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How to Hold Productive Meetings That People Don’t Actually Hate

This post is one in a series of tips for making your small business run better and is sponsored by UPS.

Scheduled communication may be one of the most powerful team and accountability building tools available when done the right way.

photo credit: MoDOT Photos

Meetings are an essential aspect of getting things done, collaborating and delegating, but for many they are the bane of business life. People actually leave companies because of the life draining nature of their meeting culture.

This commonly accepted feeling about meetings comes about because most people have been trained to handle meeting in one of two ways.

One is the “I hate meetings, so just come to me if you have a problem” method. Of course this is quite possibly the most frustrating approach for all concerned. This approach leads to lots of wasted time and the every ten minute or so interruption.

The other approach is what I refer to as the “I’ve called a meeting, but it’s really a reading” approach. In this approach managers read from a list of to-dos that could have been sent via email and then propose some things to try to get buy in.

This second approach eventually leads to adopting the first “I hate meetings” attitude and drains any sense of commitment from all involved.

Here’s the deal: you need meetings, perhaps frequently, but you need them to be energetic, useful and in the words of consultant Al Pittampalli – modern.

In Read This Before Our Next Meeting, Pittampalli lists the seven attributes of what he calls the modern meeting. This is a great framework for how to think about meetings that generate energy and action.

1. The Modern Meeting supports a decision that has already been made.
2. The Modern Meeting starts on time, moves fast, and ends on schedule.
3. The Modern Meeting limits the number of attendees.
4. The Modern Meeting rejects the unprepared.
5. The Modern Meeting produces committed action plans.
6. The Modern Meeting refuses to be informational. Reading memos is mandatory.
7. The Modern Meeting works only alongside a culture of brainstorming.

Read Pittampalli’s book before your next meeting and consider making it a gift to everyone in your organization.

Adopting this approach to meetings and making it the “accepted meeting protocol” in your organization will reduce the need for meetings that drain, hold anyone that calls or attends a meeting accountable for action and even keep the boss on task. (Well, maybe)

Pittampalli’s last point can’t be emphasized enough.

Brainstorming is an essential business tool as well, but it’s not the same as a meeting. Meetings are for making decisions, brainstorming sessions are to throw out ideas, discuss constraints, test theories and get feedback on ideas.

You need an entirely different framework for brainstorming. You need to frame the idea, throw roles and titles and encourage big thinking. (And, don’t forget to feed everyone well.) In fact, brainstorming sessions should be held offsite in settings that encourage and foster creativity.

Far too many meetings are really just protracted brainstorming sessions where little gets done. Hold advertised brainstorming sessions as special events to take advantage of this unique tool, but resist the temptation to bring this dynamic into meetings.

Again, meetings are for making decisions, most everything else can be handled with email, IMs and texts.

This applies to team meetings, all hands meeting and even one on one meetings.

Embrace this mindset and watch what happens to the energy, accountability and action produced from meeting that nobody hates.



Are Relationship Management Skills a Predictor of Success

This post is one of a series of posts sponsored by UPS in support of the Inc Growco Conference held April 6-8 in Las Vegas, NV

Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone and Who’s Got Your Back has built a multimillion dollar business out of his passionate message regarding relationships. In fact, he boldly claims that relationship management skills are the number one predictor of the success of an organization.

Now, to some, the idea of intentionally managing the relationships in your life, both personal and professional, may seem a tad contrived, and it certainly can be, but it’s really a matter of focus.

The things you pay attention to, the things you focus on will thrive and grow. With the crush of business running responsibility shouting in your ear, it can be easy to neglect your most important relationships. This can be true of a spouse or an important customer.

On the stage in Las Vegas, Ferrazzi’s presentation lacked cohesion. It felt as though he was giving a two hour presentation in a one hour time slot, but there is no way to ignore how much he believes in the power of the personal relationship as a tool to grow your business.

I’ve read and reviewed both of Keith’s books and appeared on a panel discussion with Keith and Seth Godin. I think Keith’s message is an essential part of the overall marketing mix and one that must be incorporated into your daily and weekly rituals.

Here’s an action step takeaway for you to sink your time into today:

  • Identify the 50 most important people to your business (this list will includes clients and current relationships, but it should also include people you would like to form a relationship with – stretch a little here)
  • Pick out 5 people on this list and do your homework on them (Use social media to learn more about what they are talking about)
  • Reach out to each one with a specific action item or way to help them

Simple, small steps, taken repeatedly in a focused and sincere effort to help others get what they want might be the best way to summarize relationship management at its finest.

If you want to take long term dive into Ferrazzi’s approach check out his Relationship Academy

How to Create a Culture Overhaul

This post is one of a series of posts sponsored by UPS in support of the Inc Growco Conference held April 6-8 in Las Vegas, NV

Culture is marketing. That’s my take anyway. Culture touches every part of an organization and that means it touches every part of the customer experience.

