Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR


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Are Meetings Always Needed?

I just returned from a good meeting. Everyone was engaged, no one dominated (unless it made sense because of specific expertise), and everyone who spoke did something to check for understanding. It was more like a comfortable discussion around a warm fireplace in winter than a stereotypical business meeting.  So it made me think about the planning that went into it and how it was led.

A couple of months ago I read a blog that generated some thought about people who impede meetings and how to overcome them.  Here are 5 of the traps.  See if any sound familiar to you:

1)    People think they are experts.
2)    People think they are inspiring.
3)    People think others agree with them.
4)    People think others are clairvoyant.
5)    People think meetings are necessary.

Number 3 is my personal favorite, but number 5 is the one I run into most.

Five Hidden Traps in Meetings – If you have sat through a few bad meetings, you must have experienced the following traps.

People think they are experts. Many people tell me that they know how to hold a meeting. Actually, all they do is host a party. They invite guests, provide treats, and preside over a conversation. People talk. People eat. And nothing happens. Or, if they somehow manage to reach an agreement, no one implements it.

What to do: Learn how to lead a real meeting. Schedule a workshop or buy a book.  Death by Meeting: by Patrick Lencioni comes to mind.  When results really matter, hire a facilitator. Recognize that there are modern tools that help people make methodical progress toward results.

People think they are inspiring. Many people believe that long-winded announcements impress others. Actually, it’s the opposite. A long lecture quickly becomes a boring (and sometimes offensive) tirade. Why? Most employees want an active role in contributing to the business, and thus listening to a speech feels like a waste of time.

What to do: Design meetings that give the attendees opportunities to contribute. Plan questions that direct thinking toward the results that you want. Use activities that help people make decisions. Distribute announcements in letters, memos, or E-mails. Or, if you must use a meeting, keep announcements brief (less than a few minutes).

People think others agree with them. Many people rely on nods, smiles, and eye contact to measure acceptance. Actually, most employees will do anything to appease a boss. And if the boss seems to be upset, the employees will become even more agreeable. Then, once the meeting ends, the employees will do one of three things: forget the lecture, ignore the message, or sabotage the idea.

What to do: Conduct meetings by a process that everyone considers to be fair. Use consensus to reach agreements and make decisions. People will accept decisions that they helped make.

People think others are clairvoyant. Many people call meetings without an agenda expecting that everyone will arrive sharing their vision for what needs to be done. Actually, everyone brings their private hopes, fears, and vision to the meeting. Without a clear agenda, the result is something between chitchat and chaos, depending upon the complexity of the issue.  Note: A vague agenda, such as a list of topics, is almost as useless as no agenda.

What to do: Write out your goal for the meeting. Then prepare an agenda that is so complete someone else could use it to run the meeting without you. Specify each step and provide a time limit. Send the agenda at least a day before the meeting so that the attendees can use it to prepare. Call key participants before the meeting to check if they have questions or want to talk about the agenda.

People think meetings are necessary. Many people respond to every emergency, surprise, or twitch by calling a meeting.  Actually, a meeting is a special (and expensive) process. It should be used only to obtain results that require the efforts of a group of people working as a team. A meeting is NOT a universal cure for everything. Meetings held for the wrong reasons, waste everyone’s time.

What to do: Challenge every meeting for its ability to earn a profit for your business.  That is, make sure the value of the results is greater than the cost of holding a meeting. If any other activity can accomplish the same result, use that other activity.

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Modern Management

Modern management is all about removing roadblocks from the paths of employees in order to help them succeed.  This extends beyond managing people to empowering and engaging people.  The traditional idea of management was based on leading by fear and the notion of command and control.  Employees used to work hard to allow their managers to succeed and now it’s the managers turn to make sure their employees succeed.  As I’ve said many times, employees are the most valuable asset that any organization has.  In the past managers said “jump” and the employees said, “how high?”  Now, the managers are jumping with employees.

