Monday Morning Tip: “Blurb” Meeting Highlights

It’s Monday Morning … and you’re in a meeting that matters.  You want to make the most of your time, and you want to make something useful of the meetings’ outcomes.  You agree with the old adage: “It is not the number of hours you put in, but what you put in the hours that counts.”  And so you can’t stand a wasted meeting.

Here’s a tip: In the last few minutes of your next meeting, “blurb” the highlights of the meeting, and then make plans to take action.

Let me explain. On Friday I sat next to the editor of espn.com’s golf section as we traveled from Washington, DC to San Francisco.  I was coming home from company and client meetings in Arlington as he was on his way to prepare for the U.S. Open that begins later this week.  I told him he has a cool job!  And he agreed, but added that it’s not always that easy – 18 hour-days during tournaments, loads of travel miles, and having to constantly hover over website “hits” and tweets to pulse what customers care about. A crucial part of his job, he said, is to “blurb” the articles of his writers – that is, to concisely synthesize in a sentence or two the key message of the article.  As you can imagine, this is difficult to do, even for a professional writer or editor. But it adds clarity and purpose to the whole article, and draws the reader in spending time on the content.

We don’t need to work for ESPN to reap the benefits of blurbing.  If we “blurb” the content of our meetings, we will better grasp the purpose and key outcomes of the meeting, and position ourselves to act on what we have learned or decided on.  So write down in a sentence or two a synthesis of the meeting.  Use active verbs.  Have fun with it.  And then act on that blurb, and you’ll make your meetings count.

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Monday Morning Tip: Restructuring your day around what matters most

It’s Monday Morning… and you’re staring at your calendar 4 minutes before your first meeting.  You have more to do than you have time for today: 3 important meetings, 2 other internal calls that don’t really fit with your goals, and 1 document you promised a customer  that will take much longer than the budgeted time.  But what’s actually really important (which is NOT on the calendar) is the complex issue with one of your other clients that you really need some time and space to think about.  

So you’ve got to restructure your day.  By the way, now it’s 2 min before your next meeting.  Think quickly.  

Kudos if you spent a few minutes thinking through your day (or week) like this at all.  Most of us just roll in, jump into the first meeting, and let the events of the day carry us along.  We let the calendar drive us, rather than deciding to use our time and our resources to accomplish what is most important.

But even when you are doing the necessary planning at the beginning of the day or week, if the discrepancy between your calendar and your priorities resembles the above example, it’s probably too late.  Canceling meetings left and right, or just not showing up, will not help your reputation for reliability and responsiveness.  You want to keep your commitments.  And you need to meet internal and external expectations.  But you have tied yourself down to committing to good things when you could spend more time on the things that matter most.

So meet your commitments today.  But as soon as you can, carve out some time this week to take a step back. Think about the purpose behind each meeting or effort, and then compare that with your medium to long-term priorities.  Your goal should be to use your time, network, skills, and other resources to accomplish your most important priorities.  Your calendar, and the meetings on them, will be one tool to help get you there.  It’s certainly not easy.  As you make decisions about what you’re trying to accomplish, consider three structure traps we fall into, and what to do with them.

1. Insufficient structure– Often in organizations, we respond to complex challenges or decisions with insufficient structure.  We need to organize ourselves.  Think of it this way. If your system for processing emails is prepared to handle 10 emails each day, and you actually receive 500, you’re toast.  Similarly, we need to layer in sufficient structure to handle complex decisions or challenges.  Maybe you’re dealing with an issue that never really seems to move toward resolution. Take a step back.  Ask the right questions. Think through the barriers and opportunities.  Decide how to move forward.

2. The Wrong Structure – At other times, we impose the wrong structure altogether. For example, excel spreadsheets and power point slides are adjusted, readjusted, and re-presented to leaders because more sophisticated tools are not used to handle their “what-if” questions or scenarios.  Or someone creates a committee that brings in loads of data but never really solves the problem. We need to constantly ask ourselves: What are we trying to accomplish?  Is this the right approach?  Then we move in the right direction.

3. Too much Structure – As an example, think of 5 different meetings set in place by 5 different people with generally the same participants. Can we consolidate?  Hence the recent outcry for too many meetings. In the case of a weekly status meeting, it may be that getting together as a team is not bad. But in some cases the time and costs of gathering may be better used for leveraging expertise to answer tough customer questions, or for knowledge-sharing that team members can immediately apply.

Monday Morning Tip (especially for me): Are you listening?

It’s Monday Morning… and you have an especially large amount of to-dos floating around in your mind as your first meeting begins.  You look at the person talking, give all the nods at the appropriate times, and occasionally even state back a couple of lines that were said.  You give just enough to show that you’re listening, enough to make it seem like you’re interested. But you’re really not that interested.  You’re not really there, mentally or emotionally.  Sound familiar?

How to listen more closely in your next meetingOr even worse, you join a teleconference, go on mute, and try putting a dent in your other tasks.  You train your ear to listen for your name, in which case you’ll say something smart before retreating back into your other, busier world.

I suppose most of us have adopted this behavior in one form or another.  The trouble is that when all is said and done, by multi-tasking we will have missed most of what they said in the meeting and even more of the emotions behind it.  And, on the other hand, we will have been less productive than if we had just skipped the meeting altogether and focused.

