Do You, or Your Company, Screw Up Meetings?

no_meetings_funny_office_saying_sticker-r8f98b046a5c14c4eb859a1553d1b3360_v9waf_8byvr_512A friend recently shared a funny video about conference calls and what they would look like if they were in person.  It’s made the social media rounds, but was still good for a laugh one more time.  It got me thinking about meetings… specificaly conference calls, since I work from home.  I pulled up my calendar and just looking at 2015, it appears I spend anywhere between 10- 50% of my week sitting in some type of meeting.

Like many jobs, the meeting has turned into the commonly accepted way of disemminating information as well as a way to bring people together.  The issue is that it has become the most irrelevant mode of communication for many reasons.  Here are just a few:

  • Employees don’t have time to get their other work done.  I don’t know about you, but when I am stilling in a meeting or on a call, there is no way I can do anything else.  I sit there the whole time thinking about all the other work I need to be doing, especially if I’m one of the people in the meeting who doesn’t really need to be there.  This leads me to…
  • The wrong people are invited.  How many meetings are you asked to attend and when you walk out (or hang up) you’re thinking “Why was I just in that for an hour?”  All the time!  Meeting organizers need to think long and hard about who is invited.  As a rule of thumb, if you don’t plan on the person making a verbal contribution to a decision, don’t invite them to the call.  Find another routine way to send information for those who need to know, but don’t need to make the decision.
  • The meeting takes too long.  I was listening to a show about the TED talk recently and they said that TED landed on the 18 minute presentation because it’s about how long an adult can remain focused without drifting to thoughts of something else.  Seems about right when I think of my own attention span at a meeting.  Try this….make your next meeting 18 minutes.  Your colleagues will thank you and be much happier to attend any future meetings you organize.
  • Speaking of time….it doesn’t end when it’s over.  One of my biggest pet peeves in work life is that meetings are scheduled for an hour.  Often, even if the agenda has been gone through, people still hang in there and add more.  We’re all adults here.  If you tell me we’re going to talk about these four things and we finish, end the meeting.  Employees have 20 other things on their plate they can go back and work on.  Don’t drag out what isn’t necessary.  If this means that one meeting is 18 minutes and the next is 31, great.  At least you won’t be keeping everyone the full hour.  I used to have a boss that would say he was “gifting” the time back to us.  I love that and always walked out with a smile on my face.
  • Distractors ruin the moment.  This is a BIG no-no in my book.  If you’re leading the meeting and a person (or two) derail the meeting with nonsense, stop them.  It’s disrespectful to everyone to let that happen.  We’re not all here for fun and chit-chat, it’s work.
  • Late people interrupt the flow.  This is a related cousin of the last one.  If you’re arriving within 2 minutes of the start time, ok.  Anything after that, just don’t come.  You disturb the flow of the conversation and distract everyone.  ESPECIALLY on conference calls…”DING!” Trish has now entered the call.

When I worked at PwC, I had a good policy that if I attended a meeting and I was clearly not needed, I’d discretely get up and leave.  After making it known to colleagues not to invite me if I wasn’t needed, I had fewer meetings to attend.  The ones I attended, I was able to weigh in and add my ideas.  The rest….well, somehow the company still ran without me in them.  It all worked out.

What are your tactics for managing through the meeting madness?  Share them in the comments.

