Don’t Be Boring

BoringI was running through McDonald’s with just enough time to grab a burger between client engagements. A little boy walked into the store from the play area with his father. The boy noticed the big screen TV in the corner of the dinning area – it was playing highlights from the weekend’s NFL games. The boy sauntered over to the big screen, stood there for a minute then waved his hand as though he was erasing the screen and declared, “Boring – boring.” Apparently satisfied with his verdict he walked out of the store with his dad.
I thought about the several times I have wanted to do the same thing in poorly run meetings.  Like the young man in McDonald’s I want to wave my hand and declare, “boring – boring” when I see any of the following practices. And then I want to walk out and go back to work.

Boring practice 1: calling a meeting without a purpose and being unprepared.  I don’t mind getting together with you for lunch or after work to shoot the breeze but don’t pull me away from my team to sit in a room without a purpose. My mind simply backs up with all the tasks I need to complete before the end of the day, end of the quarter, end of the year etc.  Give me an agenda that differentiates between information you want to give, decisions that need to be made, and brainstorming we need to do to set direction to face the unexpected.

Boring practice 2: calling for people to give reports on data we all read prior to the meeting.  Expect people to be ready – this will save a lot of time.  However, be sure you specify what you want people to know before every meeting and how we will use it to get things done.  Most the companies I have been a part of go to great cost to have the right dashboards, data and instant reports. Make meetings an opportunity for your team to use their unique data sets to highlight various perspectives of a decision. Don’t use meetings to rehash by reporting on data everyone already has access to. 

Boring practice 3: asking for opinions as a prelude to telling us what we are going to do. If you need to pull us together to give a directive just give the directive and some context for it. Don’t ask for opinions if you don’t plan to alter your decision (because you have already made a decision).  On the other hand if you have options in mind and want some feedback on them ask away – need help in how to do this?  Watch reruns of Star Trek to see how captain Jean-Luc Picard pulled feedback from his line officers.  Then have everyone watch the same Star Trek scene to see how to give feedback.  (There are other options but as a Trekky since the 60s I like Jean-Luc.)

Boring practice 4: rambling on about the need for employee engagement without providing an opportunity for feedback.  Seriously any time I hear leaders complain about the lack of employee engagement I simply want to record the session – then play it back with the understanding that I am about to let them hear why the reason for poor employee engagement.  If you see me in the room with my Recorder Pro app ready to go you will know why.

Boring practice 5: announcing new policies destined to needlessly hamper the productivity of every department because one person won’t exercise common sense. Do you really need to hide behind a policy to correct the misdeeds of one or two employees?  My favorite example of this is when the company pulled back all its company issued credit cards because one sales person could not seem to complete their usage reports. We all had to pull cash advances for our travel – it was a nightmare. Go yank the chain of the offender don’t penalize your peak performers.

Boring practice 6: showing us a power point slide presentation containing 45 slides with 8 pt font and then reading each slide. Please learn how to give a presentation. There are plenty of self-study helps on the internet.  Just because you just stepped into your new CEO role or president role doesn’t mean you are exempt from developing better communication skills. You have not arrived – you have just started your journey.  A little humility and a learning posture will go a long way. 

Boring practice 7: arguing with your department’s nemesis while blaming them for your inability to meet your goals. I have sat in meetings almost as entertaining as an MMA fight. Two Vice Presidents went after each other like fighting cats. Unfortunately our employees were not amused they were filled with anxiety.  The result of the VP rant was that the employees  quick offering their insights and became siloed from one another across departments.  If you need to have one of those intense conversations do it off-line.

Boring practice 8: announcing the time limitations of the meeting then going over the allotted time to discuss the need for discipline in execution. This is not hard to understand. If you are the exception to every rule you propose then everyone will follow your example.  Then if you don’t like how things are going it is strongly recommended you look in the mirror for the reason things are becoming FUBAR. (If you don’t know what the acronym stands for ask one of the more experienced managers in the plant or office.)

Boring practice 9: introducing a consultant who then spends 45 minutes trying to convince us of his qualifications.  The better approach is simply to engage your qualifications by leading the meeting, or exercise, or training.  Please vet your consultants – work with them so that they don’t violate boring practice 1.

The bottom line is that leaders should treat people like they have the insight, wisdom, and drive for mastery that makes for an enduring great company or organization.  Expect people to work at their best. Reward the top performers. Discipline the poor performers. Have fun. Make 2014 a year of superior vision, inspiration and execution – don’t be boring.

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