Sometimes companies come to the painful realization that what they perceive as a product or sales problem is really a culture problem. People aren’t shown how to serve, examples of shoddy work are ignored, there’s no connection to a simple mission that resonates. Consequently, the business floats aimlessly, always on the brink of the next contraction.

I had the occasion to visit with Dan Goodgame, VP of Corporate Communications for Rackspace and he recounted the story of how Rackspace founder Graham Weston came to the conclusion that their business was dead without a complete strategy change and subsequent overhaul of the culture.

“Change is hard,” that’s the message on the opening slide of Dan Heath’s presentation during his session at the Inc GrowCo Conference. Dan and his brother Chip are the coauthors of the best selling book Switch. (I interviewed Chip – Made to Switch for an episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast.)

In the book Switch, the Brothers Heath introduce the idea of the two states of human change. They portray the emotional side as an elephant and logical side as the rider. The rider mistakenly believes they are in charge and guiding the elephant, when in fact the elephant often goes where ever it wants. (Like straight to the cupcake store)

Here’s Health’s Prescription for Change:

Direct the Rider

Culture change requires strategy change at every level in the organization. People need to understand why change in coming, why it’s a good thing and how you intend to prove you’re serious about. That’s the logical part and it’s only half the deal.

The reason change is hard and why any attempt to create a culture shift in an organization will fail is because we attempt to convince the rider. The rider already has the data and knows what to do, that’s the not the issue.

Motivate the Elephant

Notice this doesn’t say talk to the rider. The elephant must be inspired and this is a tough one, particularly if you’ve taught them bad habits for years.

This step requires a radical change in mission, direction from the top and may even require changing a handful of customer and employees relationships.

But, this part will fail if you can’t define the new mission in dead simple terms. If you try to build a culture on the idea of “being more customer focused” don’t expect anything to happen.

If instead your new culture goal starts, as did Rackspace’s, with embracing the term “Fanatical Support” and then that term is driven into every communication and you start giving out the “straightjacket award” to the customer support actions that are so over the top people call them crazy.

Words and slogans are easy, finding simple ways to inhabit the words may be the hardest thing you ever do.

That’s how you start to motivate the elephant, but a word of warning, this will take great inertia and great commitment – we’re talking about an elephant here.

Culture shifts come about only through small actions repeatedly over time.

Shape the Path

Ambiguity is the enemy of change. If you’re culture shift is a desire to be much more customer focused you must develop a checklist of action steps, processes and behaviors that deliver this objective and are easy to understand.

And, you must reward people for doing them and insist that it’s now okay to fail from time to time as long as you fail in favor of a customer focused activity. The easiest way to get the change you desire is to make it for people to be successful delivering it.

You must be obsessed with dissecting every daily action into steps that collectively create the change you are seeking

Greening Is a Cultural Thing

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Going green or adopting a proactive stance on sustainable practices has risen to the level of mainstream conversation in the same way that other business practices such as safety and training have.

But, truly creating a green culture goes much deeper than buying energy efficient light bulbs, monitoring computer energy, recycling waste and committing to earth friendly marketing, manufacturing and shipping processes.

In fact, it goes deeper than creating green events, employee rideshares, community gardens, sustainable design, coworking and collaborative offices.

While these are important elements in the cycle, a true green business comes from embracing the idea at level of a higher purpose or what some might call mission.

Being green isn’t just about recycling, it’s about nurturing, growing things, instead of just using them. In fact, being green has as much to do with purpose and people as it does plastic and paper.

Green business practices can be inconvenient and in some cases more expensive to implement so often, like safety and training initiatives they are given lots of ink in the annual report, but exist at only the most basic level.

Policy can only take an organization so far. The deepest green is about growth and nurturing at the cultural level of a business.

If a company’s primary purpose is to grow and nurture its people, community, industry and planet, then even the smallest business can call itself green in a way that makes a meaningful difference.

The outcome of this kind of thinking is a green business that happens to make or sell something rather than a business the adopts green principles.

The simplest way to move your organization to this way of thinking is to tackle it from both ends. In other words, hire at the most basic level, people that embrace green thinking and embrace, at the highest level, audacious green goals, such as building a company that produces zero net waste.

The combination of this top down and bottom up thinking at the tactical level can help an organization start living nurturing at its roots.

Some of my favorite green business resources include – Coworking.org, Greenbiz and The Aspen Institute.

For a great list of state and local energy efficiency resources, check out Business.gov.

For some inspiration check out TerraCycle, a company with a business model that creates products from other people’s waste streams and has a net negative manufacturing cost – other people pay them to acquire their raw material.