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.

Anagnorisis & Peripeteia: What In the World Did I Sign Up For?

I stumbled upon a TEDx talk by Mike Rowe where he told a story of how he had to castrate lambs as part of his Dirty Jobs television series.  While he makes no preparation for the jobs he agrees to take on, in this instance, he said he had to do a bit of research to determine how this would work.  He learned that castration is done (typically and according to the Humane Society) using a rubber band.  It apparently takes about a week for them to drop off.  What they didn’t tell him is that it is an excruciating process for the lamb and that it is a week of pain.  I recommend watching his talk to learn what he had to do instead…

At any rate, the point of his talk turned into a discussion of anagnorisis and peripeteia.  Anagnorisis is the transition from ignorance to knowledge and peripeteia is a sudden turn of events where you often realize that everything you thought was right is suddenly reversed.  It was about learning what you’ve gotten wrong in your perception about work, how to recognize this and then change.

 

Food For Thought

What are the misconceptions of work that we all have that we continue to perpetuate based on our own ignorance?  Is it the idea that following our passion is the only way to go?  We all think we want that.  What if our passion doesn’t pay?  What if we are so ignorant in our current state of following the herd or even a bad leader that we are completely missing out on anagnorisis?  What if ALL the constructs of business and HR and technology are getting it wrong and we’re all just following along?

It’s a lot to think about and I don’t claim to have all the right answers.  What I DO know for sure is that if we stop questioning the status quo, we deserve what we get.  The only way to make progress~ real progress~ is to question what other people believe as truth.

  • We have to do what is necessary in order not to become complacent
  • We have to stop relying on organization or bosses to take care of us
  • We have to step up and be accountable and operate on principle
  • We have to keep questioning and changing processes
  • We have to examine and re-examine our technology choices so that we have the right solutions in place
  • We have to push the gas instead of continuing to coast

In closing, I share a quote that Mike Rowe said.  “The jobs we hope to make and the jobs we hope to create aren’t going to stick unless they are jobs people want.”  Think about that as you examine your own work and as you think about the positions you create in your organization.

I welcome your comments.

NBA Playoff Predictions Show

Hello and welcome to the HR Happy Hour show and our latest episode: NBA Playoff Predictions.  If you’re new to the show, Steve and I typically talk about all things human resources and technology.  Once in awhile, there is a topic we are so passionate about that is not “work” related that we have to cover it.  Today, it’s the NBA playoffs.

As backstory, a few months ago we did a fun show on the Academy Awards where we previewed and made predictions about the movies and actors/ actresses that would win Oscars.  It was fun because I had viewed almost all the movies and Steve had only seen one.  He used many funny criteria to make his predictions.  You can check out the Oscar episode here.

This leads us to today where I will be making NBA playoff predictions.  Steve is our resident NBA expert, so he definitely has the advantage over me.  I am a huge sports fan, however, I never watch basketball so my predictions were made based on some shaky criteria.  Things like foods the city is known for or if the player was ever married to a Kardashian definitely come into play!

Tune in to the show and see if your predictions align more with Steve or with me, then be sure to let me know in the comments!

Check Out Business Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Steve Boese Trish McFarlane on BlogTalkRadio

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!

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.

What Your Desk Lamp Says About You

arne-jacobsen-table-lamp-louis-poulsen-1I’ve been thinking about desk accessories.  When it comes to things like picture frames, pencil holders, and plants, employees and managers alike gravitate to different desk decor.  This brings me to the desk lamp.  When I think back to every job I’ve ever had, I never worked for a company that provided a lamp for my desk.  Whether in a cubicle earlier in my career, or an office as my foray into management arrived, I had to endure the same harsh glare of the fluorescent bulbs that everyone else did.  Until, I didn’t.

One day, I read somewhere that employees were more productive and less stressed when they worked using softer lighting.  I went out and bought my first desk lamp.  I don’t think I put much thought into it at the time, it was just some inexpensive metal stem with a thin paper shade, but the warm glow the bulb produced made a huge difference in my mood while at my desk.  It was all about the function.  As the years flew by and the offices changed, I bought other lamps.  Still, I never thought much about how the lamp base looked, whether it was constructed of wood or metal and the shade didn’t seem to matter either as long as it remained nondescript.

