No more bad meetings – really

“Half (of the meetings I attend) are completely bizarre and accomplish nothing except bewildering me as to why people don’t run out screaming.” That’s a real quote from a real person about real meetings. Yes, it’s sad. It showed up in an informal survey I did some time ago. Folks told me they spend approximately 40 per cent of their time in meetings, a number consistent with data Perlow, Hadley and Eun found in their 2017 Harvard Business Review Article, “Stop the Meeting Madness.” The authors also found that:
– 71% felt that meetings waste their time
– 65% said meetings keep them from doing their real work
– 66% claim meetings inhibit spending time on deep thinking

Calculate the hard cost of bringing minds together to explore issues, make decisions and plan action. It’s often thousands of salary dollars for a one-hour meeting. (And that doesn’t count travel, doughnuts or the opportunity cost when we delay getting to our other work.)

Then ponder another response, from my survey. “We can’t make decisions or agree on priorities. So, we have the same meeting over and over. Literally, the same meeting.”

Imagine if every meeting you went to felt like a good investment of your time. It can happen. Good facilitation enables conversations that lead to good decisions. It requires planning – a whole lot more than finding a conference room and sending out a meeting notification.

The first step is identifying the purpose of the meeting, the desired outcome. That leads you to determine who needs to be there – really – and what they need to provide or do. How will you engage people? How will you gather information, analyze it, decide what to do and follow up? All this should be planned before the meeting.

That’s Plan A. You’ll need a Plan B, too, since humans are involved. And you’ll need to be ready to change your plans. Still, to go into meeting a without a plan is almost guaranteed to be a time waster. The more thought and time you invest in planning the meeting, the more relevant and useful the discussion will be – for you and for the participants.

Given that today’s working environment requires collaboration, teamwork and communication, learning to facilitate well may be the most important skill for the 21st century. A facilitator doesn’t do magic. It just looks that way.

+++++++ At It’s Understood Communication, we care about facilitation. Facilitation Skills for the Agile Workplace is a two-day workshop that offers a solid foundation in facilitation, including using visual thinking to build clarity and understanding. Ellen Grove and Sue Johnston are offering it in downtown Toronto, May 6-7, 2019. There are still a few spots left. To learn more and register, visit nobadmeetings.ca At that site, you can also download a PDF copy of our Facilitation Planning Canvas.

 

How Change Has Changed

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With just over a month to go till the Spark The Change conference, I’ve been thinking a lot about change in the workplace.

As an organizational communicator – and even as a coach – my work has always been about change. “Everything is the same as it was yesterday,” is not a message I’ve ever sent, or even heard. While “no change” may be a true reflection of the situation, it’s not something we shout about. Even when we wish things would just stop changing for a second, while we catch our breath, we know it’s not realistic. When markets, environments, regulations, politics, consumer preferences, off-shoring, competitors, technology and a zillion other factors demand that we adjust and respond, not changing is not surviving.

But how do you do it?

We know what doesn’t work.

Scare tactics

When I first worked in change management, in the late 1980s, my organization hired high-priced consultants to tell us what to do. The prevailing idea was, “Scare people into changing.”

I recall the mantra, “Change or Be Changed.” I’m sure I wrote it into several executive speeches and articles for assorted publications. The idea was that, if we don’t voluntarily change the way we do things, something will come along and force us to do it. Might as well do it now than go kicking and screaming. Or maybe we could do it next week. What’s wrong with a good kick and scream?

We told stories about the “burning platform,” in which a worker caught on a blazing North Sea oil rig chose probable death over certain death, jumped off the drilling platform into the icy sea and was rescued. Only a blaze would have caused that behaviour change. This story was designed to get us to develop a sense of urgency around the need to change. But when employees look around and see that you have lots of customers, you’re raking in profits, nothing seems to be changing except the rhetoric and your CEO is taking a million dollar bonus, things don’t look particularly urgent.

One consultant trotted out my old friend Kurt Lewin, from Psychology 315 and his metaphor of ice. If you want the ice to change from a cube to a pyramid, you have to unfreeze and refreeze it in the new shape. (Could we use the burning platform to melt it?) We’d have to give up cherished beliefs about our selves and our organization and challenge the status quo. Not easy for executives and managers who were very well treated by the status quo. While we were sloshing around in that liquified state, waiting to refreeze into the new status quo, things would be chaotic, disordered and generally awful. No wonder people resist change.

