In an earlier post (Meeting Bane or Benefit?), I noted that having a clear meeting purpose helps limit attendee frustration and conflict. At times, cancelling a meeting may be the best way to do this! Sometimes meetings are unnecessary.
In their book Rework, the authors contend that many meetings are preventable. Before hosting a meeting, consider the following questions:
Why am I hosting this meeting? Is it necessary?
Does everyone on this list need to attend?
Is there a less time-consuming way to achieve the outcomes of this meeting?
Another interesting way to view meetings is by considering ‘Meeting ROI’.[i] To calculate a meeting-return-on-investment, total the participant hours spent in a meeting and then multiply it by their average salary. For example:
Fried and Hansson provide a few other interesting meeting ideas. Take a look and see which ones look helpful for you:
Set a timer. When it rings the meeting is over – period!
Invite as few people as possible.
Always have a clear agenda.
Begin with a specific problem.
Meet at the site of the problem instead of conference room. Point to real things and suggest real changes.
End with a solution and make someone responsible for implementing it.
I’d love to hear of your insights about ways to make meetings effective.
[i] Fried, Jason & Hansson, David (2010). Rework. New York: Crown Publishing. P. 110.
I experienced an ‘aha’ moment when I discovered the Gartner Hype Cycle (see Figure 1). It helps explain what occurs between the hype of a new technology and the time it actually goes mainstream. For me, it is a simple tool by which to assess new ideas, products and even people.
Here is a simple example of Gartner’s Hype Cycle. Years ago someone tried to sell me a home telephone with a video screen built into it. At the time it was a very new concept (Technology Trigger). As long as the person you were talking to had a phone like it, you could see each other while you spoke. Since our family lived far away, it was presented as an amazing opportunity to keep our young children in touch with their grandparents (Peak of Inflated Expectation). I passed on the offer and the salesman soon stopped selling the technology as people did not share his enthusiasm (Trough of Disillusionment). Does this technology sound familiar?
Within a few years of the failed videophone, videoconferencing became popular. As videoconferencing glitches were solved, we began using it more and more often (Slope of Enlightenment). Within five years, we were regularly using iPhones, Skype and GoToMeeting to do what the original videophone was intended to do (Plateau of Productivity). The initial brilliance of a videophone dimmed before it morphed into something which is now mainstream.
While the Garter Hype Cycle is specific to technology, I think it has much broader application. I have observed similar patterns with ideas or what we often call vision. In reality, a great vision is often grander than its eventual implementation. Similarly, organizational strategies, often follow a pattern of hype and disillusionment before encountering differing measures of success. Finally, new employee hires (especially key leaders) often follow a similar pattern of god-like expectations which settle into realistic productivity.
Hype cycles are a simple means to assess the eventual impact of technology, idea or people which could affect your life. How do hype cycles relate to your life and work?
A notice was posted on the door as I entered Chipotle this week. It warned me that that chicken was currently available as their transportation system had been disrupted. The recent San Diego wildfires have affected many local companies.
But who can prepare for something as unexpected as wild fires?
Or is this a perfect example of the need to build organizational resiliency?
Consider the following facts:
California is in the midst of a drought.
History reveals that California encounters a recurring pattern of droughts.
The Santa Ana winds which occurred during the fires are a harbinger of dry air which increases the likelihood of fire.
Need I go on?
A president once told me that he was working to future-proof his company. While this is a noble goal, I do not believe that you can know an uncertain future. You cannot predict wildfires, both literal and figurative, with the precision needed to future-proof your organization.
But you can develop the mental agility to react quicker than most.
The Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company did it. In fact, their future agility helped them gain significant competitive
advantage on several occasions. First, they anticipated the 1970’s Mideast oil embargoes which caused a global energy crisis. They also anticipated the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1980’s and the emergence of the environmental movement in the 1990’s. As a result, Shell was positioned to react more quickly than many of their competitors.
While some would say that they predicted the future, the reality is that their process predicted several different futures. They developed multiple future scenarios. As the future unfolded, a dominant scenario emerged and they were ready to respond.
AutoNation, a US car retailer, used a similar strategy and increased their profitability during the recent US financial
crisis. In 2006, they used strategic foresight to ask questions about the future. They pondered wild possibilities like, “what if consumers were to replace cars every five years instead of every three?” and, “what would occur if consumer financing became more difficult to achieve?” Thinking through these future scenarios enabled AutoNation to prepare and prosper for a future affected by economic recession, one that left many auto retailers bankrupt.
Foresight provides an opportunity for organizational learning. This builds an enhanced capacity to perceive change. In turn, this provides organizations with a stronger capacity to interpret and respond to change.
