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.

 

For Leaders It’s Always Show Time: Are You Up For It? by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA

– It’s the Avenue, I’m taking you to 42nd Street! –

by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA, Redpoint Coaching

audienceimageMost of us understand the importance of  leading by example. Often, however, we forget, that we are constantly on stage. And I mean constantly: from the minute you walk into the office in the morning until you leave at night, you are sending signals to your people about what is desirable behavior and what is unacceptable.

Our colleague and leadership teacher Jim Hessler writes in his excellent book “Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face, “Just showing up as a leader can be hard work. Think of the thousands of interactions you’ll have with others in the days and months ahead. In the morning you’ll have to choose a parking space: even this is a form of interaction. Perhaps you’ll hold the front door open for a fellow employee-or not. You’ll walk to your desk or office a certain way-briskly or casually, smiling or frowning, greeting colleagues along the way or lost in your own thoughts …”

Leading executive coach Marshall Goldsmith compares leadership to Broadway theater, “I am inspired by great theater. Every night, great performers pour their hearts into each production. Some have headaches, some have family problems, but it doesn’t really matter. When it’s show time, they give it all they have. Although it might be the thousandth time an actor has performed the part, it might be the first time the customer sitting in the fourth row has seen the production. To the true performer, every night is opening night.

Like great actors, inspirational leaders sometimes need to be consummate performers. When they need to motivate and inspire people, they do it. It doesn’t matter if they have a headache. They do whatever it takes to help their organization succeed. When they need to be  ‘on’, like the Broadway stars, it’s show time.” Click here for Marshall’s  complete article.

Throughout the work day people in your organization will look for clues from you about how you the business is doing, how you are feeling and what it all means for them.

And it does not end there. Think business travel, office parties and semi-social gatherings. Remember: the show is always on and you are constantly on stage!

Have you ever thought out loud in front of your team about the pros and cons of launching a particular new service or product next year?

Later on, were you surprised to find rumors spreading throughout your business that you just decided to launch that very product next quarter? If so, you fell into the trap of underestimating how closely people are listening to every single word you are saying (and then not afraid to put their own spin on it and spread the word).

If you happen to be a leader who thinks through difficult issues by talking about them, you need to be particularly mindful about what, how and with whom you are sharing your ‘thinking out loud’. Remember, you are not thinking out loud from the 20th row but from up on the main stage!

Here are your two take-aways:

  1. Be self aware (maybe the most important leadership skill) that your people are observing you constantly and are picking up on every little thing you do or do not do. They see everything: the good, the bad and the ugly and are constantly asking themselves: what does this mean for me? You are the leader of the pack and NOT one of the pack!
  2. Even the most successful and experienced Broadway actors are nervous before every show. In fact, some argue the nervousness is a key ingredient to really be at their best during the show. Similarly, being on the leadership stage can be scary and uncomfortable. Accept and embrace the tension. It keeps you at your best!

Don’t Just Do Something: Sit There! by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA of Redpoint Coaching

by Urs Koenig, PhD,  MBA , Redpoint Coaching

One of the default responses many of my clients, colleagues, friends and indeed family members give when asked how they are doing is “Very busy!” “Super busy”, “Totally slammed”.  More often than not I suspect it is a boast packaged as a complaint. And I often catch myself giving the implied congratulations response: “Well, better than the opposite.”

I love what Tim Kreider, NYT blogger, has to say about our addiction to busyness:

“Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence. Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

When I read the above it reminded me of what I sometimes tell my clients: Everyone is busy but not everyone achieves results. It sounds counterintuitive but just ‘sitting there’ is often a necessary prerequisite to achieving great results. There is a reason why we need to have off-site retreats to think strategically: we need to get away from the busyness to think about the important questions.

Again Tim Kreider: “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body (…)The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections it is (…), paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

It is, in my mind, no coincidence that many of the greatest thinkers like Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, C.G. Jung and the Dalai Lama spent ( in the case of the Dalai Lama are still spending) many hours alone in quiet meditation…just sitting there.

I am someone who used to keep himself notoriously busy and overcommitted (and no, I am not cured but I am making good progress J!). I have on countless occasions experienced the adrenaline rush of being constantly busy and in demand. It is addictive, no doubt!

What is helping me to combat the addictive need to be busy but rather to focus on what is really important? Here are four things

1. Awareness about what unfulfilled need I fulfill with my busyness.

I have to admit that at times my busyness helps me to not face what I should be facing. It’s often easier to plow rather mindlessly through the to do list rather than stepping back and asking the big, hard questions.

Busyness also provides comfort. The emptiness we face when we ‘just sit there’ can be a scary place. It’s just me facing me and….nothing…pretty scary uh?

Building awareness around what need you are fulfilling by being constantly busy will help you take steps to let go.

2.Regular (2-5x/week) meditation practice

Over the course of the last three years I have started to mediate regularly. There are dozens of studies demonstrating the physical, emotional and mental benefits of a regular meditative practice. And I can attest from my own experience: it is one of the purest ways of ‘just sitting there’.

3. Monthly retreat with self (pen and a note book only)

I take regular time by myself over a coffee or yes, a drink, in a comfortable place, armed only with an old fashioned pen and note book but by design without any wireless connections that would distract me from asking the big question: Am I spending my time and energy with the people and projects that are most important to me?  If no, what changes will I make?

4. Most of us keep To Do lists. However, instead of focusing on what “to do”, my “Stop Doing” List encourages me to think of activities I should not do anymore, things that I am doing out of habit, a (false) sense of obligation, and that are not really moving me to where I want to be.

