The Modern Meeting – Don’t Hold It!

borrowed without permission from NYTimes - Charlie Mahoney, photographer

borrowed without permission from NYTimes – Charlie Mahoney, photographer

Friday’s NYTimes (12/4/2015) brought another article about meetings. This one, “The Modern Meeting: Call In, Turn Off, Tune Out” by Katie Hafner, takes on the virtual meeting facilitated by the mute button on your phone. The article, accompanied on the web by a slideshow of some guy doing yard work while at meetings, repeats the age old complaints of meetings that are not involving or engaging many of the participants. Some companies are insisting on videoconferences to provide more “accountability” for participants. There is sage advice about the use of the mute button and the dangers of video. I once appeared in my bathrobe for a meeting with some colleagues in India when I mistakenly hit the video button on a Skype call.

Triage Your Meetings

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Managing Key Personnel – Do What Is Inevitable – evasion and self-deception will not work

Recently I was speaking with the owner of a financial services firm. She has 15 people in her organization which is now almost 18 years old. By any measure a successful firm.

She told me about one person who has been with the firm for eight years. The owner described this person as the most professional and reliable person in the organization. She performs all sorts of important customer-facing activities flawlessly. This employee is a key person in the organization. The owner went on to tell me about a recent conversation she had with this key person who confided that she did not want to be just an “insurance geek”. She was emphatic about this. The owner told me that this statement jived with other comments this person had made recently. She believed her and felt that her days are numbered.

The owner then went on to describe how she had begun to put together a job manual for all of the key tasks now under the wing of the key employee. This seemed to me to be just the right step. First, the key employee was cooperating in constructing the job manual. This is a great sign of continuing good faith. Second, the owner is testing out the manual to be sure that it really will be a solid platform for training a replacement. Continue reading

Seize Your Time – gaining control over Too Much Information

I have written a number of other postings about time management.  I always start off with the true, but worn, observation that time is the one element of business (life, too) that can not be purchased, borrowed, or inventoried. It is a requirement, before all else, that managers gain control over their time. In practice, I have found, this means being able to allocate useful blocks of time every week to work on their businesses. This means allocating time to work on whatever is important to the future of the business and to which they can bring energy, passion, and expertise, or, perhaps, they are the only one who can do it. Many managers find that seizing just two or three hours per week allows them to make a focused effort on high-value projects to drive the company forward.

In earlier postings ( for example, Seizing Your Time – the breakthrough first step in time management) (opens new window) I have called for managers to “seize their time”. Seizing time short circuits the assessment, analysis, and pondering that frequently dooms traditional time management programs to failure. Somehow, too much cogitation on time leads to inaction. In my earlier thinking, I have mostly focused on seizing time from meetings. But, now, I have come to understand that meetings are perhaps not the most insidious or pervasive waste of our time.

From my own personal practice and observation of others, its is clear that we need a new focus on TMI – Too Much Information. We are now surrounded by sources of information and, like little children in front of a TV, we are slack-jawed, glassy-eyed, and in the thrall of continuous flows of information. Think of how frequently you check your email. Every hour? Every 10 minutes? How often do you check your voice mail? How often are your interrupted by IM – Instant Messaging, Text Messaging, and so on?

This phenomenon reminds me of a 2002 article in Scientific American about TV addiction, Television Addiction is no mere metaphor. [1. Kubey, Robert & Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly,  Television Addiction is no mere metaphor. ( Scientific American; Feb2002, Vol. 286 Issue 2, p74, 7p, 2c. ] Perhaps there is a connection between the attraction that TV provides to our “orienting response” and our easy fixations on checking our email?

But, as in earlier comments in Seizing Your Time – the breakthrough first step…., let’s not focus too much on analysis of how much time we are wasting, rather ask the question, “How can I change my behavior to capture useful time?”

Why not arbitrarily set times during the day when you will check your email? Think about how many minutes a day are taken up getting to your email application and then looking through emails. Are people really sending you an email with an expectation that you will respond within minutes, even hours? Be aggressive about pushing the interval. Why not wait for a few loud complaints from key customers to tell you that you need to make the email checking a bit more frequent.

I am working to keep my email checking to three times per day, early morning, lunch, and before closing up shop at the end of the day.  I also apply David Allen‘s Two Minute Rule to the emails so that anything that I can get done immediately, gets done without delay.  [2. “If the Next Action can be done in 2 minutes or less, do it when you first pick the item up.” Even if that item is not a “high priority”, because it takes longer to store and track any item than to deal with it the first time it’s in your head. (p. 131, “Getting Things Done”]

What about your voice mails? Think about the turn around time that is expected for your industry and your job. Again, be aggressive about pushing the interval.

Take one or both of these steps in managing your personal TMI overload and be sure to devote the extra time you create to important projects, not just more of the day-to-day that is endless, and, in the end, not where the future of your company will be found.

It’s Always Your Fault – taking responsibility for personnel

Attracting, selecting, training and mentoring, and pruning human resources are among the most important tasks a manager confronts. Almost everyone agrees that, at the top level of organizations, managers need to be devoting a significant portion of their time addressing the people needs of the firm. Without the right people in the right positions, no strategy, no matter how clever, can succeed.

To be truly successful in meeting these responsibilities, a manager must embrace an all important management rule: “If an employee is working below expected or required performance it is always the manager’s fault.”

The first place to look is at the manager. After all, the manager hired or selected the person. The manager defines the work, provides tools, training, and all other resources required for the job.  The manager is responsible for the success of every person they supervise.

An important effect of this rule is that it prevents you from entering the whinny land of thinking, or worse, saying:  “Why doesn’t Joseph pay more attention to detail?” “Mirabelle keeps making the same errors over and over in these quotes.” “Walt just doesn’t get the big picture of where this project is going and he is heading down the wrong track, for the umpteenth time.”

Embrace your responsibilities and powers to make your personnel successful.

  • Make sure that you really have well thought out and planned jobs.
  • Are job definitions focused on results?
  • Are the task definitions actionable?
  • Do the skills listed actually match up with the results you want to achieve?
  • Have you provided the training required?
  • Do your personnel understand where the company is going strategically and is it clear how the results of their jobs connect with these strategies?
  • Have you acted promptly to provide feedback and take corrective action to support performance?
  • Do you have a company culture that embraces, supports, and demands full participation by everyone?

Selection and promoting personnel are management tasks with a high error factor. Every manager needs to acknowledge that their judgments are not always perfect, nor even close to perfect, in selection and promotion. So, faced with a weak performance from a new hire or newly promoted person, managers must ask the question early, “Did I make a mistake here?” If you come to that conclusion you need to act promptly to correct the error.

The central point is that you selected your personnel, you set the conditions and environment of their work, your provide the tools and training, you set the expectations, the results required. If you are not getting top performance from your personnel, look to the basics, look to your own responsibilities as a manager first. After all, if you are really holding yourself accountable for these responsibilities, you will achieve equal or better performance from everyone in your organization.