Not Haunted

It’s been a whirlwind of a week as I am in New Orleans for the first time.  I must admit, that it is surprisingly “homey” for me as it is very similar to St. Louis in terms of history, French background, good food, and Mardi Gras.  I made time to stroll the streets of the French Quarter when I arrived and was struck by the architecture, sounds, and mostly good smells of the experience.  Keep in mind that I’m here at a time post-Mardi Gras so the party atmosphere is greatly reduced.
As I walked up and down cobblestone streets, ducking in and out of small shops hawking everything from antiques to voodoo dolls, I noticed a sign hanging for an apartment for lease.
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As you can see, one of the main pieces of information given to potential leasees and passersby is the fact (or maybe just hopeful claim) that the place is “Not Haunted”.  Not haunted?  Really?  I never knew that was a selling point.  That aside, what do you think about using a tactic like this in the work you do?  Personally, I am not a fan of focusing on the negative, especially in employee communications. Can you imagine how this could play out in the workplace?
  • Dear employees, your 2016 benefits will NOT COVER X, Y, nor Z.
  • Dear employees, as your employer we will NOT offer paternity leave until you have been employed here 2 years.
  • Dear employees, DO NOT use your computer for social media interactions during business actions because you might say something we don’t like.
  • Dear employees, the company will NOT OFFER any benefit plan cost reductions.
How could you change this by rewording?
  • Dear employees, we are excited to share your 2016 benefit plan options and are now covering several new benefits such as X, Y and Z.
  • Dear employees, we know that spending time with a new baby is an important part of a baby’s development and bonding.  As such, we will now offer paternity leave for any employee who has completed 2 years of service.
  • Dear employees, we know that as social media outlets have grown in recent years, many of you use them as part of your daily interactions.  We expect you to use good judgement and realize you represent XYZ company at all times.
  • Dear employees, we are excited to tell you that for plan year 2016, any employee who enrolls in a fitness program at a certified gym will now be offered a $300 discount on healthcare premiums for the plan year.
Now, those may not be the best policies, however, purely from a communication standpoint, it is a much more positive spin on issues that could arise.  In my HR career I have seen far too many companies use the tactics in the first examples as they tell employees how NOT to behave, what NOT to wear, etc.  I would strongly recommend a handbook policy revamp if yours resemble the first examples. I guess the alternative is to just tell your employees that the company is “Not Haunted” and go from there.  Good luck!

6 Years of HRringleader

Today marks the 6 year anniversary of HRringleader.  It’s been an amazing time, full of new ideas, opportunities and friends.  Truth be told, I started the blog as a way to learn about blogging so I could design a training about it for work.  I never thought it would turn into something that would change my life.  As I wrote more posts and shared my ideas, it became my personal journal that just happened to be public.

I don’t share everything I write, but I share most posts.  I don’t always have the time to dedicate to blogging every day as I once did, but even so, I hope that what I create is valuable to you and that you’ll continue to read and share.  I also enjoy when you share your ideas with me because that helps us all learn and grow

What I’ve learned from blogging is that nothing stays the same and that we all can use support as things develop and change.  I am grateful to each of you for helping me in that endeavor.  I once shared a poem by Robert Frost in a post and I’d like to do that again today as a reminder of the many changes to come in the next 6 years…

Nature’s first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Nothing Gold Can Stay, it is a tribute to innocence as well as to changes that we all go through.  So often as leaders and as human beings we are forced to lose our innocence little by little, situation by situation.  I’m reminded of a time of personal innocence when I first heard about this poem.  I was in junior high school and reading the book The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton.  It is a story of a group of young teenage boys who are coming of age.  Through many trials and tribulations, several key characters die during the story.  One character, Johnny, tells the lead character, Ponyboy, to “stay gold”.

Whether recalling the prose of a brilliant poet or the inspired quote from an author who speaks to a younger generation, the message is clear.  As you are faced with change, do all you can to hang on to your innocence about things.  The purity.  The raw emotion.  After all, nothing gold can stay.

I thank you and hope you’ll continue this journey with me.

Cheers!

How to Calculate The Number of People It Takes to Change Your Organization

squarerootBack in 2010 I wrote a post about how to Tap Into Informal Leaders to Influence.  The basic premise of the post was that I learned that in order to turn or change an organization, you only need to find the square root of the total employees and focus on spreading the word through that number of people.  For example:

Organization size-  5,000 employees

Square root of 5,000-  70.71 employees

So, in order to make change stick in this example, you would need to find the 70 employees who are the informal leaders/ influencers and get them on board. Messaging should still come from more formal channels, but by getting the influencers to spread the word with you, you can make a more significant impact on the organizational change.

I have been thinking about this as I have conversation after conversation about organizational culture, influence and employee engagement.  I’ve talked to leaders over the years who sincerely believe that company culture comes from the top down, and maybe that is a possibility.  I tend to embrace the idea that with each new employee you add to the organization, the company culture shifts a bit.  They each help form the ever-evolving culture.  I’m not sure that either opinion is 100% correct and that’s alright.

What I am sure of is that if this theory is true, a company can be changed by a relatively small number of people.  If you’re in a position to want to make your workplace better, more inclusive, more productive and more welcoming to all employees, it really doesn’t take much to turn the whole ship around.  The same holds true for the reverse and this is why a small group can also make a workplace unbearable.

