How To Run a Great Meeting

By Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA
Leadership Coach
http://www.redpointcoaching.com

‘One either meets or one works’ – Peter Drucker

‘Shadowing’ my clients at meetings they lead or participate in is an important part of my leadership coaching. It is a highly effective coaching technique that allows for just-in-time feedback to my clients.

Through these shadowing sessions, I get to experience many different meeting settings and styles. Time and time again I am amazed how poorly some of these meetings are run (yes, even by some of my clients…). No wonder our people complain about meetings: they are boring, the boss just drones on, we don’t actually accomplish anything, etc. etc.

By following three very basic principles, you will be virtually guaranteed to run a solid – maybe even a great – meeting. You will help your team achieve bigger goals, resolve and even prevent unhealthy conflict, and promote good teamwork.

Like with many things in life, the 80/20 rule applies: apply these basic three principles to your meetings (20%) and you will take care of 80% of the usual meeting dysfunctions.

Before I get to the three principles, one thing upfront: only have a meeting if you need a two-way conversation. Meetings are meant for discussion, debate, and decision making. If you merely need to relay information one way, consider other methods (such as email).

 

Define Outcome Goals for Every Agenda Item

Get into the disciplined habit of sharing outcome goals with your team at the onset of every discussion. Start every agenda item with the following sentence: “The outcome goal of this discussion is to….”.

Here is a list of things I hear all too often that are NOT outcome goals:

  • ‘talk about…’
  • ‘further discuss…..’
  • ‘tell you all about…’

 

Here is a list of good outcome goals:

  • ‘make a decision on….
  • ‘develop a clear plan for…’
  • ‘brainstorm and capture ideas for ….’
  • ‘get buy in for….’
  • ‘receive input on…’
  • ‘get everyone’s questions on … answered’

By forcing yourself to define an outcome goal, you clarify for yourself and your team why this is worthy of discussion.

 

Clarify How You Will Make Decisions

Before capturing any decision you are making during the meeting, clarify how you will make it. I have experienced countless cases where leaders did not communicate how they will make their decision leading to huge frustrations on the team’s part.

Here is the classic scenario: the leaders simply wants input from the team, but in her mind it’s clear that she will make the decision on her own after listening to her team’s discussion. As far as she is concerned, the team has consulting/influencing power but no decision-making power. The team members, on the other hand, assume that they actually have decision-making power (e.g. through a vote) and are stunned that the leader wraps up the discussion by stating that she will announce her decision next week.

To avoid the frustration, the leader could have clarified at the onset of the discussion: ‘I will make the decision next week after hearing everyone’s opinion and input today.’ Alternatively she could have said: ‘We will make this decision by majority vote,’ or

‘It is important to me that everyone is 100% on board with the decision we reach. Hence we will make the decision by consensus.’

No matter how you will decide, communicate your decision-making process upfront, thereby avoiding misunderstandings and frustration!

 

Capture Decisions, Next Steps and Accountability

Many people dislike meetings because they feel nothing ever gets decided or acted upon. Don’t run one of those meetings.

Your goal as the meeting chair is to make sure that all team members understand what has been decided on at the meeting, what the next step is, who will take it, and by when.

Once you have reached a decision, have your team members verbalize/paraphrase their understanding of the decision. You will be amazed how this simple exercise of paraphrasing surfaces misunderstandings about decisions you assumed had been made!

Don’t keep minutes – capture decisions, action items, ownership, and timelines. After the meeting, send brief notes out to all the participants of the meeting.

These notes might look something like this:

 

Decision?

Fill the open position in our department by end of September 2015.

 

Next deliverable?

Draft job ad in conjunction with HR and email to all before next meeting. Finalize at next team meeting.

 

By whom?

Bill (Director of Marketing)

 

By when?

Email job ad to all before next meeting

Be sure to bring these notes forward to your next meeting. Start the next meeting with a review of the outstanding action items from last meeting. You will be surprised at how productive your people will be when they know that they will be held accountable in front of their peers. If they haven’t made progress, use this time to figure out why and help them remove obstacles.

I believe that even the late, great Peter Drucker would have agreed that meetings which follow these three basic principles would be worth attending!