Yes, we would meet resistance. Yet we knew (as the Borg kept telling us on Star Trek) “Resistance is futile.” The favoured model of resistance was the (Elizabeth) Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle, in which someone needs to pass through Denial, Anger, Depression and Bargaining to get to Acceptance. Why grief? Well the old ways were dead. We needed to mourn and move on. I remember thinking that, even though I understood the “why” for change and was 100 per cent behind the notion that we had to do it, I was, nevertheless, resisting. I wanted proof we would actually do it and that it would work. More than that, I wanted someone else to go first. I don’t think I got past Bargaining. And if I, the Change Girl, wouldn’t go, who else would?

Communication was acknowledged to be a key success factor or I wouldn’t have been involved. The why of the change wasn’t hard to describe. But what and how were a mystery. I’d prepare messages that reflected what employees wanted to hear, which was, “This is going to be hard but here’s how we’ll support you.” Then I’d prepare messages that reflected what executives wanted to say, which was mostly, “Bla bla bla.”

Appreciative Approach

What I wish we’d known about in those old days of “change management” was how to take an appreciative approach. Instead of scaring people into different behaviours, why not unleash them to find their own way? While we were freezing and burning and and resisting things, a grad student named David Cooperrider was “unfreezing” our notions of change. His process, Appreciative Inquiry, shifts organizational change from a problem to be solved to a creative endeavour. We ask questions about what’s working and have conversations about how we got that and how to get more. It sees the organization as organic, alive and able to change because it has done so in the past. By examining what is right and good, people are reminded of their abilities and resilience. They have more confidence and comfort to journey into the unknown future when they bring forward known parts of their past.

New ideas and tools

Appreciative Inquiry is just one of many tools we have today that we didn’t know about in the ’80s. We also have the benefit of knowing, thanks to advances in neuroscience, how human brains work. And we can talk about how we feel about change, thanks to the widespread acceptance of emotional intelligence as a factor in success.

I’m looking forward to Spark The Change, April 23, in Toronto where I expect to collide with people from diverse disciplines and types of organizations who want to create better workplaces. I’m anxious to hear new ideas from speakers who aren’t just talking about change, they’re doing it. I know we can create organizations that not only operate more successfully as enterprises but are also saner places to work.

Will I see you there?  Here’s the link to register!

And peace to men of goodwill

Goodwill 123When I first studied accounting I was astonished that “goodwill” is something you can quantify and express with a financial value. I’d always thought of it as kind thoughts towards my fellow humans. Those are valuable, for sure, but not exactly something you can put a dollar sign on.

Along come generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) to tell us that goodwill isn’t just about benevolent feelings towards others. It’s also the amount one company pays to buy another that’s over and above the tangible value of the assets being acquired. How could a company be worth more than its tangible assets? A strong brand, customer relationships, intellectual property and existing contracts might qualify as goodwill. It sits on the balance sheet as an intangible asset.

It’s interesting to ponder the value of goodwill during this season of “Gloria. Peace on Earth to men of goodwill.”

Goodwill, the kind thoughts variety, makes us worth much more than our tangible assets. It connects us to others, something we need to keep us human. There’s ample evidence of a link between the mind and the body that suggests positive thoughts and acts of generosity lead to more than just good feelings – they promote physical health. The explanation is that reciprocal benevolence kept our ancestors alive back in the days of “kill or be killed.” So we’re wired to be kind to each other.

You might argue that we don’t have to look far to find people whose learning or circumstances and choices override that basic human inclination towards goodwill. We see the impact of extremism and zealotry on the nightly news.

As I write that, I’m reminded of a quote from Anne Frank, who wrote, as she was hiding from the Nazis, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.”

We can choose goodwill. Each of us can do our own bit to look for the best in others. As coaches, it’s our job to not only see their best but also to help them see it – and do something with it. Anne Frank said it best, “Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”

This is a series inspired by House of Friendship Kitchener’s 12 Days for Good project. There’s a theme for each of the 12 days – no pipers piping required. Learn more at http://12daysforgood.com

Creative? Yes you are!

“You may say, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” Not true. We’re going to help you find that creative bone!”Angel photo - mine

Those are the words of Carolyn Dawn Good, a Kitchener artist and community catalyst I often describe as “the most creative person you will ever meet.” I write about her today for two reasons.

  • One, it’s Day Four of the 12 Days For Good, in which House of Friendship reminds us that giving at this time of year isn’t just about presents. And Day Four = Creativity.
  • Two, I spent a few hours with Carolyn, today, rolling paper beads. They will become works of art, like the angel pictured. And, yes, you can have one, too. (We were at The Generous Host, a lovely oasis of creative energy.)

There’s a story, of course, one of hope and transformation and drama and, yes, the involvement of a creative community.