When I first heard this theory, I began reaching out to the informal leaders in my organization whenever a more formal message was coming out.  I would find those influencers who may not have a fancy title or years of service, those who had the ear of the other employees though.  I would make sure they knew what was coming and that they felt like part of the process.  It really seemed to make a difference in getting ideas from management accepted.

What do you think?  Have you experienced this before?  Let me know in the comments.

4 Things to Do Today to Improve Your Negotiation Skills

We can all use a little ongoing development.  There are certain skills that few people can master and never think about improving.  One of those skills is the art of negotiation.  I admit, there are people who seem to ooze confidence when it comes to wheeling-and-dealing to achieve the result they want.  However, for the majority, being able to negotiate a quality resolution is sporadic at best.

When thinking about negotiating, you could be facing a multi-million dollar deal on the table, a choice between vendors on a specific service or type of software, buying a home, or something as simple as managing your workload.  Negotiation, like any skill, is something you can improve over time as you continue to practice.  And, it’s not about winning or getting everything you want and ensuring the other person does not.  When done well, it’s about skillfully and creatively arriving at a solution that both parties can walk away from with dignity and a level of satisfaction.

According to an article in Psychology Today, by a factor of 2.5, more women than men feel a “great deal of apprehension” about negotiating, reports economist Linda Babcock, of Carnegie Mellon. Women go to great lengths to avoid the bargaining process—paying almost $1,400 more to avoid negotiating the price of a car. (That may explain why 63 percent of those who buy cars made by Saturn, a company that promises a no-haggle price, are women.) But “failing to negotiate her salary just once will cost a woman $500,000 over the course of her career,” she says.  Statistics like those are reason enough to prove that by being a strong, confident negotiator, you can receive more value over time in your interactions.

There are 4 ways to improve your negotiation skills:

  1. Know What You Want vs What You Need– One mistake we make is to believe that what we want is what we are negotiating for.  This should not be the case.  In order to be most successful, you need to focus time on determining exactly what you need.  For example, I recently participated in a negotiation exercise where another person and I had to negotiate for an orange.  We could not share with each other why we wanted the orange.  In my case, I needed the orange zest for something.  The other person needed the orange juice.  But, without proper negotiation, we fell into the ease that most people would of just dividing the orange in half.  That solution did not really give us what we needed.  We both wanted the whole orange.  We each needed only a part.  Dividing it in half was not the most successful outcome.  Had we been allowed to communicate our needs, we could have arrived at the solution that I would take the rind and she would take the inside of the orange.  Then, each person would have had exactly what we needed.
  2. Arm Yourself With Information- Taking time to research that company you want to work for, the interest rates and terms of a mortgage option or the goals of the department head that you are fighting with over resources will be time well spent.  The more you can learn about the needs of the other side, the better off you will be at creatively arriving at the best solution.
  3. Don’t Be Afraid To Be Honest-   A good example of honesty paying off comes when negotiating workload.  Many employees today get their work from multiple sources; a supervisor, other colleagues, company leaders, clients, vendors, volunteers…the list goes on and on.  After sifting through what needs to be done, being able to approach certain people and squarely addressing and negotiating different deadlines and deliverables will be key to better managing your work.  Be honest about the various pulls on your time and ask them what aspects of the request are flexible.  Start negotiating there.
  4. Build Relationships- In the end, being able to negotiate a situation with someone will ideally build a stronger relationship with that person.  By showing respect and understanding for the other person’s needs, that person will likely want to keep the relationship going.

Those are a few ways I have been able to have more successful negotiations.  What am I missing?  What techniques do you use?  Be sure to share them in the comments.

Draw Your Troubles Away: Creativity and Feelings

crayons_title*Sharing from the dusty archives…I thought it went well with the theme of yesterday’s post about the blank page and how we can be creative.

I came across a documentary called Crayons and Paper about children who reveal their experiences of the devastation of war through their crayon drawings.  Pediatrician Dr. Jerry Ehrlich began making trips to war-torn nations in 1991.  He took his medical expertise and a pocket full of crayons.  As he treated children and experienced the depredation of their world, he reached across any language or cultural barrier by offering a crayon and paper.  The children used the tools to create their vision of their world.  Not only were the drawings profoundly impactful because they were drawn by children living in the epicenter of a war, it was like a jolt remembering something very basic and important that I had long since forgotten.

Drawing is a therapeutic way to express our feelings.