Then I read The Mr. Porter Paperback and an article called The Gear: Desk Lamps. Now I work from home, so my desk lamp is one that is just any old lamp you’d find in a normal, suburban house.  It likely came from Pier 1 or some similar store.  But, according to this article, the thought you put into lamp selection is well worth time and precision.  The article shares great detail of lamps such as the AJ, designed by the legend Mr. Arne Jacobsen, to the Kelvin, “Mr. Antonio Citterio’s high-tech, energy-efficient and impossibly elegant take on the post-Anglepoise typology.” As you can see, there is great care that goes into the design as well as the description.

All this lamp talk brings me to the point of today’s post. We often make purchases of products or solutions based on almost no planning or thought.  As long as the functions needed are met, we make the purchase.  As leaders, we’re still not doing all we can to plan and select the best products and solutions for our organizations. By looking beyond the mere function, we can determine which people put the effort into their product and service.  Those are the people we want to work with.

With each interaction you have with your analyst, your vendor, or your employees, know that great care went into some of the details of the product or solution they sell that you may never fully appreciate. When it comes to desk lamps, I was always just looking for minimal function to get the job done.  As I’ve learned to appreciate, there is far more that goes into product selection than mere function.  There is the design behind those functions.  There are the ideas of how function leads way to a more desirable form. There is excitement and pride in going into a solution that is well made and well used.

So, as you embark on your day, think about this.  Do you have a desk lamp?  Did you think much about it when you purchased it?  If not, approach your interactions today with new eyes…with a sense of appreciation and wonder as you really look at all the tools you use throughout the day.  Whether they are technology driven or not, consider the design and thought behind them.

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.

Cringeworthy Feedback: How to Take it and How to Dish it Out

Whiplash-37013_5Feedback can hurt.

I’ve seen it hundreds, maybe thousands of times in my career.  I’ve received the painful “gift” of feedback from well-intentioned but unduly harsh bosses.  I’ve watched as bright, creative souls were pounded day after day, year after year by tyrant supervisors.  It is appalling.  And if you’re in HR, it’s likely that you’ve given these types of leaders training at some point on how to give more constructive feedback.

You see, for some reason it seems that people either avoid giving feedback and tell other people when someone is doing poorly (in their opinion) or they fly off the handle and use hurtful, unconstructive words that are not meant to motivate, but to belittle and destroy.

Or are they?

I just watched the movie Whiplash and first, let me tell you, no~ EMPLORE you, to watch the movie if you haven’t.  As someone who tries to watch as many Oscar-nominated films before the Academy Awards, this particular film did not make it to a theater near me in time.  If it had, I would have been furious watching Birdman win for Best Picture knowing that the GEM that is Whiplash was overlooked.

Watch the movie.

Ok, back to the story.  As I watched the movie about an over zealous conductor and his harsh training and feedback for one of his studio drummers, I realized that sometimes, there is a reason feedback needs to hurt.  I started wondering if we’re getting too soft in this era of giving every child a trophy for participation and every employee the “warm fuzzy” feeling just because we think if we don’t, they will bash us on Glassdoor or on social media.  It’s like being led by fear.

The truth is that sometimes, people need harsh feedback.  Sometimes, for feedback to take hold and inspire the person to change, we need to make an impression.  It is a fine line to walk between being helpful and being too brutal.  So, what do you do if your boss is a tyrant when it comes to feedback?

  • Take a deep breath and determine the motive.  Some people are just mean for the sake of being mean.   If that’s the case, RUN.  If not, move on to the next step.
  • Is this out of character?  If your boss is usually constructive and sporadically gives harsh feedback that you can somehow determine is well intentioned, it could be for your own good.  Grit your teeth and bear it.  Try to look past the delivery and cling to the underlying message to understand what you can do to improve.
  • What’s the boss’ motive?  Is their boss riding their ass?  Are they taking the blame for something you did?  Try to figure out why the feedback is harsh.  You may need to take a break for the boss to calm down, then ask for a meeting another time to discuss specific ways you could have performed better.

 

Now, what if YOU are known as the tyrant?  

Well, first you need to decide if you just like being that way or if there is a real reason.  If you enjoy verbally torturing people, get used to the fact that you’ll likely always have high turnover because many people will not put up with your crap.  If you are only harsh situationally, you’re probably ok.  Make sure you’re not violating any workplace policies or breaking any laws (of course). As long as you’re not, then try to use harsher feedback only when absolutely necessary to make your point and to get the recipient to make a change.

Have you worked for a boss that gave feedback that was harsh?  Are you that boss?  Tell me about your experience in the comments.