Category: Productivity

How to Have Better Meetings

Everyone dreads going to meetings at work.  When I speak to groups on communication and influence, business meetings always come up as one of the top things people complain about.  Most of us agree that we spend a lot of wasted time in meetings.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

When I ask people why they feel so negatively about meetings, I hear things like ‘they use up time I could be getting real work done’ and ‘we never make decisions’ and ‘it seems like we meet just to meet and nothing gets done’.  Surveys consistently show we often view meetings as a waste of time.  After suffering through many similar meetings (and causing others to sit through my horrible meetings) I set out to find a way to have powerful and impactful meetings.  Here are three steps that I uncovered that will help you have better meetings.

1) Start with a clear outcome.  Be crystal clear what you want to achieve in the meeting. Write down the outcome that you expect by the end of the meeting.  For example, is the outcome of the meeting to make a certain decision, begin a relationship, share specific information, to collect ideas or to close a sale?  Be very precise on the expected outcome.  This will help you know what to include in the agenda, how long to meet, who to invite and how best to go about achieving the expected outcome.  It will also prevent the meeting from going into unproductive topics and ‘rat holes.’

2) Check before the meeting.  A week or so before the meeting is scheduled, call a small sample of the planned meeting attendees.  If the meeting will be with about 10 to 15 people then you would call about 3 people.  In a quick 5 minute phone call, share your intended outcome for the meeting and ask the other person if they agree and also ask what result they would like to see from the meeting.  Make note of what the other people say.  Adjust what you have planned for the meeting if need be.  Thank them for sharing their thoughts.

3) Follow up after the meeting.  A day or two after the meeting, call the same people you spoke to before the meeting and ask how the meeting went.  Was it useful?  Was it a good use of their time?  Was the planned outcome achieved?  Use the feedback you get to adjust the actions from the meeting if necessary.  Also use the feedback to improve your future meetings.

If you try these three easy tips you will start influencing people in a very positive way.  They will be impressed that you took the time to phone them and ask their opinion.  They will notice that you are a person who cares about improving your performance and theirs.  Your meetings will be productive and the people who attend your meetings will remark on how much better they are than most meetings they attend.  Good luck!

Question: What tips can you share from your own experience with meetings?


Excuses are a Career Killer

A friend of mine who is an senior executive said to me the other day, “Everyone has excuses for what they do or don’t do.  I would give a huge raise to any of my direct reports if they just did what they say they will do, period. No excuses, just get it done.”

Excuses are career killers.

what's your excuse?

When I was in graduate school I had a professor who gave points for participation in class. During the first 15 minutes of class he led a discussion and gave points to every student that participated in the discussion. One night I was flying back from a work trip and was late for class and missed the participation time. After class I explained to the professor that my plane was unexpectedly delayed, it was raining so traffic was extra heavy, yet I did everything in my power to make class on time and just missed the discussion period. The professor listened and responded, “I totally understand. Sounds reasonable.  Thank you for letting me know why you were late tonight.” Relieved that he accepted my excuses, I smiled and asked him if I could submit something next class to make up for missing the participation points. The professor smiled back and said, “No. You are either here for the discussion or not. I don’t accept any excuses.” Lesson learned for me.

That professor taught me a valuable lesson – when you make a commitment you either follow through on it or you don’t. There will always be a multitude of reasons (also called excuses) why we fail to follow through on a particular thing we said we would do, but in the end they really don’t matter. Many of us fail to achieve our goals and dreams because we fail to follow through. We say things like it was too hard, I tried but didn’t have enough time, I don’t know how, I didn’t know it would take so long, or I intended too but…

Regardless of how many excuses they could make, successful people know that it will not change the outcome. Even justified excuses will not make a project or person successful. When things go wrong, the successful person sees the opportunity, not a reason for quitting.  They own that it went wrong and get busy making it right.

Unsuccessful people spend a lot of energy and time making excuses – blaming others, the customer, the economy or even traffic. Even if the excuses are all true, it won’t improve the outcome. No matter how justified you are, never make an excuse for any outcome. Instead, just apologize.  If you can still deliver what you promised then do it immediately.  If the opportunity has passed, then plan a way to ensure that next time you will do what you say you will, period. This is the only way to long term success. Your career success is based on building a reputation of integrity, including delivering what you say you will.

If you want to achieve success others don’t, you must be willing to do what others won’t. Everybody around you may think it is acceptable to blame traffic for being late regularly. Instead, choose not to make that excuse. Change your routine, wake up earlier, take a different route – do whatever it takes.  Not making excuses is one of the most important disciplines you can develop. Managers consistently describe ‘following through and delivering what they promise’ as one of the key attributes for career success.

So the next time you decide to commit to do something, do it – don’t let ‘justified excuses’ trick you into thinking it is okay not to do what you committed to do. Be on time for meetings, call someone back when you say you will, show up for the team meeting fully prepared, do the homework you said you would, etc… If you practice keeping your word with little things at work everyday, you will quickly find others viewing you as someone who delivers, period. And that is worth gold.



Become Indispensable at Work

In my work, I am often asked the number one skill or quality that makes someone successful at work.  Is it intelligence or hard work or making the right political alliances? Not even close.  The number one way to ensure a fantastically successful and rewarding career is to become indispensable to your boss.


When you measure the value that you bring to your work every day, how do you stack up?  Do you bring more value to your company than they pay you in compensation?   In the long term, the level of your success depends on the value that you create for others.  In your work life, this boils down to the value you bring to your boss and the company as a whole.  In short, are you indispensable?

The good news is that each of us can increase the value we create and become indispensable.  If you are willing to step outside your comfort zone and try something new, you can quickly become a super star at work.  Here is the two-step process to becoming indispensable:

Step 1: Find out what is most important to your boss.  When I speak about this topic I often ask people to share what they think are their boss’s top three priorities.  Many people don’t know and some will recite company goals and values or they say blanket statements like “top priority for my boss in that the whole team work safely”.  Some people take guesses, but very few people know with certainty what priorities are most important to their boss.  The truth may surprise you.   When I speak to managers about their top priorities I hear the usual stuff about delivering the plan, meeting customers’ needs, being part of the corporate team, etc…  But when we get really truthful with each other I also hear priorities such as get promoted, not look bad to senior management, get a higher raise than usual, do better than the other department or resolve some difficult issue, etc…  So how do you find out what is important to your boss?  It is easy – just ask.  Sit down with your boss and ask what their biggest priorities are over the next 60 or 90 days and what you can do to help.  Your boss may be surprised at first and question why you are asking, but it you do it on a regular basis and follow up with step #2 below, then they will quickly see you as indispensable.

Step 2: Over deliver on what your boss says they need.  Once you have a conversation about the true priorities that your boss has then go out and over deliver.  Don’t just deliver the value you say you will, deliver more than you say.  If your boss asks you to take on an extra project, do two.  If they ask you to come in early for a short period to help the department get caught up, then come in early and stay late.  If they ask you to deliver the sales plan in 90 days, deliver it in 75.  Focus in on the priority your boss shares with you and don’t quit until you have completed what you promised.  In doing this you will create value in the area most important to your boss.  Do this with each boss you have and you will be promoted often.

When we focus on creating value and not on collecting a paycheck, it is amazing the things we can accomplish.  If you have the courage to find out what your boss wants most and then deliver it better than expected, then your career success is unlimited.  Please give it a try and let me know how it works out.

Question: What 2 or 3 things are most important to your boss this year?