There were days and weeks where every moment of my 9 hour workday was filled with meetings. I toured the office going from room to room to interface, gather information and pile on tasks for my to-do list. Meanwhile, hundreds of emails are pouring into my inbox that I do not have time to address. As a result, it leaves me obligated to check emails after I have put my little ones to bed. If I am describing your work day, here are a few tricks I started doing. I still have a lot of meetings but by being smarter about meeting protocol, I’ve gotten time back. Most importantly, family time back.
Block off desk time. If you need to dedicate brainpower to a single project, block off time. This lets people know you are not available and it’s a visual cue to you reminding yourself to dedicate time to the priority.
Color code your calendar invites. I color all in person meetings green. All phone calls are teal and desk time is blue. It has helped me to get to in person meeting on time because I know if it’s green, I must physically move around the building.
No Meeting Days. Establish a day of the week where you do not take meetings. If your organization is meeting heavy, start with a half day. Block off the recurring chunk of time in advance so others know to plan around it. Even better, have your team or even the entire organization adopt the same chunk of time. The biggest benefit of an organization wide “No Meeting Day” is everyone will be at their desk so real time collaboration can take place. We have all been there. We really need to talk to someone but we can’t because they are always stuck in meetings. And because they are always in meetings, they never answer their emails. No Meeting Days will solve for this cat and mouse game.
Require defined agendas in calendar invites. If you work with someone that sends you blank calendar invites, decline it (or ask for more detail). An efficient meeting can only happen if both parties are prepared. I recommend including an agenda and a desired outcome statement in all meeting invites.
Meetings are for decision making. Al Pittampalli’s book, Read This Before Your Next Meeting: How We Can Get More Done is genius. My biggest takeaway from this read is the overall message which is all meetings should be like a Daytona 500 pitstop. It’s a time to refuel, recharge and make decisions to progress forward. Question those boring status meetings that drain everyone in the room. If those status updates can be shared via another forum, do it. There are a plethora of tools like Asana and Monday.com where teams can communicate updates in a streamlined manner.
I had coffee with a CFO in town the other day that inspired me. As he coached me on how to drive performance in the workplace strategically, it boiled down to what he calls the 3C’s: Coach, Counsel, Correct. Driving performance is a process. An employee should never be surprised if served a performance improvement plan or worse, terminated. A lot of times when the shock of bad news takes place, it’s because the Manager is afraid of the confrontation. The foundation of a solid relationship is building rapport. With the rapport, comes trust. When trust exists, it allows a safe place for candid conversations. In thinking about the 3C’s, this is how I best interpreted it.
Let’s say you have a direct report that constantly misses deadlines. Your CEO is asking why and demanded you fix the problem. Follow the 3C’s.
Coach. Put on your “helper” hat. No need to be demanding at this point. Positive reinforcement goes further than badgering. Be clear to identify the issue. “Hi Casey, I want to check in with you. I have taken note you missed the last 3 report deadlines. How is your workload? Is there anything I can do to help?”. Our job as Manager is to support our team members to do excellent things. Before jumping down Casey’s throat, find out if Casey is doing alright. I do not recommend prying into Casey’s personal life, but asking a high level question pulsing their well being will create a safe place for them to share. From there, you can determine how you can clarify, align and hold them accountable to meet deadlines going forward. Use language like, “I’d like you to meet your deadlines going forward so we can all succeed. Let me know how I can help you accomplish this so please keep an open dialogue with me. I want to see you succeed.” Set a check in date so Casey knows it’s coming. “We will check in on this topic in 2 weeks.” The tone of this conversation is positive.
Counsel. Two weeks has passed. Casey is still missing deadlines. Now it’s time to be more stern. Here’s how I’d start, “Casey, we talked 2 weeks ago about meeting deadlines. I am still observing you are behind. It’s important to the business that the reports are turned in on time. We count on you and your reports move the business forward. I need you to start meeting your deadlines as of today.” During the Counsel stage, it’s important to stress the “why” statement. Tie in the value this person provides the company. No need to be overly positive. You tried that and it didn’t work. It’s time to be clear they let others down when they let themselves down. Clarify what you expect, gain alignment before the conversation ends and repeat how you will hold Casey accountable. Give Casey a clear check in date so they know it’s important to you. After this conversation, recap the conversation in an email so they can process the expectations clearly in their own time.
Correct. During the counsel stage you defined the next check in date for 1 week out. The week has passed and Casey missed an important Executive report which left you scrambling at 11pm to pull it together. At the end of the day, if the direct reports don’t do the work, managers must pick up the slack. During any of the 3C’s, it’s important to remove yourself from the equation. Remain objective. Even if you are peeved because you had to pick up slack, it’s not about you. It’s about their contribution to the business. The Correct stage is where you tell Casey clearly, “You must submit your reports in on time. If not, you will be put on a performance improvement plan (or terminated). Set a clear expectation. “If one more deadline is missed from this day forward, you will be put on a written performance improvement plan.” There, you said it. A very difficult conversation but you followed the 3C’s consistently so the element of surprise doesn’t exist. You gave Casey plenty of opportunity to improve and/or share the reasons why they are not performing. It’s up to Casey to decide destiny.
Let’s hope Casey self corrected and you no longer have issues. If Casey didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, you must follow through with the correction plan you established. No stalling. It must be immediate once the deadline is missed. If you don’t, it sends a message to the rest of the team you don’t need to be taken seriously. Accept that Casey probably told their peers about the issues from their point of view. That is ok. You have been fair and consistent the whole time.
If a 4th C could be thrown into this process, I would add Consistency. It’s stressful to work for a boss that slings from the hip and is unpredictable. Be steadfast, consistent and fair. Not too nice, fair.
For a deeper dive, I highly recommend the book, Crucial Conversations. Performance conversations are never easy. Crucial Conversations provides excellent tools and role play examples on how to communicate when the stakes are high. If someone’s job is on the line, the stakes are always high. I constantly remind myself not to judge the person’s character when performance slides. Be hard on the problem, not the person. During the recruiting process, I must have seen potential in them otherwise I wouldn’t have hired them. Not all hires work out and that’s ok. Having open conversations will help you figure that out where both parties walk away with dignity.
If you are a people manager or someone who works with others, remember these 3 directives. Remember it in this order exactly. When driving performance, accountability doesn’t exist if clarity and alignment were not established.
Clarify. If someone is giving you an instruction, clarify their ask. Repeat the request as many times it takes for the other party to validate you two are on the same page.
Align. Once you are clear on the task given to you, share perspectives on each person’s approach. Alignment doesn’t mean automatically agreeing. Alignment means mutually committing to what will happen next.
Accountability. Take a step back. If someone asked you to “wake me up before you leave” but you heard “I’m going to workout in the street”, how can you be held accountable if you two didn’t clarify the request and align that you both understood the expectations. What happened? The snoozing pal, never got woken up and the pal rushing through their morning routine bolted out the door thinking they needed to leave the door unlocked. In the rushing pal’s mind they knocked out the request successfully. Lose, lose situation. Now you have a sleeping person in the house alone with an unlocked door. Let’s hope they live in a safe neighborhood.
Let’s take it into the workplace. As a manager, use this formula to drive performance. When you think people are dropping the ball, entertain the thought they may think they are doing a great job. Before you jump down their throat, go back to clarify their point of view. From there, align on your expectations. Only after those two items have been successfully accomplished can you drive performance and accountability.