Monday, July 26, 2021

The Dangers of a "Tight" Meeting Agenda

Source: Brooks Group

Everyone seems to complain about the number of meetings crowding managers' daily schedules.  Moreover, plenty of people express frustration at the inefficiency of many of these meetings.  Conventional wisdom suggests a number of prescriptions for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of meetings.  For instance, many experts call for clearly defined meeting agendas that are communicated clearly to all participants.  However, managers need to be aware of the crucial risks associated with keeping meeting agendas too "tight" - i.e., regimented and structured.   

Yes, managers need to keep their teams on track.  Frequent diversions from the meeting agenda can be frustrating for everyone involved.  However, managers are not always aware of key issues and concerns in advance of a meeting.  A crowded, overly regimented agenda leaves no room for participants to surface problems, risks, or concerns.   Therefore, managers need to make room in each meeting for an opportunity for some unplanned discussion of issues about which leaders may not be aware.  

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Most Common Career Advice Given to Your 20-Year Old Self


What advice would you give your 20 year old self?  That's the key question LinkedIn asked people recently.  Jessica Stillman of Inc.com reported on the results.   She described the most common theme to emerge from the responses:

What do all of these replies have in common? Each focuses on action, experimentation, and course correction rather than pre-planning and rigid goals. The right way to make the most of your career, commentator after commentator insisted, isn't to have a grand blueprint or follow a pre-arranged path. Instead it's to just get started, learn along the way, and keep moving forward. Action beats endless deliberation any day.

Stillman quotes several of the folks who responded to LinkedIn's question:

Executive coachTracy Wilk. "Careers are long.  There's no need for a mad rush to find the ideal job. The first part (i.e., 10+ years) of your career is about testing multiple jobs and understanding what you like/dislike and are good and bad at."

Hireproof co-founder Max Korpinen:  "Don't spend so much time planning and researching the perfect career path -- you don't know what 'work' is yet anyway. Aggressively explore all options that seem interesting, learn, iterate, and you'll arrive to the 'perfect path' much faster," he advises his younger self.

Terrific advice.  It reminds me of the terrific book, Designing Your Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.  They too argue that we should take action, experiment, and learn... rather than sitting in our room pondering what we want to do with our lives.  



Monday, July 19, 2021

Identify and Address Friction to Sell Your Creative Ideas

Loran Nordgren and David Schonthal have published a new book titled "The Human Element: Overcoming the Resistance that Awaits New Ideas."   In the book, they focus on how to persuade others to support and endorse your innovative ideas.   Nordgren and Schonthal argue that one must identify the sources of "friction" that might cause people to resist your proposal.  Many innovators work very hard to convince others of the highly attractive new features of their concept.  However, they don't spend enough time understanding the obstacles that might cause people to be hesitant to adopt, despite the attractive attributes being offered.   The authors explain that four sources of friction exist: 

Inertia: Does the idea represent a major change?
Effort: What is the cost of implementation?
Reactance: Does the audience feel pressured to change?
Emotion: What negative feelings might the idea produce?

To address the sources of friction, you may change attributes of your new concept, and/or you may change the messaging around the idea.  To do this effectively, you must demonstrate a great deal of empathy.  You must step into the other person's shoes and understand their pain points and frustrations.   You have to understand why they might not see the new idea the same way you do, despite its compelling features and characteristics.  

Friday, July 16, 2021

Don't Just Analyze Historical Data; Listen to the Front Lines Today

Source: PxFuel
Carsten Lund Pedersen has written a terrific article this month for MIT Sloan Management Review. The article is titled "Gain Competitive Advantage by Transcending the Front-Line Paradox."   Pedersen argues that too much reliance on historical data, and too little emphasis on what front-line employees are seeing and hearing, can be trouble for organizations.  He writes, "Leaders who turn to front-line workers for their input and predictions when making strategic decisions have an edge over those who rely on their own analysis of historical data that may not reflect the current reality."  

Pedersen recalls the wisdom of Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, who once argued that people at the "periphery" of the organization often sense competitive threats long before they come to attention of senior leaders. Years ago, I quoted Grove on this very topic when writing about how leaders can uncover hidden risks and become better problem finders. The quote comes from Grove's excellent book, Only the Paranoid Survive.  Here's the Grove quote that I shared at that time:

“Think of it this way: when spring comes, snow melts first at the periphery, because that’s where it’s most exposed… In the ordinary course of business, I talk with the general manager, with the sales manager, with the manufacturing manager. I learn from them what goes on in the business. But they will give me a perspective from a position that is not terribly far from my own. When I absorb news and information coming from people are who are geographically distant or who are several levels below me in the organization, I will triangulate on business issues with their view, which comes from a completely different perspective. This will bring insights that I I would not likely get from my ordinary contacts.”   

