On February 5, 2012 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, a Super Bowl Champion will be crowned. I do not know which team will win, although, though I am a Cowboys fan, you almost have to root for Manning and the Colts at their home field.
But I know that every team in the league will follow pretty much the same disciplines to try to win the prize.
Here’s what no team will do: the supervisors of each department (the coaches over each area) will not gather their players together and say, “ok guys – our goal is to win the Super Bowl. Here’s your assignments – We’ll check back with you in December to see how you are doing.”
You get it, don’t you?! Such an approach would be ridiculous.
Each team will have countless meetings. The entire team will meet, and then, each player meets with the other players and the coach over his area, over and over and over again, throughout the season. They have mid-course corrections every week, every day, every game. If the defensive coach sees a problem, he will call an “emergency” meeting in the middle of the game, on the sidelines, and give corrective instructions. And player after player receives one-on-one coaching constantly, throughout each game
These guys take it seriously.
And yet, as seriously as every team, every player, every coach takes it, only one team can come out on top. It really is a competitive world out there.
So – what’s the point of this short blog post? It is this. The ridiculous scenario, the “here’s your assignment, I’ll check back in five months” approach, is exactly how too many people “try to succeed” in their business. People are given assignments, and then left on their own. No meetings, no mid-course-correctives – just “Here’s your assignment – I’ll check back in five months.” So many leave it all to an “annual performance review” to “check in, and offer needed coaching and correctives.” This is a guaranteed scenario for failure.
You may not win the Super Bowl, but without regular meetings, constant coaching, mid-course correctives, constant attention, and constant encouragement when the job is well done, you won’t even be able to play on the same field as the big boys.
As I have said and written often, “you accomplish what you meet about!”
I don’t know how to identify an “expert” all that easily these days. Is a person an expert because he/she has written a book? Probably not. But, when smart people disagree, how do we decide who knows enough to copy and emulate?
Consider this: is it good, or bad, to have meetings?
In Verne Harnish’s book, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, Harnish teaches that the rhythm of regular meetings is critical to the success of a company or organization. Jason Fried disagrees.
I like Jason Fried. He is a witty, good writer. I liked his book, Rework, which I read and presented. It is a terrific thought-provoking read. But I think he is leading us astray.
In Jason Fried’s world, heard in his TED talk, Why work doesn’t happen at work (watch the video here), Jason Fried basically says that meetings are the devil. Here’s what Fried had to say (taken directly from the video):
The real problems are the “m & ms” — the managers and the meetings. Managers’ real jobs are to interrupt people… and, managers most of all call meetings, and meetings are just toxic; they’re just terrible poisonous things during the day at work…
So, who is right, Harnish or Fried? Are meetings good – or bad?
I suspect that Harnish is right, and I would say to Jason Fried, “no, meetings are not the devil.” Yes, there is a problem with bad meetings, run by unprepared, clueless leaders. I would agree that bad, poorly run, unfocused meetings may be the devil.
But the solution is not “no meetings,” or even “fewer meetings,” but “good meetings.”
Jason Fried says: “People don’t do work in the office.” He says that we need “long stretches of time” to get meaningful work done – a premise that I do agree with. And he says, that the office provides not a place for work, but a place for “work moments.” Ok, he may be right about that. But then, he blames that problem on too many meetings. And that is where he misleads us.
There is a flood of evidence that meetings of all kinds lead to superior performance. Let me remind us all again: a Super Bowl winning football team has countless, seemingly endless, very regular meetings. They watch film together, they listen to their position coaches together; there are group meetings, there are one-on-one meetings, there are sideline meetings in the middle of a game, there are very short meetings before every play (called “huddles”)… Try winning a Super Bowl with no meetings!
So my advice to the Jason Fried fans out there is, quit listening to Jason Fried. Look instead to people who know how to plan, run, and follow up after meetings. Study how they conduct their meetings, and “go and do likewise.”
No, the devil is not meetings…the problem is bad, non-purposeful, “meetings just to meet” meetings. But a good leader, running a purposeful meeting, providing follow-up after the meetings… this is the lifeblood of a successful organization.
Do you need to improve your skills at running meetings? You can start with reading Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Harnish.
And by the way, I wonder if the TED folks have any meetings to prepare and plan for their conferences? I bet they do!
You can purchase my synopses of Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, and Rework, with audio + handout, at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
I have spent 13 years reading business books and presenting synopses of these books to folks ready and willing to learn. It took a while (I’m not all that sharp!), but I think I am beginning to learn some things myself. In fact, I think I am ready to state, for certain, that there are 2 ways to guarantee mediocrity (if not outright failure):
1) Have a poor work ethic
2) Don’t have regular (team/executive team) meetings.
#1: Have a poor work ethic.
The sources are too many, but let’s start with the 10,000 hour rule (popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers). I summarize it this way in my presentation:
…centerpiece to this book is the 10,000 hour rule… — with much intentional practice!