 

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In 2014: Design The Best Place To Work, by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA, Principal, Redpoint Coaching

by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA, Principal, Redpoint Coaching

jsw_kidbuildingAs we embark onto 2014 I would like challenge you to design the very best place to work! How would this organization of our dreams look do you ask? Read on…

Rob Goffee, an emeritus professor of organizational behavioral at the London School of Business, and Gareth Jones, a visiting professor at the IF Business School in Madrid, posed the question about what the company of our dreams looks like to hundreds of leaders. They summarized their findings in the May 2013 edition of the Harvard Business Review (“Creating the best workplace on earth: what employees really require to be their most productive”)

Here is what they found. In the organization of our dreams:

  1. I can be myself
  2. I am told what is really going on
  3. My strengths are magnified
  4. The company stands for something meaningful
  5. My daily work is rewarding
  6. Stupid rules don’t exist

These principles might all sound like common sense. Who wouldn’t want to work in a place that followed them? Most leaders and all of our clients are aware of the benefits of such a ‘dream organization’, which many studies have confirmed. And yet, no organization we are aware of possesses all six virtues.

Why is that so? Several of the attributes run counter to traditional and well established practices and deeply ingrained habits. Others are complicated and costly to implement. Some conflict with each other. All of them require you as the leader to carefully balance competing interests and to rethink how you allocate your time and energy.

So as Goffee and Jones point out, the company of our dreams remains largely aspirational.  I therefore offer the below assessment as a challenge to you and your people to aim at creating the most productive and rewarding working environment possible.

The Dream Company Diagnostic

How close is your business to the ideal? The more checks, the closer you are.

  1. Take the assessment yourself
  2. Have your senior team and a cross section of your people take the assessment
  3. Compare the findings and discuss inconsistencies

Let me be myself

___ I am the same person at home as I am at work

___ I feel comfortable being myself

___ We are all encouraged to express our differences

___ People who think differently from most do well here

___ Passion is encouraged, even when it leads to conflict

___ More than one type of person fits in here

Tell me what’s really going on

___ We’re all told the whole story

___ Information is not “spun”

___ It’s not disloyal to say something negative

___ My manager wants to hear bad news

___ Top executives want to hear bad news

___ Many channels of communication are available to us

___ I feel comfortable signing my name to comments I make

 Discover and magnify my strengths

___ I am given the chance to develop

___ Every employee is given the chance to develop

___ The best people want to strut their stuff here

___ The weakest performers can see a path to improvement

___ Compensation is fairly distributed throughout the organization

___ We generate value for ourselves by adding value to others

Make me proud I work here

___ I know what we stand for

___ I value what we stand for

___ I want to exceed my current duties

___ Profit is not our overriding goal

___ I am accomplishing something worthwhile

___ I like to tell people where I work

Make my work meaningful

___ My job is meaningful to me

___ My duties make sense to me

___ My work gives me energy and pleasure

___ I understand how my job fits with everyone else’s

___ Everyone’s job is necessary

___ At work we share a common cause

Don’t hinder me with stupid rules

___ We keep things simple

___ The rules are clear and apply equally to everyone

___ I know what the rules are for

___ Everyone knows what the rules are for

___ We, as an organization, resist red tape

___ Authority is respected

Decide where you believe the most important deficits are and take action during 2014 in order to move your organization one step closer towards the very best place to work.

Stop Overdoing Your Strengths By Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA

strengthsweaknessroadsignI consider myself a pretty successful person. I am proud of what I have achieved academically, professionally, athletically and in my personal life.

While working towards my achievements over the last 40+ years I have displayed some of the following strengths:

  • Focused and highly goal oriented
  • Very structured
  • Single minded 

At times I also have been guilty of overdoing my strengths by showing up as

  • Too Rigid
  • Inflexible and loosing sight of the big picture

A lot of us have been told that we shouldn’t spend too much time on improving our weaknesses but rather get them to an acceptable level and then focus on perfecting our strengths. The logic behind this thinking goes something like this: you will never be really good at your weaknesses.  Get them to a good enough level and then surround yourself with people who are strong where you are weak. Use your energy to move your strengths from excellent to world class. Become outstanding at one thing vs. being slightly above average at a few things.

While I agree with the notion of focus and becoming outstanding at a few select things, there is a key point missing in the above argument:

BallandchainBy relentlessly focusing on further enhancing our strengths we often neglect to realize that we can indeed (and very often do!) overdo our strengths! Remember my own example above. It is easy for me to go from being highly driven, goal oriented and focused to too single minded and inflexible!

So here is one of the few absolute truths I believe in and frequently quote in my leadership coaching:

Every weakness is a strength overdone.

I am focused and structured. When I overdo it, I am becoming inflexible and rigid.

Your boss might be highly empathetic and sensitive. When overdoing his strengths, he looses sight of the business agenda, or worse, becomes a pushover.

Your direct report is self confident and a strong presenter. She often overdoes her confidence and comes across as arrogant.

Ask yourself*:

  • What is my biggest strength both in my personal as well as my professional life? How might this strength overdone show up as a weakness?
  • What is the first step I can take today to address my ‘strength overdone’?
  • *And if you are as brave as our coaching clients are, you will also ask someone who knows you well and be willing to tell you the unvarnished truth.