Re-visit my stop doing list  for some pointers on how to accomplish this.

Hiring A Executive Coach? 3 Questions to Ask Yourself (and Your Prospective Coach) First

By Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA, Principal, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

If you (1) are a coach, (2) have worked with a coach or (3) are hiring a coach (for yourself or others) ask yourself these three questions (discussed in more detail below):

  1. What does success look like and who gets to decide?
  2. What are you paying for (or, if you are the coach, what are you getting paid for)?
  3. What is the process?

(Note, I believe that a lot of what I discuss here also applies to hiring and working with other consultants, not just coaches)

Let’s talk about what most coaching looks like today and what we believe it should look like. Consider the below two scenarios and ask yourself:

  • Which scenario is closer to my experience of coaching?
  • Which scenario is preferable and why?

Scenario I: A senior manager just finished his eight month $35k coaching engagement with a well known executive coach. Although the manager’s boss and the Vice President of Human Resources had a good idea what the manager was working on (he needed to be more assertive and build stronger relationship across departments) they did not participate in the actual coaching process. The coaching was a somewhat mysterious process as it happened behind closed doors. Even some of the coaching client’s close working colleagues did not know that he was working with a leadership coach. Over the duration of the engagement, there were two progress meetings during which the client and the coach reported their progress to his boss and the HR VP. At the end of the engagement, the coach submitted a report in which he outlined how the client progressed during the engagement. He presented primarily self-reported anecdotal evidence. The report included a (positive) self assessment by the client. The coach believed he had earned his $35k fee because he spent a lot of time with the client and strongly felt that the client got better.

Scenario II: A senior manager just finished his eight month $35k coaching engagement with a well known executive coach. The client involved her stakeholders (peers, direct reports, and bosses) from the very start in the coaching process. The client developed her coaching goals (she needed to be more assertive and build stronger relationship across departments) in collaboration her stakeholders and regularly solicited feedback on her progress from them. Halfway through and at the end of the engagement stakeholders rated the client on her progress against her coaching goals in an anonymous online survey online survey. The results of the first online survey were less than stellar and forced the client and her coach to make some changes. The second and final online stakeholder survey showed a significant improvement of the client’s targeted leadership behaviors. The coach collected his $35k fee because (and only because) he facilitated a process by which helped the client get better, as assessed by the client’s 3rd party stakeholders.

Again, ask yourself:

  • Which scenario is closer to my experience of coaching?
  • Which scenario is preferable and why?

A lot of coaching in small business and corporate America is significantly closer to Scenario I than to Scenario II (I know because I have practiced it myself…). For those of you even vaguely familiar with our leadership coaching approach, it will come as no surprise that Lauren and I are strong proponents for moving coaching towards Scenario II.

Let me explain.

I have been coaching for more than 10 years and looking back over this period I am amazed how much the field of coaching and my practice has changed.

I started my coaching as a career coach, quickly transitioned into small business/entrepreneurial coaching and finally ended up finding my calling in leadership (executive) coaching.

I have worked with many wonderful clients (100+ of them) and I believe I have done a lot of good work and, on occasion, some great work. However, I often had the nagging feeling of uneasiness around the measurable impact of my coaching. Yes, the clients felt happy and gave me positive feedback. I did feel they were (for the most part) making good process and got things done they would not have done without our work together. Nevertheless: my outcome driven personality was not satisfied. Questions would linger: How did I really know if I made a difference? Who should be the judge? Did the results achieved justify my fee?

At about the same time I was pondering these questions, Lauren and I were certified in a methodology called Stakeholder Centered Coaching pioneered by executive coaching legend Marshall Goldsmith. In essence, the coach first identifies the client’s key stakeholders (peers, direct reports, and bosses.) Stakeholders are critical to the process as they are people best in a position to: 1) identify the client’s existing leadership shortcomings, 2) give specific and immediate suggestions for ways to improve and 3) assess progress towards desired change. The stakeholders, in essence, are turned into collaborative partners in the coaching process. (Scenario II describes a Stakeholder Centered Coaching engagement, which is the approach Lauren and I now use in our engagements.)

The result? A quantifiable assessment that is hard to “game” by either the coach or the client. (Another side benefit to the Stakeholder Centered approach is that it tends to greatly improve the quality of conversations across the organization, but that’s the subject of another article!)

Coaching represents a big investment in time, money and effort for the client and your organization. Make sure you get a fair return on your investment by asking the questions below before you hire a coach. Does their process look more like Scenario I or II? Does it provide good answers to each of the questions below?

1. What does success look like and who gets to decide?

    • How does the coach define success for the coaching engagement? What about the client? The boss? HR? How is failure defined?
    • How will progress be measured, along the way, and at the end? Is it quantifiable?
    • Who reports progress/results? Is it self-reported (client, coach) or by third parties (e.g. anonymous surveys, stakeholders)

2. What are you paying for (or, if you are the coach, what are you getting paid for)?

    • Are you paying for process/activities (e.g. billable hours spent) or measurable results?
    • Are you having to pay the coaching (consulting) fee no matter what the outcome of the engagement or is the coach’s fee at least partly dependant on the success of the engagement?

3. What is the process?

    • Is the coach able to clearly articulate the process (note: coaching is not (anymore) simply a series of conversations)?
    • Does the coaching only happen in private, behind closed doors, or is the process attempting at building leverage across the organization (e.g. by including various stakeholders)?
    • Is the coaching engagement clearly scoped? Does everyone agree what is being worked on and what is not being worked on? How do you prevent scope creep?
For a detail description of our coaching process, visit our website at Redpoint Coaching.