were examples of excellence.  If we look back at that book some of the companies are gone now or are not what we would hold up as examples of excellence.  That’s because excellence is not an end state.  It’s an organizational state of being that’s characterized by continuous movement in pursuit of ever-higher achievement.  In a culture of excellence, you are never done or…you never quite arrive.

The drive for excellence — for continually improving on even our most outstanding achievement —  when paired with the compelling clarity I spoke about in my last newsletter sets the stage for achieving or even exceeding the goals defined in the strategy.  The question is how do you create a culture of excellence and performance?

Excellence is about self reflection:  Without knowing who and where you are in your journey, it is difficult to continually pursue ever higher levels of personal or organizational achievement.  What values are of core importance to me?  How do I add value? What values are core to the organization?  How do we add value for our customers? Am I clear where I am taking my organization?  Am I communicating a standard of excellence?

Excellence is about continual, personal growth: Without professional growth, our performance, and that of our organization, will not be characterized by excellence.  Leaders need to be a role model for their teams.  They should ask “how can I use my strengths more fully to achieve the results we need to be successful?” It’s equally important to ask yourself and others,  “what do I, as a leader, not know and need to learn?  What skill do I need to develop and how should I apply them?”

Excellence is about setting the expectation for excellence: In environments that achieve excellence, the standard for it is communicated broadly throughout the organization.  The communication isn’t just verbal.  It’s communicated in goals and objectives.  It’s communicated in everyday actions.  It’s communicated in the quality of anything that’s produced, from emails and meeting agendas to products and services. It’s communicated in processes that focus on continual improvement.

Excellence is about creating a culture that looks at behaviors and results: Cultures that only look at results can become toxic.  It can be too easy to turn a blind eye to unacceptable behavior because “hey, he/she gets results.”  Leaders need to be as concerned with how people achieve results as with the results they are achieving. How do we meet our customer’s expectations, meet our business goals and behave ethically and with excellence? What behavior do we hold up as the gold standard in the pursuit of results?  What behaviors are completely unacceptable?

Excellence is about tapping into each person’s drive for excellence: The neuroscience of excellence tells us that higher and higher performance comes from the need to direct our own lives, to create new things and to improve ourselves and our world.  In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink talks about tapping into the third drive — the drive produced from engagement in the task itself when the task allows us to experience autonomy, mastery and purpose. Too many of our organizations are using what Pink calls the second drive – the carrot and the stick – to try to create higher levels of achievement. What we know is that this only takes achievement to the level of what one needs to do to get a reward and to avoid a negative consequence.  It doesn’t lead us to excellence.

Excellence is about improving those around you and managing performance: As the saying goes, the tide lifts all boats.  In order to instill a culture of excellence, leaders need to manage performance and development proactively by praising excellence and having the difficult discussions that are needed to improve performance.  Too often we short circuit the ability to achieve excellence because we are unable to give the difficult feedback that allows others to build their capacity to contribute.  Unfortunately, many of our performance management practices also drive a trend towards mediocrity by relying too much on the carrot and stick.

As Tom Peters did almost 30 years ago, go in search of excellence in your organization.  Model it, practice it, celebrate it and watch the impact on performance

Crystal Ball

I’m looking into the crystal ball…

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go to the tarot card reader or crystal ball seer to know where our businesses and industries are headed?  What’s the next trend?  What needs will our customers have?  How do we keep our brand, products, and services relevant?

As leaders we are always balancing today and tomorrow — keeping one eye on the demands of today while keeping the other eye on the opportunities and threats of tomorrow.    That said, by just taking a few minutes a day we can keep that future in view, giving us the information and ideas that we can translate it into meaningful actions for our business today.

The following are some common sense ways to keep ourselves thinking about tomorrow while we’re making success happen today.  How many do you do on a regular basis?

  • Take a look at your company news releases on the intranet.
  • Follow an RSS feed, read blogs or trade journal articles about your industry
  • Follow an RSS feed, blog or trade journal about completely different industries than your own.  If you’re in healthcare, follow a high tech guru.  If you’re in biotechnology follow something from the hospitality industry.  You never know where a great idea will come from.  After all, 20 years ago who ever thought we’d listen to music and play games on our phones?
  • Read newspapers from emerging markets.  The internet makes it easy to access English language versions of many publications. You can also listen to the radio or podcasts.  I listen to the BBC a couple of times a week when I’m driving to and from meetings.  I’m always amazed by the completely different topics and regions of the world it covers compared to U.S.-based news.
  • Talk to someone younger than you.  Try to talk to someone a generation younger than you.  Their perspectives and insights, especially related to technology, will amaze you.
  • Go to a meeting where not everyone does what you do.  I always walk away with a much broader perspective when I have been at a meeting with people whose business or profession is completely different from my own.
  • Work through ‘what if’ scenarios about your business. Think of what’s highly probable and what’s less probable. Then develop ideas for how your company or team would address that scenario.  For example, what if someone came into the market who could deliver the same quality product at 1/3 the cost?  What if a new technology allowed people to access your product for free or a very low price?

