Saturday, April 05, 2008

Are You a Meetaholic?

Do you call meetings without the attendees knowing what the meeting is about? Do your meetings go on until 'question mark?' Do your meetings cover multiple topics, none of which gain resolution? Have you ever called a meeting to discuss coaching or disciplinary issues? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have a complex called ''meetaholism." It's a common affliction which affects many managers spanning every industry. But there's hope for you and everyone else out there. Follow these 12 steps to defeating meetaholism:

Step one: Stop calling unnecessary meetings. If you can't define why you need to meet other than because ''well, we haven't in a while,'' then you don't need to.

Step two: Hold meetings to conquer one set of problems. The broader the spectrum of your meeting, the less focused your participation will be.

Step three: Codify your meeting announcements. I use a simple Who, Where, When, Why, How posting to show clearly who should attend, where it will be, when it will be (start AND finish), what the single purpose is, and the meeting format (brainstorm, correction of errors, etc)

Step four: Hold yourself and your attendees to time frames. I know some managers who use an egg timer to constrain participants which is a bit militant for me, but necessary in some situations. If you have one or two very chatty associates who always seem to run long or go off topic, assign them the task of taking notes/minutes - you'll be surprised how concise and to the point they'll become.

Step five: Keep it short. I once had a manager who announced at the beginning of every meeting he attended that he would be there for 30 minutes and only 30 minutes. His philosophy spawned from over 40 years of experience during which he probably attended thousands of meetings which taught him that after the half hour mark, most meetings break down into a cluttered mess. Following step two will aid with this immensely.

Step six: Use meetings to solve problems, not to remedy violations of policies. I've been to many meetings where the central theme was ''We/you all need to stop/start doing thus and so.'' Airing out coaching issues in a meeting format will achieve little other than whiplash from bobbing-head syndrome (ever look around and see everyone's head nodding and know that it's only for show?). Praise in public, coach in private. Real accountability is next to impossible to attain otherwise.

Step seven: Encourage and expect participation. Meetings are for communication and idea exchange. There should not be a soapbox nor a podium in the room- those are for presentations and Q&A sessions. A certain degree of 'controlled informality' will help to get folks talking. Call out individuals who are keeping quiet and ask for opinions on ideas that have been presented in order to keep everyone on topic.

Step eight: Create 'Go-Dos' from meeting notes and 'Go-Do' them! All this great communication and planning is for naught if no one actually executes. Furthermore, your attendees will be reluctant to work as hard during your meetings if they repeatedly see that the fruits of their labor are rotting on the ground.

Step nine: Think through your list of attendees. Keep it down to only the individuals who can really contribute, have information which will assist in your process, or who will be heavily affected by the outcomes generated. Any individuals who don't have anything to contribute to your meeting yet wish to be kept in the loop (or you wish to keep them in the loop) should be sent notes. Remember that, in the end, meetings cost time and time costs money.

Step ten: Leave the food in the fridge. This is time to confer, not dine. Food is a distraction and hampers speech. If your meetings are running so long that people are getting hungry, refer to steps two, four, and five.

Step eleven: Post your agenda. Make it as big as you reasonably can. This will add structure and will facilitate momentum. My postings usually include the problem being solved, a space for initial comments from every attendee with their opinion on how to solve it (depending upon how many attendees), and the goal for the session.

Step twelve: Know the difference between a meeting and a progress report. I hold or attend progress reports every day. Numbers from the previous day, week, or month are told, upcoming event details are announced, and policy changes are read. THIS IS NOT A MEETING. Keep these two separated like oil and water. They are detrimental to each other and when combined nullify anything good which could have come out of either of them.

Well, those are the steps to ridding yourself of this malicious illness. Do these things and your associates will thank you, your peers will admire you, and your bosses will cherish you. I'm sure there are more than 12 steps to this process, but this meeting has gone on long enough!

New Poster for Photo Lab

Here is my most recent creation. I created this (obviously) to display
in One Hour Photo centers to advertise photography classes. The finished
product is mounted in a 24x36 inch frame with glass front. Class times
and details are written in dry erase marker between the top and bottom
graphics. The quasi-handwriting font I used on the polaroid-like print
helps to make the dry erase writing look appropriate. This is actually
one of my favorite recent pieces.

The images in the 'polaroids' were taken while I was hiking around Shores
Lake (North of Mulberry, Arkansas) last Summer.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Leveraging Enthusiasm

Where does excitement come from? During a one on one session with a member of my inside sales team yesterday, the subject of a recent four day long sales promotion arose. The number of widgets sold across the four days were 18, 6, 9, and 8, respectively. I asked my associate what was different between day one and days two, three, and four. Her response was that everyone was focused on the specific task of increasing sales of widgets because of the excitement surrounding the beginning of the event (in not so many words, actually). I asked what an individual in her department could do to spread the excitement to other days of the event in the future. Her response was so simple and so complex at the same time. She thought for a moment and said, "Just get excited." The look on her face showed that she'd had an epiphany: Excitement can be summoned at will.

Many associates and managers wait for events, promotions, or incentives to come around in order to act as a catalyst for change or for increased productivity. I have to admit that sometimes I find myself doing just that. The key to breaking that cycle is to make rallying the troops a daily activity. Creativity and a little jocularity go a long way towards lightening loads and turning exasperatingly impossible tasks into manageable challenges to be overcome.

Excitement is contagious and leads to excellent results if your team has a firm training base and the skillset to direct their enthusiasm. Be sure you're not selling yourself and your team short by not capitalizing on easiest "event" to set up and maintain... your team's excitement and enthusiasm.
Fort Smith, Arkansas
...just narcissistic enough to own a blog.