Here’s an approach that may be helpful: At the beginning of a meeting (virtual or in person) ask the following questions: “Do I really need to be in this meeting, or will I be more productive working elsewhere?  If I need to be in this meeting, is there anything that simply cannot wait until after the meeting?” If there is something that cannot wait, look at the agenda and kindly ask if you can step out to accomplish a critical task.

Otherwise, focus on listening.  Be there.  Make this your point of concentration.  Mentally set aside everything else. Listen carefully. Ask questions to get more out of it.  See how many others you can encourage or praise.  Try harder to understand the issues, challenges, and success stories.  Decide on a key takeaway and commit to implementing it as a result of the meeting.

Recap on April 19 Transportation Session

Yesterday we held a half-day Transportation Summit focused on decision-making, transportation trends, key prioritization criteria, and stakeholder strategies for Transit Agencies and DOTs. Participating in the session were representatives from several five Transit Agencies/DOTs, mostly in the region.   In the posts below, you’ll see some of the issues and findings we covered in our half-day session.

Also included in our “For Our Clients” Tab under Events are the summary slides of the Transportation modeling best practices Jon Malpass shared with the group.

Thanks for an engaging session!  Let’s keep the dialogue going.

Transportation Trends from West Coast Summit

Participants at the Decision Lens Transportation Summit in San Francisco offered perspectives on the current transportation environment.  Below are some of the findings:

  • In the future baby boomers will be retiring so there will be a larger working population.
  • The Millenial generation will be choosing to use transit.
  • People will be driving less and increasing in bicycle use and other modes of transportation (other than driving)
  • Congestion pricing will become more of an issue and toll lanes will be increasing.

As a result, participants discussed the following transportation trends:

  • Increase in ridership
  • Demographic shift and behaviors
  • Less VMT, Vehicles/HH
  • Alternative Modes, Inter-modal
  • The Multi-modal city

For more discussion, join us at our discussion group on LinkedIn – Decision Lens.

Live from the West Coast – Transportation Summit

San Francisco, CaliforniaDecision Lens is hosting a Transportation Summit with leaders from Transit Agencies and Department of Transportation (DOT) organizations throughout the west coast. Check back throughout the day on Meetings Improved  as we post findings and discussions that occur live!

Background

In working with many transportation customers (both transit agencies and DOTs) across the country, our Decision Solutions Group (DSG) has observed a number of trends and best practices in the industry and are sharing them today at a Transportation Summit held in San Francisco. Our west coast Decision Lens team is facilitating discussions with participants centered around learning more about specific challenges transit and DOTs are facing and discussing customized solutions to the most pressing issues.

The Summit plans to address questions like:

  • What complex decisions are others wrestling with, and how do they use Decision Lens?
  • Is there a standard language and set of criteria we can work toward as an industry?
  • What criteria and decision-making processes are commonly used?
  • What effective stakeholder strategies could we employ to be more effective?
  • How can we optimize our resources across time periods, multiple pools and account for inflation?

As we post discussion topics, it would be great to hear from you, feel free to offer comments.

Book Review: Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

One of my favorite books on the topic of change management is Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath (New York: Broadway Books, 2010).  The book focuses around the question of “why it’s so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our lives and how to overcome this challenge.”  As the Heaths point out, “Psychologists have discovered that our minds are ruled by two different systems one rational and one emotional.  The rational mind wants to make a change, but the emotional system enjoys the existing routine.  This tension can doom a change effort – but if it is overcome, change can come quickly.” In Switch, the Heaths show how we can all confront this challenge of mind and emotion and actually make meaningful change in our lives at work or at home.

The book strikes a good balance between research, engaging applications, and practical solutions.  If you are looking for a better understanding of why change is so difficult and how to overcome common roadblocks, this book is great read.  Let me give one example that I found very helpful.  In Chapter 1: Three Surprises About Change, the authors explain that self-control is exhaustible.  The Heaths argue that the definition of self-control is not “the narrow sense of the word, as in the willpower needed to fight vice (smokes, cookies, alcohol)…but a broader kind of self-supervision.  Think of the way your mind works when you’re giving negative feedback to an employee, or assembling a new bookshelf, or learning a new dance.  You are careful and deliberate with your words and movements.  It feels like there’s a supervisor on duty.  That’s self-control, too” (page 11). The reason this matters for change is “when people try to change things, they’re usually tinkering with behaviors that have become automatic, and changing those behaviors takes self-control.  When people exhaust their self-control, what they’re exhausting are the mental muscles needed to think creatively, to focus, to inhibit their impulses, and to persist in the face of frustration or failure.  In other words, they’re exhausting precisely the same muscles needed to make a big change” (page 12).

Does this point resonate with you? It sure does with me.  As a facilitator, when I am leading a challenging session with participants who are trying to think in new ways about old ways of doing business, by the end of the day I am mentally whipped and the participants are tired too.  It’s not easy to battle your rational mind that knows you need to make a change, and your emotional self that resists learning a whole new way of doing something; it is exhausting.  I think owning and recognizing this reality can help make any change process more manageable because at the end of the day, you have a bit more patience with yourself and understanding for why this can be difficult.  This is just one of many good examples from the book that I found helpful, and overall Switch is a great read and I highly recommend it.