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Data Builds Understanding; Stories Build Commitment

Once Upon A Time

Last week I raised the question (and answered it) “Why are there so many bad meetings?” This week I focus more on the positive:  what good meetings feel like, and how some organizations are working to not only enhance meeting experiences but also to make meetings more effective and meaningful.

Recently a friend told me about how one clothing company has developed a culture of storytelling that dramatically affects the way its meetings work.

According to Mary, a director of workplace strategy at that company, its meetings are filled with storytelling, and the presentations are heavily image-based, with a minimum of words on the individual slides. So instead of boring bullet points and slides filled to overflowing with data, the presentations feel more like personal stories, with heroes and villains, crises and victories, and lots of emotional content. Presenters seek to influence and inspire through images, stories, and feelings rather than through “hard data.” Read more

Why are there so many bad meetings?

Update on September 10, 2015: I just produced my first live broadcast on Periscope, summarizing the ideas in this post. Here’s the 10-minute video recording of that broadcast, which includes a brief overview of the five reasons I believe we experience so many bad meetings:


There are over 11 million corporate meetings a day in the United States alone. 11 million! Yet, as I am fond of saying, I have yet to meet anyone who is dying for their next meeting to start.

When was the last timBoring meeting!e you sat through a meeting that you found boring, a waste of time, and unproductive? Everyone I talk to can tell me about a recent meeting they attended but hated.

Yet most people who work in offices today spend most of their time in meetings of one kind or another. Maybe it’s a two-person conversation, and maybe it’s a group meeting with six or more participants. As Alan Webber pointed out over 20 years ago (“What’s So New About the New Economy?Harvard Business Review, Jan/Feb 1993), conversation is at the heart of knowledge-based work. It’s how we learn, exchange information, solve problems, test our ideas, create new knowledge, and connect with our colleagues and customers.

So why do so many meetings turn out so badly? I believe there are at least five factors affecting the quality of our meeting experiences: Read more

Leadership: It All Depends – but on What?

direction confusionWhen someone asks you what leadership style or approach is most effective, the only legitimate answer is, “It depends.” But the next question has to be “Depends on what?”

And that question has probably driven more research and PhD dissertations than any other issue in the field of management.

So I’m going to attempt to answer it here in less than 750 words, based on both my personal experience and a landmark study conducted almost 50 years ago by Ken Blanchard (yes, that Ken Blanchard) and Paul Hersey.

Their research, and the “Situational Leadership” model they developed was first published in 1977 in a book called Management of Organizational Behavior (now in its 9th edition, with Dewey Johnson as a third author).

I believe the Hersey-Blanchard model of leadership remains incredibly powerful and relevant today, but I haven’t seen many references to it recently, so I want to refresh your understanding of it (and mine too, for that matter). Read more

Building a Meeting Mindset

Group of Diverse Multiethnic People in a MeetingIn case you haven’t noticed, the world has changed just a bit over the last twenty years. The nature of work itself has changed too. Yet too many managers still believe their employees just came from the farm to the city and need to be told what to do as they take their place on the assembly line.

We’re using 19th century industrial-age management practices in a 21st-century age of networked knowledge.

As a result, millions of people are unhappy at work, organizations are operating well below their potential, leaders are frustrated, and almost everyone feels stressed out. In spite of the moderate uptick in the economy no one I know believes things are working they way they should be.

At one level the problem is simple: the world has changed in several fundamental ways, but the way most organizations operate has not. There is a terrible misalignment between the work and the workforce, on the one hand, and our leadership principles and practices, on the other.

As a case in point, in North America alone there are over 11 million corporate meetings held every day – every day! – but I have yet to find anyone who is just dying for their next meeting to start. Read more

Talking About Tomorrow

This is an invitation to join an ongoing conversation about the future of work.

Future Exit Sign 000018627375XSmallDo you often wonder where the future of work is headed? Do you have trouble keeping up with all the things impacting the workplace – factors like workforce demographics, new technologies, changing patterns of work, new physical workplace designs, changing social values, and so on, and so on?

We live in a dangerous and unpredictable world, and it often seems impossible to stay on top of everything that matters. I know I find it both frustrating and energizing to live in a world that’s changing as rapidly as ours is today.

The only way I know to stay sane in these conditions is to share both my confusion and my fascination with the future with friends and colleagues, and to learn together as we exchange experiences and insights. Read more

You Make It, You Own It

English_Bay_Vancouver_BCLast week I participated in IFMA’s Facility Fusion 2015 Canada conference in Vancouver. I enjoyed seeing many old friends and making new ones. But more importantly I enjoyed having my brain cells stimulated by so many interesting stories of new workplace designs and workforce programs.

If there was one underlying idea that linked many of those stories together for me, it was the power of choice. Almost every story we heard about workplace innovation mentioned increased variety within the workplace, and/or between alternative workplaces. And more variety clearly means more choice for the people using those workplaces. Read more

Why are Meaningful Conversations So Rare?

conversationsEven though most of us know intuitively what a good conversation feels like and how it unfolds, the vast majority of conversations at work are okay at best, and the rest of them range between boring, inconsequential, depressing, and demeaning.

In spite of what most of us know, most meetings and far too many of the less-formal conversations at work just don’t generate excitement, or learning, or even clarity. And that’s being kind:  I’m not even considering the meetings that waste time and generate anger, frustration, and patently wrong decisions. And worst of all is how few conversations tap into the “hidden talent” that everyone carries around with them every day in the form of experiences, insights, ideas, and intentions.

But the barriers that get in our way are actually very basic, and very understandable. Read more

Upcoming Events

We are entering the spring conference season; I’ll be attending and presenting at several important conferences during March and April:

The Future of Work 2015 (at the Ballagio in Las Vegas) March 3-4

“Leading Change: Putting Good Ideas into Practice, in Theory and at Zappos” (March 4, 9:45 – 10:30 AM)

My presentation partner for this session is John Bunch, Technical Advisor to the CEO and Lead Link for Holacracy Implementation at Zappos.com [continue reading...]

What’s the Question?

Business meeting.My recent focus on conversations at work was inspired by this statement from Alan Webber, the founder of Fast Company magazine, in a Harvard Business Review article he wrote way back in 1993:

 

… the manager’s job is to create an environment that allows knowledge workers to learn – from their own experience, from each other, and from customers, suppliers, and business partners. The chief management tool that makes that learning happen is conversation.

Organizational leaders at all levels have an incredible opportunity – and an equally incredible responsibility – to generate meaningful conversations. What they do and say on a daily basis affects the lives and the careers of everyone they come in contact with, to say nothing of the impact those conversations have on an organization’s performance and its ultimate success or failure in the marketplace.

I’ve also become convinced that great conversations start with thoughtful questions. A question signals your interest in learning – your openness to new information and new ideas.

In fact, I believe that asking the right kinds of questions is one of the most important leadership skills I can think of. Read more

It’s Time for Some Global Holometaboly

Monarch Caterpillar eating milkweed Those of us who study and write about the difficulty of leading organizational change often use the image of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly as a metaphor for dramatic transformation.

But wanting to become a butterfly doesn’t make you one. You have to want to become a butterfly so badly that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.

That’s a fancy way of saying that having even a compelling vision of the future isn’t enough; to get there you have to give up the past and walk away from the present.

But there is another component of the caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation that most of us don’t think about and certainly don’t understand very well. Read more