“Practicing: that is, purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better” (Outliers).
Or, to put it another way, putting in 10,000 hours does not guarantee that you will reach the pinnacle of success; but, not putting in the time practically guarantees that you won’t reach that pinnacle.
In other words, to remind us all of the obvious, it takes work, hard work, to be successful.
#2: Don’t have regular (team, management, executive team) meetings.
This is the one that has most captivated me. I am looking for this everywhere I speak, in every book I read, and everywhere else I can.
The insight hit home after reading the Verne Harnish book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, but it took a while to see it in action. Now I am looking for it, and finding it, everywhere I look.
The Rockefeller “habits” are Priorities, Data, and Rhythm: an effective rhythm of daily; weekly; monthly; quarterly; annual meetings to maintain alignment and drive accountability (“until your people are mocking you, you’ve not repeated your message enough”).
In the book, Harnish points to this:
Mastering the Daily and Weekly Executive Meeting
(Structure meetings to enhance executive team performance).
• meetings overview:
• daily & weekly – execution
• monthly – learning
• quarterly and annual – setting strategy}.
This is the discipline, the habit, that I am looking for, paying attention to, and have become convinced is a (maybe the) critical key to genuine success. Assuming that a company or organization has hired competent, passionate people (admittedly, this is a big assumption), then it is imperative that these people get together in regular meetings to tackle those key goals/priorities for the organization. I wrote about this as practiced at Mighty Fine Burgers (see this post), and here is a clue from Zappos, from this article:
For instance, Zappos.com, the shoes and clothing e-retailer now owned by Amazon.com Inc., No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, has agents meet about once a week for hour-long, one-on-one coaching sessions in which a supervisor and agent each take a call. The two then discuss what the agent did well and what could be improved the next time around.
Of course, you need to pay attention to what occurs in such meetings, but don’t miss what comes first: weekly meetings! The rhythm of weekly, regular meetings!
As I said, I am asking around about this a lot. I find absolute consistency – excellent teams, excellent organizations, spend intentional, regular times in meetings. They do not skip those meetings. It is part of their routine, their ritual, their “rhythm.”
Yes, yes , I know… a lot of people sit through a lot of bad meetings. And that is a problem. So, yes, learn to run your meetings well. If you are a leader, learning to run a good meeting may be the next important skill for you to master. And, always, don’t forget to have an agenda, with something important to discuss/work on/accomplish. The most successful organizations meet about the same thing over and over and over again. It takes that kind of “long haul” attention to get really good at anything.
But if you want a sure fire path to mediocrity (or outright failure) just try getting by with no meetings. That is a guaranteed path to failure.
You accomplish what you meet about! Yes, you do!
I had a wonderful time with a group of Gazelles coaches this past week. And as I talked with, listened to, and thought about their approach to their jobs, a few things came into sharper focus. A key text to this group of business thinkers is the book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish. (I have blogged about this book a few times). At the heart of the book (actually, at the heart of Rockefeller’s success) is the practice of regular meetings. And, as I read the Atul Gawande book The Checklist Manifesto, I thought some more about that practice of holding those regular meetings. And then I heard one of the coaches refer to these regular meetings as “huddles.” That’s what grabbed me, and helped me really, fully get the concept.
Not every football team wins a championship. But no team wins, or can even stay on the playing field, without following some practices that closely resemble the habits from Rockefeller (confirmed by Gawande). So let’s take a look.
In a football game, every player has a specific assignment for each play. He has to fulfill a specific job assignment: he has to run to a certain place on the field, or block a specific player. Each player has a specific assignment on each play in each game.
The player has spent hours learning how to actually carry out these assignments. He has to study the play book until he knows it like a good preacher knows the Bible, and then drill, time and time and time again, getting each step down right – developing a discipline so reliable that it is called “muscle memory.”
At the start of each play, the team has a brief meeting – a “huddle,” to call the play that each player already knows, fully. The designated play triggers the actual moves to make to carry out the predetermined assignment.
At the end of the game (usually the next day), there is a team meeting, where there is a checklist (a “do-confirm” checklist, to use Gawande’s terminology). With the unforgiving proof of the video evidence, each player goes through the incredibly precise evaluation of: “this was your assignment. You did it well. Good job!” — or, “This was your assignment. You did not do it well — you blew your assignment. Let’s figure out why, and fix it for next game.”
Constant – constant meetings. Team meetings, position meetings, coaches evaluations, and then in-game huddles, one before each play. (OK — for you football experts, sometimes the team goes with the “no-huddle” approach. But the leader/the quarterback still calls out the play — it’s a meeting outcome without the actual huddle.) To win a football game, it takes an amazing number of meetings, and then, of course, the final key — execution. In fact, every football post-game interview includes one of only two explanations. They boil down to this: “we had our assignments, but we failed to execute,” or, “we had our assignments, and we executed, and won.”