Marshall Goldsmith on the value of advertising your leadership coaching goal by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA

Marshall Goldsmith on the value of advertising your leadership coaching goal:

Those of you who are familiar with our leadership coaching (hotlink) know that we don’t coach behind close doors only but make the process of leadership coaching transparent by bringing it out into the organization. Here is what our teacher Marshall Goldsmith has to say about the value if advertising goals in his recent Leading News article :

“It pays to advertise. I know a playwright who never reveals what new work she’s writing. “When you talk about it,” she says, “you’re not writing it. You’re just talking.” That sort of secretiveness may apply to creative work, but it doesn’t apply to rebuilding your reputation. People have preconceptions about you. They not only filter everything you do through those preconceptions, but they are constantly looking for evidence that confirms them. Thus, if they believe you are perennially late, even when you’re only a few seconds late to a lunch date or a meeting they’ll quietly file that away as another example of your tardiness. However, if you tell them you’re making a serious effort to be on time from now on, that bit of “advertising” can change their perception. They’ll be on alert for evidence of your on-time behavior rather than confirmation that you’re always late. That little tweak in perception, created solely by telling people that you’re trying to change, can make all the difference.

 

Leadership Insight: How to Have More Time and Energy for the Most Important Things in Your Life by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA

Note: this article was inspired by a management blog posting by Frank Arnold in my favorite Swiss newspaper NZZ.

 

 

 

 

I love this time of year:

  • In the U.S., we just celebrated Thanksgiving, the best holiday ever: no presents, no cards just friends, family and plenty of good food
  • Our family spends the weekend split evenly between enjoying the first meter of snow in the Cascades and cultivating the age old Swiss tradition of baking Christmas cookies (or Guetzlis)
  • We have three solid months of skiing to look forward to; and
  • We are just about to head to my mother’s place in Davos in the Swiss Alps for the holidays

I also enjoy this time of year because, as it comes to a close, I find it a great time to reflect on what’s been working and what’s not been working this year.

Reflecting back on my 2011, I realize that I while I have done a lot of things well this year, I have continued to spread myself too thinly across too many activities and projects (both in my personal and my professional life). So instead of starting 2012 with a lot of “To Do” resolutions, I am committing myself to a rigorous “Stop Doing” resolution.

Let me explain:

All of our clients (myself included) love to start new and exciting projects. We enjoy thinking about, and yes, sometimes fantasizing about all the good that will come from our new projects. At the same time, most of us find it very difficult to make the hard decision to discontinue projects that do not either yield what they should or simply aren’t at the core of what we should be doing. In other words, not many of us are very good at cutting our losses.
As a result, we find ourselves and our organizations spread way too thinly across too many projects and activities. We lack focus and clarity.

My own experience in juggling competitive sports, career and family life has (at times painfully) taught me that I can really truly focus on only one thing at time. If, for example, I am making a major new business push, then I need to have athletics in no more than ‘maintenance mode’ and I know I might be asking for more support from my spouse on the family side. Similarly, when preparing for a big race, I cannot at the same time aggressively grow my business.

When it comes to deciding if we should ‘continue doing’ or ‘stop doing’ something, the great Peter Drucker hit the nail on the head when he challenges us to answer the two hard questions:

“If we were not in this already, would we now go into it?”
and if the answer is ‘no’, the next question should be:

“How do we get out and how fast?”

Two of the most effective ways to address our ‘spreading ourselves too thinly” challenge are ‘Stop Doing’ Lists and “Stop Doing” Meetings.

A “Stop Doing” List

Most of us keep To Do lists. However, instead of focusing on what “to do”, a “Stop Doing” List encourages you to think of activities you should not do anymore. One of the ways to actually implement a “stop doing things” list is to smartly exchange money for time. Even if this seems like a bit of a foreign concept to you, consider implementing it one a small scale. That’s right: Exchange time for money.

For example in the office: hiring a (virtual) assistant to take as many mindless, repetitive tasks off your plate as possible. At home: Pay someone to run errands for you: shopping, picking up the dry cleaning etc.

Over time, done right you will find that this concept will follow the compound interest rule: The more you can afford to buy time to focus on the things where you add most value (and hence make more money) the more you can afford to buy time to focus on the high value activities etc., etc.

Stop doing lists are not only valuable for individual leaders but also help departments and organizations focus on what they are truly great at.