It used to be good enough for managers to say they supported something.  A manager would just need to approve the budget and say “go for it.”  When it comes to collaboration and the future of work that is no longer enough.  Managers need to commit to more than just funding collaboration.  They need to be the ones on the ground level using the same tools that the rest of the employees are using.  There is no way that employees can change and evolve (nor should they) unless they see their managers doing

Embrace vulnerability

This goes hand in hand with being open and transparent.  Our organizations were modeled after the military and if there’s one thing that a commander wasn’t, that was vulnerable.  However, times have changed and we aren’t running our organizations like the military anymore.  We go our whole lives learning how to be the opposite of vulnerable and we always have this “shield” up to keep people from seeing us when we are vulnerable.  However, Brene Brown, author of “Daring Greatly,” says that vulnerability is about having the courage to show up and be seen.  According to Brown, “Vulnerability is the absolute heartbeat of innovation and creativity.  There can be zero innovation without vulnerability.”  Being vulnerable isn’t about being weak it’s about being courageous; a key quality that every manager must have going forward.

Belief in sharing

Traditionally managers sat at the top of the organization and had access to all of the information required to make decisions. Managers would dole out the orders and the employees had to execute on those orders without asking any questions.  Today managers cannot believe in hoarding information but in sharing information and collective intelligence.  Managers need to make sure that the employees can connect to each other and to the information they need to get their jobs done, anytime, anywhere, and on any device.  Managers now rely on employees to help make decisions instead of isolating them from this process.

What other qualities do you think the modern manager should possess?


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Lessons Learned

4 years ago I left the corporate world and started PeopleFirst. As I reflect back I’ve learned much about a lot of things and I wanted to share some of that reflection here with you. I share these today for your benefit, for these lessons, when applied, will help you lead better, learn better and live better.

Human beings are learning beings

We are built to learn, and at some level we all learn every day. What we don’t do enough is learn intentionally. From hundreds of conversations I have learned that people are at their best when they are learning. When we are learning we feel alive, we feel meaning, we feel purposeful. Learning quenches the human drive of curiosity and when we do this intentionally we feel better, and perform better too. One of the most powerful ways to learn is to do what I am doing in this document – reflecting. Everyone can do it and it costs nothing but some focus and a bit of time. Our lives are complicated and the challenges we face are significant – so to succeed and make a difference in this world we must be learning.

Understanding change changes everything

One of the most popular requests I get as a consultant is to help companies change. Why? Because it is all around us, it is complex and our lack of understanding of it causes consternation, frustration and much more. We experience change personally and organizationally. Change is a pervasive part of our world and life, and when we begin to understand how it happens, why it happens, and how we choose it, it makes us more proactive, more understanding, and better able to help others too. Time spent understanding how change happens and how we choose it will fundamentally change your understanding of and ability to succeed in the world.

The contradiction of personal accountability

Here is the contradiction – We control very little, but can influence all most everything. This is a fundamental truth in life that most of us at one time or another try to change, ignore or deny. When we take personal responsibility for what we can control – our choices, our reactions, our emotions, our actions – we are more effective people. When we deny our ability to influence our world and other people by the choices we make, we become victims. And when we live in the land of the victimized, we can’t grow, improve or get better results. The bottom line – while we can’t control anything but ourselves, that is plenty to work with, and when we live from that reality we will be happier, healthier, and more successful.

Development is development

Personal development or professional development, what is the difference? Not much in my mind. When we go to work, we bring our whole selves – and most things we learn at work transfer to application in the rest of our lives anyway. Sure, you may never need to use a specific procedure outside of work, but almost all of our work is about interaction with others, influence, communication and so much more. When we begin to think about every developmental opportunity as both professional and personal, we will become more successful in all areas of our lives faster.

Everything is about choices – and they all matter

We have choices on everything – and how we exercise that choice makes all the difference in our results. Some choices we have relegated to habit and our sub conscious, but all of those are still choices and could still be changed. We often think about the big choices, as well we should. But it is the smaller ones – the mindless TV instead of the book, the carrot cake instead of the carrot, and rolling out of bed after the snooze versus ten minutes of purposeful morning planning – that change our lives. Og Mandino, author of
“The Greatest Salesman in the World” wrote in one of his books, “use wisely your power of choice.” It is a power and the choices are ours to make – and they all make a difference.

These five lessons aren’t the only five I could have chosen – in fact I kept trying to add more as I was writing, but these five have made a huge impact for me. In reading them, I hope they provide you with a challenge to explore how these lessons can make a difference in your life and work.