It all began with a house fire in Carolyn’s downtown neighbourhood. It was a mess – not just the physical structure, but the financial picture and the impact on the family. The house had good bones and more than a few people saw possibility beyond the damage. Angels from the community, Carolyn among them, pulled together to mop up and begin repairs. The vision is not just to salvage this house but to transform it, and include a creative space the community can use.

Which brings me to the beads. The paper being transformed into angelic artwork is printed with photos taken just after the fire. From ashes to angels. Masterpieces from a mess. Horrifying to heavenly. Terror to treasure. I’ll stop the alliterative sloganeering, you get the picture. If not, here’s a real picture.

 

Carolyn is usinFire photog the beads to create original numbered works of art – angels and stars to trim a tree, hang in a window, give as gifts, inspire your own creativity. And, you guessed it, most of the funds raised from sales will go to help fund the house restoration. Two-by-fours and two-by-sixes aren’t glamorous gifts, but they matter to builders. Angels sales will contribute.

This project exemplifies creativity. People from all walks of life, businesses, builders, neighbours, strangers, individuals and communities opened their doors, their wallets, space on their calendars to bring this idea to life. Yes, creativity is in the artworks, themselves, and the artistry involved in the restoration. Yet creativity is also in seeing the possibility in situations around us.

Creativity is not just in the creative arts. Creativity is as useful in business as it is in the arts. A recent Fast Company article suggests the characteristics artists need and use are increasingly valuable in business.

As a coach and a trainer of coaches, I’m dedicated to the International Association of Coaching’s Mastery #8 – Invite possibility. When we see things from a new perspective, welcoming the unexpected, tugging on the threads not usually seen, we open up a range of creative options that help us transform our work, our lives and our world. “What else might be possible?” is a very powerful question.

All people are naturally creative and resourceful. Most of us are at our best when we are using our creativity. For some of us, our creative streak is in the arts. For others our creativity is not where society traditionally looks for it, but in finding new ways to get things done. We may be software developers, construction workers, barristas, municipal employees, parents or postal workers.

  • Where is your creativity?
  • How can you unleash it today?

 

This is a series inspired by House of Friendship Kitchener’s 12 Days for Good project. There’s a theme for each of the 12 days – Calling Birds required. Learn more at http://12daysforgood.com

Communication Kata #2 – Share Your Intention

Intentions2If you’ve ever said or heard, “That’s not what I was trying to do,” an intention check might have helped your interaction.

It’s a three step process.

Step 1

This kata starts, like so many things in communication, with self-awareness. The first step is to know what you are trying to achieve. If your internal thoughts are muddy, there’s no way your communication will be clear. Ask yourself, “What do I really want here?” Know your goal for the interaction.

Sometimes you’re just curious. Sometimes you want the other person to do something. Sometimes you need them to know something. Or you want to recognize something they’ve done.  But knowing your purpose is the first step to clear communication.

You might also want to check that your intentions are honourable. Working with a client on this recently, she realized, when she checked her intentions that, what she was about to say was really a form of retaliation for something a colleague had said the previous day.  When she examined what she really wanted she moved to what was good for the team and the project.

Step 2

Once you’re clear on your intention, the next step is to share it. People can’t read your mind. What happens if people don’t have the facts about something? Yeah, they make stuff up.

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More Letters from Camp – Between Hogworts and the Holodeck: Agile 2013

Once in a while, if you are very lucky, you get a gigantic dose of brain candy. That was my experience at Agile 2013,  a five-day gathering of smart and thoughtful individuals working to find new ways to work, particularly in the realm of software development.

This was an enormous conference, twice as large as anything I’d been to and twice as long. There were more than 1,700 people registered for five days of non-stop idea sharing. In every time slot, there were over a dozen sessions to choose from. That didn’t count the unscheduled ‘open jam’ sessions and lively discussions during the breaks.

GaylordNashville2And don’t forget the parties. We were, after all, in Nashville. Music City. Honky Tonk Heaven.

It took place in a hotel that could pass for an amusement park. The Gaylord Opryland Conference Center is a massive biodome-like structure with islands, rivers, jungles and other distractions. Rooms are in at least five distinct buildings connected by meandering paths on several levels. It’s one thing to be lost in a new city. But to be lost in your own hotel? Every five minutes? Our hotel map would prove to be as important as our room keys.

This could have been a ticket to overwhelm. Instead, it was a most exquisite learning experience. Inspired by the Agile Manifesto, this is a community that spends its days promoting collaboration, pairing discipline with creativity, trying to create more people-centric work situations, and learning.

So what did I take away from this adventure that might be useful for readers of this blog? (more…)