Strategic foresight is my passion because it helps us build organizational resiliency. The pace of change makes literal and figurative wildfires, tsunamis, floods and hurricanes inevitable. Therefore, the capacity to anticipate emerging realities will provide organizations with the ability to respond quickly.
If you need proof, review the history of Eastman Kodak. Once heralded as the pioneers of photography, their inability to anticipate the reality of digital imaging led to their bankruptcy in 2011.
Running out of chicken didn’t ruin my life. But the failure to anticipate important changes may ruin your business.
“Meetings are usually toxic because they often convey an abysmally small amount of information per minute”.
Have you ever felt this way? Having sat through many frustrating meetings, I resonate with this statement. Often meetings are ineffective because participants are unclear about its purpose and outcomes. When people enter a meeting with unclear expectations they experience frustration which is a catalyst for conflict. A simple way to minimize this is to establish clear guidelines about the meeting purpose.
Generally, there are five reasons for holding a meeting:
1. Information Sharing: The purpose of this meeting is to convey information which helps people do their job more effectively. A common example of an information sharing meeting is a conference or a sales presentation. Increasingly, ‘information’ agenda items are sent via a short email instead of at group meetings
2. Problem Solving/Innovation: Attendees focus on specific problems or ideas which need to be debated and discussed by the group. For example, a department sensed a market niche for a new product. However, the exact product specifications were unknown so a problem solving meeting was used to debate ideas and design a product that would best meet customer needs.
3. Decision Making: Some meetings are for the sole purpose of making a decision. Often these decisions are a result of a problem solving meeting or are done at problem solving meetings. For example, a geographically dispersed sales team had developed individual draft schedules of their annual sales travel. They called a decision making meeting to synthesize plans, solve scheduling conflicts and finalize decisions as a group.
4. Planning: Organizations build short and long-term plans to establish goals, strategies and tactics. Often called strategic planning, the goal of these meetings is to establish corporate, divisional or individual direction and priorities.
5. Commitment Building: When you need to ‘get everyone on the same page’ a commitment building meeting is effective. These often occur when a new product is launched, when the company hires a new CEO or when an organization embarks on a new venture.
Sometimes meetings will combine more than one of these purposes. If this is the case, you can use agenda headers to outline what participants should expect. Meetings can be effective but it doesn’t happen by accident. They require pre-planning and a clear answer to the question on the mind of every participant – “why are we at this meeting?”
And a box of donuts doesn’t hurt either!
 Fried, Jason & Hansson, David (2010). Rework. New York: Crown Publishing. P. 108.
Imagine what could occur if we gain the same level of strengths clarity at the organizational level!
Similar to understanding our personal strengths, organizations which understand their collective strengths will be able to achieve greater levels of success. Can your business list the five strengths that sets you apart and defines your corporate DNA? Doing so means that you have spent time determining what you are good at. In turn, this also means you have decided what you were not going to be good at. Jim Collins defined this as your organizational hedgehog (understanding what drives your economic engine, what you can be best at and what you are passionate about). Knowing what you are good at allows you to say yes to the right opportunities and no to the wrong ones.
Here are three signs that your organization may be suffering from a lack of strengths clarity.
CopycatStrategy: Organizations that consistently peer over the fence of their competitors are often unclear about what they are good at. While it is important to learn from others successes (and failures), successful companies adapt the appropriate lessons to their unique situation. Copycat organizations try to adopt what the competition is doing. Trying to be good at what everyone else is good at will move your business into non-strength areas.
Unfocused Strategy: How quickly respond to the following question: “What problem does your company solve for me?” If you find yourself fishing for an answer, you likely don’t understand your strengths. Alternately, if it takes you 10 minutes to answer the question you likely have unfocused strengths. As Michael Porter said, a company without a strategy is willing to try anything. Unfocused organizations will stray into non-strength opportunities.
Flavor-of-the-month Strategy: Companies that look for the latest fad are slaves to non-strategic change. I often see this tendency with habitual conference attendees who are looking for ‘that one thing’ that will make their business successful. An old business axiom serves as a good litmus test: “speed, price, quality – pick two.” If you have a difficult time saying no to things which are not your core competencies you may be experiencing flavor-of-the-month symptoms.
Organizational design guru Jay Galbraith summarizes this nicely; “Strategy is the company’s formula for winning”. By definition, a formula is designed to solve a specific problem. No formula solves every problem. By determining your organizational strengths, you end up with a formula for the kind of problems you are designed to solve. It will also help you understand the problems you were not designed for. Most importantly, strengths clarity will provide your customers with a clear answer to what problems you will solve for them.