When was the last time you drew something?  I honestly can’t recall.  I color pictures with my children, but those are usually part of a color book or something that comes pre-printed in an art kit.  Drawing can be an effective way to relieve stress according to the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association and I see the effects on my own children’s behavior and stress level when they take time to sit quietly and draw or color.  Why aren’t more adults using this technique to express our feelings or reduce our stress?

As we look at the various stressors in our work day, my challenge to us is to take time today to shut the office door or sneak off to a quiet place at work and draw. Even if it’s a pen and the back of a printed copy of the latest report from finance, just draw.  Let your mind wander and see what you come up with.  Feel free to share your experience in the comments or tell me why this isn’t helpful for adults.

Creativity: The Importance of the Blank Page

Hegarty-on-Creativity-ReasonWhy.es_One of my favorite books is a little treasure I found while rummaging through an off-the-beaten-path bookstore in London. Hegarty On Creativity is a book of musings by award-winning ad man John Hegarty.  Right from the start it drew me in because he discusses the idea of the importance of the blank page. As long as I can remember, I have been a journal fanatic, so Hegarty’s thoughts and experiences speak to me as a writer.

Not until Hegarty pointed out that, “the blank page is one of the greatest challenges faced by the creative person”, did I think of it that way.  I always look at a blank page as limitless opportunity. To me, a blank canvas is like an unspoken promise.

I can do anything.
I can write anything.
I can create everything.

So, how is it that the greatest opportunity can also be one of the greatest challenges?  Well, it just makes sense.  When opportunity is put before you, or if you’re creating your own opportunity, there is also great risk.  There is the expected risk of failure, but there is more than that.  There is the risk of success~ of succeeding too fast.  There is also the risk of alienating those who are close to you, and that’s ok.

The key is embracing the risk so that you can get to the reward.  How can you do that with the blank page?  Here are 3 key ways:
  1. Consider the blank page your permission slip- Much like when we were kids and needed a permission slip to do things, many adults fall into the pattern of not moving forward with something as if they don’t have permission.  Consider a blank page as your personal invitation to do something new, to disrupt the status quo.
  2. Make the blank page an outlet to give yourself freedom to create-  Sometimes we live or work in a culture where we feel oppressed.  Consider the blank page your ticket to freedom.  You can rework any process, program or old solution.  You can create a completely new business.  You can inspire a person, a generation or an industry.
  3. Use the blank page as a place where you list all your barriers, be it things or people, and strategically work to eliminate all barriers to your goal-  We all have barriers.   What I’ve learned is that those barriers only have power as long as we let them.  Write down all the things in your life that are limiting your capabilities to be the very best you and get rid of them.  It will not be easy, but it will be worthwhile.
 If you’re in search of inspiration, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Hegarty on Creativity.  His view of the world is one full of honesty, partnership and eliminating barriers.  Well worth the time to read.  Enjoy!

Top 2 Ways To Communicate…. with Me

twitter_birdHow do you like people to communicate with you?  Do you let them know?

I have talked to so many people over the years that complain about the way that they are “forced” to communicate.  Email seems to be the most disliked, if I’m using my totally unscientific research methods of word-of-mouth to compute.  I could write a whole post on email etiquette that would make it better, but suffice to say that there are only two rules to follow:

  1. Only include the people truly necessary
  2. If you are cc’d on an email message, DO NOT REPLY.  It is meant as an “FYI”, not as needing a response.  Nothing irks me more than an whole chain of email replies from people who were just cc’d.

As for other types of communications, I’ve learned that everyone has their top one or two ways to connect them for the fastest replies.  For me, everyone who knows me realizes that Twitter DM is the fastest way to reach me.  Text is second.  I try to make it known to anyone close to me that those are the best ways to reach me.

Do you do the same?

You may be thinking it’s presumptuous to ask other people to reach you in a certain way.  It’s not.  It is helpful.  You not only save them time, you save yourself frustration.  When I was a HR leader I would tell vendors that if they emailed me, they may not hear back for weeks because I received over 200 email each day.  I would tell them Twitter DM works best.  It was amazing how many used that contact method and it kept their ask or pitch concise.  I loved it.

I recently came across a post by my HR Happy Hour co-host, Steve Boese, in which he publicized how to reach him.  It’s also funny, so give it a read.  While written tongue-in-cheek, I think it’s a good example of how to tell people the best way to contact you without being offensive.

So, how do you like to be contacted?  Leave it in the comments and I’ll be sure to reach out to you in the future…