Why Should I Follow The Leader?

Earlier in my career, I was interviewing with the SVP, the chief people officer, for a senior role in a large organization.  He was still fresh to the company, having been there about 6 months.  I asked him where the firm was going and what made him get up in the morning and go to work.  He looked at me and with a shrug said, “Edith, it’s insurance,” like it was the craziest question in the world.  How silly to expect that a senior leader, six months into his job would be able to articulate a compelling picture of the place he worked.  He had a golden opportunity to communicate his vision of what this organization was about and where it was going and he came up with nothing. There was no second interview.

This story is not meant to reflect badly on the insurance company. I know plenty of executives in insurance companies who would answer that question very differently.

This SVP obviously wasn’t able to communicate a vision. Over the past 18 months, many of our organizations have been lacking in “the vision thing.” We’ve been focused on a lot of things that were important but  that people perceive as negative — cutting costs, losing sales and revenues, reducing headcount.  But as the recovery starts, we need to think about where we want to go from here, because it won’t be where we were before 2008.

Whether you are hiring to rebuild your team, developing employees, or trying to retain or more fully engage your talent, the first step for taking performance to the next level and creating competitive advantage is to develop Compelling Clarity. Compelling Clarity is about creating a vision and expectations that are so clear it is difficult to say ‘where are we going?’ or ‘what should I be doing?’and so compelling no one needs to ask ‘why am I doing this?’ Instead, they say ‘I need to be a part of this.’

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Where does my organization (or division or group or…) need to go?
  • Why are we going in that direction?
  • What will we look like a year from now?
  • What top priorities will get us there?
  • How will we know we’re successful?
  • Why do I want to be a part of this?  Why would someone else want to be a part of this?

If your answer is “I don’t know” to any of these you’re going to be less able to attract or retain top talent as you move forward. You’ll be appealing to people who want a job but not attractive to people who want to make an impact.  Without a sense of where they’re going, you’re people can’t perform at the high levels you need.

Be ready to talk about your vision.  Gauge the reactions to it.  After all, you don’t want to find yourself saying, with a shrug, “Edith it’s…”

 

Who’s Working 40 Hours?

40-Hour Work Week

WSJ reported recently that the 40-hour week is a thing of the past. Did you need the WSJ to tell you that? According to the report, 58% of U.S. managers reported working more than 40 hours a week. The only country to report a higher percentage of manager working more than 40-hours is our neighbor to the south, Mexico.

The article mentions the role of technology in this trend. It’s a double edge sword. While it allows us more flexibility and the ability to work from anywhere, it also prevents us from ever being able to completely disconnect. If we don’t get to those emails before we leave the office, we can do them after dinner or over the weekend. No need to wait until we’re in the office to review that presentation, we can download it on our phone.

A question this finding raises for me is, how are we spending our time? Have our jobs changed in such a way that more hours are needed or are we consumed by tasks that aren’t adding much value anyway?

For example, I think we’ve all spent endless hours emptying our inboxes of emails that we’ve been politely copied on so that we can ‘stay in the loop.’ Do we spend too much time composing texts or emails focused on interpersonal transactions that simply move the ball down the field a littler further or are we developing real work relationships that allow us to collaborate, innovate and create significant breakthroughs that really make a difference for our customers, our people or our organizations?

This Could Actually be a Valuable Meeting

Business Meeting

Last week’s blog post focused on using the IDEA model to make your meetings productive and arenas for getting work done rather than getting in the way of getting things accomplished.

Here’s an idea for how to put the model to use in the next two weeks. Have a meeting with your team to review the year to date and decide how to get some great things done over the next three months. The plans from that meeting will create the momentum for a highly productive 2nd half of 2015. Here’s your agenda:

        • Focus on Issues or Initiatives: What issues have arisen that have kept you from achieving your goals this year? What initiatives were put on the back burner because of lack of resources or maybe it just wasn’t the right time? What issues do you need to get a jump on as soon as the new year starts? What initiative will be high priority and needs to start on August 1st?
        • Make Decisions: Which of these issues are critical to address in the next three months? Which initiatives do we want to move back to the front burner? Do we have budget we need to spend or earmark before the end of the year or we’ll lose it? What do we need to do to have everything ready to move on the new initiatives as soon as the holidays are over?
        • Establish Actions: What actions will we take to address the key issue(s) in the next three months? Establish an action plan identifying your key steps, resources and timing. If you previously had a project plan for those initiatives that had been on the back burner, revisit it and see how it needs to be updated. If you did not, create an action plan or project plan that takes you through at least the end of February. Identify any internal or external resources you need for the initiative or to attack the issue. Take action to get them engaged even if they don’t actively need to be involved for a few weeks.

Let me know what plans you put in motion and whether this meeting was a productive use of your time.