Corporate Conversations

Crystal BallYou don’t know – you can’t know with 100% certainty – what will happen tomorrow. Yes, you can (and we all do) contemplate the future with a good sense of what is likely to happen, although these days the future seems incredibly cloudy, uncertain, and basically unpredictable. And if tomorrow seems hazy, what about next week, next month, next year, five years from now?

And the less certain you are of what the future will bring, the more highly stressed you are likely to be. That stress comes from not knowing, and from being afraid that you won’t be able to control whatever does happen.

But what if you could “premember” tomorrow as clearly as you remember yesterday?

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peekingfear_000014658459November 8, 2016, is election day in the United States. This has been the most contentious, drawn-out, and, yes, tedious election in my memory. Everyone I know is glad it is about to be over. No matter what your politics or political values, I am positive that like me you are relieved we’ve finally reached the end of this unpleasant journey.

One inevitable result of this year’s electoral dysfunction (deliberate pun) has been rampant uncertainty about the future. And one of the best indicators of uncertainty is the stock market. The U.S. markets have been unsteady and volatile throughout the year, and foreign markets have generally followed suit. [click to continue…]

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For the last several weeks I’ve been making the case that you can improve the quality and productivity of your meetings with relatively little effort. Rethink the basics, offer a simple training workshop, and improve the way you measure the cost and quality of your meetings.

All well and good – but I’ve just realized that I’ve been thinking mostly about the “regular” meetings that happen in every organization and every business unit on a daily basis – the 20 million-plus meetings that take place every day in the United States.

That’s a lot of meetings, and a lot of organizational time and money.

But the meetings that really matter are those infrequent occasions when leadership teams actively explore their organizational future and chart new courses for their business. [click to continue…]

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Thinking Girl Looking Up With Red Question Sign Near HerI’ve been writing about meetings and how to make them better for months.

And, as you know, I even wrote a book about making meetings matter (available on Amazon.com at this linkcontact me directly for volume discounts).

Most of my rants have been directed at senior executives and team leaders, because I consider them the most accountable for lousy meetings. After all, it is organizational leaders who set the tone and establish expectations for how things are supposed to work.

It is organizational leaders who set performance standards, measure actual outcomes, and sponsor leadership development programs aimed at equipping team leaders with both the skillsets and the mindsets for leading effective meetings. I believe those are the people who most need to hear my message and join my crusade.

However, I’ve recently realized that focusing on organizational leaders isn’t enough.

This year in the United States we’re witnessing a powerful strain of populism – of every-day, “ordinary” people saying “enough” and “throw the bums out.” And the Brexit vote in the U.K. is another example of voters expressing displeasure with their elected leaders.

I’m not taking sides here on the upcoming U.S. election, but I do believe we are being reminded every day that the People do have Power – and when they exercise it things can change.

So today I am issuing a call to anyone and everyone who ever gets invited to a meeting to change the way you respond, and to hold the leaders who call all those meetings to higher standards.

Not too long ago I wrote a short piece (“Making Meetings Matter: Leading from Anywhere”) listing several specific things you can do as a meeting participant to help the formal leader make the meeting run smoothly and accomplish its goals.

I now realize that focusing on the actual meeting is only one small part of the puzzle, and when the meeting starts it’s often too late to make a meaningful difference. I just watched a short but fabulous TEDx talk delivered by David Grady in Boston in October 2013 (“How to Save the World, or at Least Yourself, from Bad Meetings”). It’s less than seven minutes long; I encourage you to watch it.

Here is the YouTube version:

Grady identifies what he calls “MAS – Mindless Acceptance Syndrome” – the “involuntary reflex in which a person accepts a meeting invitation without even thinking why.”

I completely agree: that’s where the bad meetings epidemic begins.

The next time you get a meeting invitation, ask these four important questions before you accept it or commit to attend:

  • What is the Purpose of the meeting? What outcomes does the leader want or expect?
  • What is the Agenda? How will we spend our time during the meeting?
  • Who else has been invited? Are they the right people for accomplishing the meeting’s purpose?
  • How will my attendance at this meeting help me accomplish my own goals and produce positive results for me and/or my organization?

If you can’t answer those basic questions, Decline the meeting; or, better, contact the person who sent you the invitation and ask him/her these four questions. If there are reasonable answers, then you can consider Accepting the invitation. If not, then you can either work with the meeting leader to develop reasonable answers or Decline to attend.

I realized recently that one of the main reasons we are experiencing such an epidemic of lousy meetings is that in most organizations there is no one person responsible for the quality of meetings across the organization. Yes, individual leaders must be accountable for their own meetings; and yes, anyone who attends a meeting shares responsibility for the quality of that meeting. But most of us don’t realize how much we can do individually to make our meetings better. More importantly the distributed responsibility makes it difficult to launch any kind of organization-wide initiatives to improve how meetings are designed and led.

As David Grady points out so eloquently, you wouldn’t tolerate a fellow employee walking into your workspace and stealing your chair. But almost every day you allow others to steal a far more valuable resource: your time. Stop it right now – no more Mindless Acceptance of meeting invitations!