Pedersen's article is definitely worth reading.  My favorite paragraph focuses on the need for leaders to exit their "echo chambers" in order to make better decisions:

Front-line employees, then, can offer a true treasure trove of insights to be used in strategic decision-making. Yet, top management teams rarely ask these employees about impending strategic issues they anticipate at the organizational front lines, or for their opinions on how a new product might fare. Many executives therefore deprive themselves of new information that could improve their analyses — and they risk making decisions in isolation within the C-suite echo chamber.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Your Next Customer Could Be Your Mom

Source:  stockvault.net
I read an intriguing story in Fortune recently about Carvana, the company that has re-envisioned the new used-car buying experience. The article, by Nicole Gull McElroy, focuses on the organizational culture.   McElroy describes the core principles at the heart of Carvana's organizational philosophy. One principle proves to be particularly compelling. It's so powerful because it's so simple: treat every customer like your mother.  Why is this principle so effective at communicating the organization's values and philosophy?  It clearly guides employee behavior.  They don't need much explanation, or even guidance from senior management.  They can apply this criteria independently in any decision they make.  Would I act in this manner if my mother was buying this car?  McElroy explains:

This growth story, say the Carvana founders, is rooted in a single concept to which nearly every human can relate: Your next customer could be your mom. And that’s what Rachel Haynes, a customer advocate, was shooting for when in May 2020 she managed the sale of a BMW to one Texas husband as a Mother’s Day surprise for his wife, who had recently beat cancer. Haynes surprised the couple on delivery day, filling the back seat of the car with balloons, signs of congratulations, and a gift basket stocked with a blanket she crocheted, a bottle of Champagne, and a Starbucks gift card. No one asked her to do that; it isn’t in her job description and had no bearing on a commission check (Carvana doesn’t offer any to begin with).

“We said it from an early stage: We’ll take the best person with the best skill set every time,” says Keeton. “No expert is worth a ding to our culture.” That constant focus on culture is why, he says, anecdotes like that aren’t outliers at Carvana. Envisioning your mom on the receiving end of a sale is one of the company’s seven guiding principles. The remainder: We’re all in this together; there are no sidelines; be brave; zag forward; stay scrappy; and don’t be a Richard. (That last one is a tweaked version of, ahem, don’t be a word that rhymes with sick.  

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Avoiding the Tough Decision: Do We Prefer Bad News?

Source: Inc.com

How much do we hate making tough decisions?  A great deal!  In fact, we dislike that process so much that we might just prefer a worst case scenario.   Why?  In that situation, the decision no longer rests in our hands.  We are forced to select a course of action, rather than having to consider several options.  This preference for the worst case has been identified in new research published in the Journal of Consumer Researech.   Kate Barasz and Serena Hagerty co-authored a study titled "Hoping for the Worst: A ParadoxicalPreference for Bad News."   They report on a series of studies that they conducted. They write,

"Nine studies investigate when and why people may paradoxically prefer bad news—for example, hoping for an objectively worse injury or a higher-risk diagnosis over explicitly better alternatives. Using a combination of field surveys and randomized experiments, the research demonstrates that people may hope for relatively worse (vs. better) news in an effort to preemptively avoid subjectively difficult decisions (studies 1 and 2). This is because when worse news avoids a choice (study 3A)—for example, by “forcing one’s hand” or creating one dominant option that circumvents a fraught decision (study 3B)—it can relieve the decision-maker’s experience of personal responsibility (study 3C)."

I find this article fascinating.   I think decision avoidance represents a major issue for managers in many instances.   Tackling a difficult and contentious issue worries them for many reasons.  In numerous instances, we find managers engaging in conflict avoidance.  They don't want their team members battling with one another.   Moreover, they seek to avoid the stress associated with a challenging decision.  In other situations, managers exhibit risk aversion.   Making a tough decisions means accountability and potential career consequences if they select the wrong course of action.  They prefer to have the decision out of their hands for fear of damaging their opportunities for advancement, rather than seeing the situation as opportunity to shine in a tough spot.  

This research also relates to the work that Amy Edmondson, Richard Bohmer, and I conducted with regard to downplaying ambiguous threats or risks.  In a study of the Columbia space shuttle accident, we argued that teams and organizations often will mobilize effectively and quickly to address a clear and present danger.  However, they will downplay and discount ambiguous threats.   We offer several explanations for this behavior.   One hypothesis, consistent with this study on bad news, suggests that people downplay ambiguous threats because they are engaging in decision avoidance.  

Friday, June 25, 2021

Leading a High-Energy, Productive Meeting

Source: Tameday

Elizabeth Doty has written a good article for Strategy+Business titled, "How to Boost People's Energy and Productivity During Meetings."  Doty offers several useful strategies. 

1.  Offer a clear, compelling prompt.  Most often, this prompt should come in the form of a question that both focuses the discussion and stretches people's thinking.

2. Don't start with a blank slate. Give people some fuel to energize their thinking. Doty writes, "You might provide a messy first draft or a sketch for them to react to, or tell the story of a recent incident that relates to the project goal. One of my colleagues likes to start work sessions with a live phone interview with a customer, employee, or stakeholder."   I love the interview technique.  What a great way to ground the discussion in the actual challenges faced by key constituents and to insure that executives are not too isolated from what's really happening on the front lines.  

3.  Consider shifting formats.   We have all become pretty adept at the breakout group format in Zoom these days.  Don't let that notion go away when you return to in-person meetings.  Provide some time for small subgroup discussions amidst a larger team meeting.  For instance, David Garvin and I wrote in the past about the power of what scholars call the dialectical inquiry method for making decisions.  In that technique, you break a team into multiple subgroups and ask them to generate contrasting alternatives. Then, the subgroups come together to debate these options, critique each other's ideas, and then revise their proposals.  

4.  Give the team some templates to help structure their thinking.   These templates might include an affinity map, journey map, cause-effect diagram, or business model canvas.  These structures can help channel the conversation and provide a tangible product at the end of the meeting that can be shared with others and that captures everyone's thinking.