Assignments are clear; meetings deliver, and confirm, and re-confirm these assignments; and then post-game analysis is conducted to pass judgement on execution. And then plans are made and assignments are distributed for the next game. More meetings — lots more meetings — are held, because without such constant communication, feedback, evaluation, there is no success.
Here are the lessons, the habits, for success:
#1 — the leaders come up with a specific game plan. (in business, let’s call this a strategic plan).
#2 – every player gets his assignment for each play that will be used to carry out the plan.
#3 — there are numerous, constant meetings, to remind each player of the assignments for each play to carry out the plan.
#4 — each player has to execute.
#5 — the leaders have to change/adjust the strategic plan for the next challenge/game.
So, here it is: “Here’s our game plan. Huddle up — let’s go over our assignments – let’s get it done; let’s execute.”
Pretty simple. Not easy — but simple.
Are you huddling up?
A well respected management consultant and writer right here from the Dallas area, Bette Price, was quoted in The Daily Caller about President Obama’s role in the health care summit. From the article Chief Executive Obama runs a good meeting — even if it does run past schedule by Aleksandra Kulczuga, here are the opening paragraphs:
In one of President Obama’s highest-profile days as America’s chief executive, all eyes were on how well he managed what was at times an acrimonious debate on health care. The Daily Caller talked to business and management experts about how he did as the man at the head of the table during his marathon public meeting.
“He’s very much what we could call in academic circles a transformative leader,” said Drumm McNaughton, chairman and chief executive of the Washington-based Institute of Management Consultants. “When you have a political environment like ours that has become so difficult because of polarization, you can see he’s the right leader for the right time.”
“And that’s coming from a lifelong Republican.”
Many experts pointed out the president’s tactfulness today.
“I’m sure he has his own agenda, but he doesn’t express it heartily,” said Bette Price, chief executive of Price Group and a management consultant in the leadership development area for 25 years. “He’s very conciliatory and engaging, and tends to be open to other people.”
“The interesting thing that the president does is that he’s very paced in his delivery, and that tends to give off more of a calming effect,” Price said.
“With these kinds of meetings in Washington it’s difficult because people need to leave their egos at the door. What you see Obama doing by cutting his remarks short, he’s looking at the outcomes and not grandstanding,” McNaughton said.
So, here are a few takeaways:
1) Keep meetings moving.
2) As leader, be open to other people.
3) As leader, facilitate, don’t dominate.
The article had dissenting views on President Obama’s role, but this sounds like pretty wise counsel from Bette Price and Drumm McNaughton for anyone who has a meeting to run.
(Note: Bette Price has been a long-time participant and friend of the First Friday Book Synopsis).
I am, like an ever-growing number of Americans, a free agent, an independent contractor, piecing together my income in a multitude of ways – in other words, I mainly work alone.
Oh, I have all sorts of alliances. Karl Krayer and I conduct the First Friday Book Synopsis, and I do many things under the umbrella of Karl’s company, Creative Communication Network. And I work with Larry James of Central Dallas Ministries, especially on the Urban Engagement Book Club. And I have a growing life in and among non-profits, all through connections made through Larry James, and the expanding circles within these connections.
But if I am not in front of an audience speaking – in other words, when I am sitting at a desk, in front of my computer, or with a book in my lap, I am working alone. Literally, there is no one else around me.
(OK – not quite alone. It is a home office, and in another part of the house is another home office, where my wife also works alone. But she works with other Real Estate Agents, so there is not a lot of “working” together, there’s just together together.
So, last week, I was telling Jeannie (that’s my wife) about the book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. Especially its counsel to have regular meetings – daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly or yearly. Here’s the purpose of these meetings, from the book:
• meetings overview:
• daily & weekly – execution
• monthly – learning
• quarterly and annual – setting strategy
• the daily meeting, an imperative — the agenda: what’s up, daily measures, and where are you stuck?
• the weekly meeting
• more issues oriented
• to succeed, it must be after a week of daily meetings
(they need each other/feed off of each other)
• five minutes: good news
• ten minutes: the numbers
• ten minutes: customer and employee feedback
• 30 minutes: a rock, or single issue
• closing comments
• the monthly meeting – agenda is learning
A little later, she came back in and said, “so I guess I need to have these meetings every day/week/month – with myself.”
And I thought – that is really right. If you work alone, you still need to practice the habits and routines that successful companies practice – even if you have to do them alone. So, I need to get intentional about having meetings with myself – daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly or annually.
Yes, there are ways you can bring others into this mix. For example, the monthly “learning “ meeting could be at an event with others. (I think the First Friday Book Synopsis might be perfect for this monthly meeting). But I suspect that the daily, and weekly, meetings have to be with yourself.
So – I’m going to start. Next Monday morning. I’m going to try to master this particular Rockefeller Habit as a sole practitioner.
I welcome any suggestions on how to do this most effectively.