For a longer exploration of how to make all those lousy meetings both productive and popular, order a copy of my most recent book, Making Meetings Matter: How Smart Leaders Orchestrate Powerful Conversations in the Digital Age (link is to the book’s page on Amazon.com. However, you should contact me directly for volume discounts). Or, as a first step, view a short video and download a free excerpt at this link.


And call me today (+1 510.558.1434) for a free exploratory conversation about how you can become a hero by improving your organization’s meeting ROI. Isn’t it time to upgrade the quality and the efficiency of all your meetings?

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Women Hand writing ROI Return on Investment

Over the last several weeks I have been exploring several basic ways to improve your organizational ROI for meetings.

Last week I talked about two complementary approaches to improving meeting efficiency:

  1. Holding fewer meetings
  2. Conducting shorter meetings

(See “The Business Case for Making Your Meetings Matter (Part 3)” for details).

Today I am focusing on how distributed meetings can reduce costs in dramatic ways. I then conclude by proposing an integrated, three-phase approach for jacking up that ROI.

Reducing Costs: Let Me Count the Ways

There are many kinds of savings that come from greater use of distributed meetings. Note that some of these benefits accrue to organizations, some to individuals, and some to society more broadly. [click to continue…]

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covermeetingAre you frustrated by all the time you waste in lousy, boring, unproductive meetings? Are you ready to do something about it?

Last week, in “Back to Basics: Making Your Meetings More Effective,” I described the only two ways you can enhance meeting productivity:

  • Improving outcomes – better decisions, more creative solutions, higher levels of participant engagement, strengthened working relationships, and happier participants;
  • Reducing costs – fewer meetings, shorter meetings, and more efficient meetings; leaving more time for people to get their own work done.

It really is that simple. Now it’s time to dig into those two objectives to identify specific tactics you can embrace right now to improve your ROI on meetings. We’ll focus today on Improving Outcomes, and devote next week’s post to Reducing Costs (although it’s actually artificial to separate these two strategies, as they usually go hand-in-hand). [click to continue…]

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change-management meetingI’ve been studying and writing about organizational meetings for years. And I’ve offered lots of tips, techniques, and “rules” for making your meetings matter – to the organization, to your staff, and to yourself (see my new website, www.makingmeetingsmatter.com, for details about my new book and associated service offerings; and scan my past blog posts for loads of ideas and recommendations).

But I haven’t spent enough time discussing why making meetings matter is so important. In other words, what is the business case for changing the way you design and lead meetings?

To do that we have to look at the two dimensions of effectiveness:

  • Improving outcomes:  better decisions, more creative solutions, higher levels of participant engagement, strengthened working relationships, and happier participants;
  • Reducing costs: fewer meetings, shorter meetings, and more efficient meetings, leaving more time for people to get their own work done.

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If it was a meeting that mattered – an experience you want to have again – then it included a meaningful conversation. As the meeting wound up you were incredibly energized and ready to do something important, and/or you were disappointed it was over.

A meaningful conversation changes you in important ways. You see the world differently, or you have new insights into a problem you’ve been struggling with, or you know someone in a far more personal way.

As I think back on memorable meetings I’ve been part of, it seems clear that the participants were speaking openly and honestly, and with respect for each other’s experiences and intentions. We were all “in the moment” exploring a topic we cared deeply about.

Those are clues about what drives a conversation from good to great. But they are only clues, and they are only my personal insights. To broaden my understanding of what makes a good conversation I’ve asked many people I respect and admire to share with me how they think about good conversations. [click to continue…]

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2016 year calendar. September calendar on a white background. 3d renderingRemember that old song, “I’ll See You in September”? Made popular by a 60’s group called “The Happenings” (who are still going strong), it was a melancholy farewell between two lovers at the beginning of a summer vacation that was splitting them apart. The lyrics included this verse:

 

See you in September
See you when the summer’s through
Here we are (bye, baby, goodbye)
Saying goodbye at the station (bye, baby, goodbye)
Summer vacation (bye, baby bye, baby)
Is taking you away (bye, baby, goodbye)

Well, right now September is this Thursday (!). Summer is officially over next Monday (Labor Day in the United States), and those of us in North America and Europe are gearing up for a busy fall that will undoubtedly unfold at a furious pace. Of course, summer is no longer the slow, lazy-hazy days it used be, either.

But my point is simple: fall is a time of year when we are more energized, more focused, and more ambitious. We return from our summer vacations and office slow-downs ready to “hit the ground running.” Most of us are committed to making progress on all those To-Do lists and business goals we’ve been avoiding for too long. [click to continue…]

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Diverse Business People in a Meeting

Last week’s article/blog post, “Why Collaborative Leadership is Central to the Future of Work,” generated more attention and commentary than I have experienced in some time. I encourage you to reread the article and in particular to take a look at the online comments from Robert Buss and Bob Leek (below the article).

The article also led to an extended conversation with Steven Beary, a corporate real estate strategist and Principal/CFO at The Beary Group, whose insights I have always found enlightening.

Steven told me several directly relevant and highly compelling stories about his experiences with collaborative cultures that I want to pass on. His basic message: there’s one surefire way to build an organizational culture that values and practices meaningful collaboration: [click to continue…]

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