Action Steps:
1. Put together a “Stop Doing List” for 2012 right now.
2. Come up with two small activities you will outsource in 2012 (Buy time)

A “Stop Doing” Meeting

Establish a regular meeting during which instead of talking about what to do, you only focus on what to stop doing will instill a new sense of discipline in your business. For example, some organizations monthly examine different areas of the business (e.g. products, services, distribution channels, markets, clients segments, processes etc.) inquiring of each area: What do we want to continue doing? What do we want to stop doing?

Again, Drucker’s questions, which former GE Chairman and CEO Jack Welch used to perfection to ensure that he was always at least number two or above in any industry, help focus the discussion:

If we weren’t in this business already, would we enter it today? And if no: How soon will we get out?

Action Steps
1. Start regular “Stop Doing” meetings in your organization
2. Communicate the action steps coming out of these meetings throughout the organization

For more information and resources, visit us at www.redpointcoaching.com.

 

One-on-One Meetings: One of the Most Effective Leadership Tools by Urs Koenig

by Urs Koenig, Phd, MBA, Principal, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

One on Ones for Better LeadershipDuring his tenure as CIO of Swissair (the former Swiss Airline) my dad applied for the top job at the Swiss Disaster Relief Agency. During the interview, he was asked to define leadership. He responded with a one liner (and was expected to present a thesis and as a result didn’t get the job…): “Being a leader means getting things done through your people.”

While I like his definition for its brevity, the question remains: how do you get stuff done through your people? You engage them, you inspire them, you listen to them, you set goals for them and you hold them accountable.
And what is one of the most effective and efficient ways to engage, inspire, listen, set goals and hold your people accountable?

You guessed it: Conducting regular and meaningful one-on-one meetings with your direct reports.
As with so many of the things we coach our clients on, conducting regular, productive and meaningful one-on-ones is a very simple concept but not always easy to pull off.

Why have yet another meeting and what if I don’t have time?

If you are like 90 % of the managers out there, most of your interactions with your people occur in an ad hoc manner — during team meetings (even if many of the people present don’t need to be part of the conversation), in hurried emails and voicemails, in passing in the hallway, or when a big problem desperately needs attention.

While all of these often interrupted, incomplete and hurried interactions are one-on-ones, they are seldom the most effective ones. Often there is no logic to the timing of these conversations. In fact, they are usually random, incomplete, and often too late to head off a problem or solve it before it grows large.

Regular one-on-one meetings will get you ahead of this curve. Not only will your people prepare for the time they have your undivided attention, they will discuss issues they won’t bring up in a group meeting or in impromptu discussions: their dissatisfaction with part of their current role, interpersonal challenges or other problems that could keep them from succeeding at work.

One on OnesIf your direct report is falling short, the one-on-one setting enables you to communicate in no uncertain terms what changes you need to see happening. Following the principal of praising in public and criticizing in private, you can be firmer and sterner during a one-on-one than during a team meeting. Think of the perfect one-on-one meeting as hybrid of an information gathering, planning, coaching and accountability meeting.

Like any meaningful meeting, not having it will cost you an expensive multiple of the time you would have spent in the meeting. Having it will save you time and headaches in the long run. There is one more important, not often talked about benefit to regular, meaningful on-on-ones. By sitting down with your direct reports and demonstrating true interest and concern not only for their productivity but also for their input, opinions and development, you build a more committed and engaged team which leads to all sorts of well documented soft benefits (e.g. increased job satisfaction) and hard benefits (e.g. lower turn-over, lower recruiting and training costs).

But how do I best do them?

Schedule 30 minute one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports at least every other week, better every week. Make it a regular, re-occurring meeting. Don’t use travel as an excuse not to have it; conduct a phone meeting instead.

Keep a file for each of your direct reports where you gather all the none-time sensitive questions and issues you need to discuss with them. So rather than interrupting your folks constantly whenever you think of something, drop it in the file for discussion during the one-on-one. Take notes of issues raised in the one-on-one and agreed upon courses of action.

Here is my suggestion for a standing agenda for your one on one meeting:

1. Update on action items/commitments from last time
2. What is going well?
3. What are the obstacles and how can I (the manager) help?
4. Action items going forward

Once a quarter, I recommend you go ‘bigger’ and cover the following:

1. Where are we going (the organization)?
2. Where are you going?
3. What are you and your part of the biz doing well? What are you proud of?
4. What are your suggestions for improvements for the future (for the organization, for your part of the biz, for yourself)?
5. How can I help?
6. What suggestions for improvement do you have for me?

Have the one-on-one meeting primarily driven by your direct report. Make this a coaching conversation by asking lots of questions and listening well. Provide guidance if it’s needed but do not fall into the trap of filling the time with your own talk. If you are taking up more than 30 % of air time, you are talking too much.