Monthly Archives: October 2012

My Fault, Your Fault, Our Fault

Ever since the breaking news of Jimmy Saviles alleged offences I have been reflecting with sadness. I worked in Stoke Mandeville Hospital and other local health services for a short period in the 70s and 80s while he lived there – in the nurses sick bay, for goodness sake –  and was one of those who “knew” and did nothing.  I can barely describe how appalling that makes me feel – although we did not “know” anything at all, we simply knew he was someone who made us uncomfortable and witnessed some odd behaviours like an unusually high interest in the younger and more vulnerable nurses and dreadful social skills with anyone other than the vulnerable or the star struck. I never saw this man do anything other than be odd, but I am left wondering why I did not put the facts together.

Back then, being touched up in the pub, wolf whistled in the street, and having leering men make unfunny jokes about sex or bosoms at parties was par for the course. It was expected, unchallenged and if we made a fuss we were lesbians. I was a feminist, still am a feminist, and make no apology for that even though my interpretation of feminism has developed over the years and bears little resemblance to my 70s feminism – but if I am claiming the political and moral high ground how can I explain not twigging some behaviours that were, if what we hear is true, going on in front of me? And now it is all breaking, it is so obvious that I am stunned by my own stupidity.

It was an era when children, especially disadvantaged children, were routinely dismissed as liars  or simply ignored, women were routinely patronised and abused, and the disabled were still called cripples and expected to stay indoors. The culture of celebrity was in the ascendence and the Telly was King. People were beginning to seriously worship the famous average and the famous odd. Throw some serious money from fund raising into the mix and we begin to see the shape of this picture.

This man was courted by people because he could get them dosh. He solved money problems for institutions and they grovelled for that. The institutions and the people running them dissolved the usual failsafes, ignored the usual safety measures, fell at the feet of that potent sludge of money and fame. The rest of us were too busy working to pay much more attention than t0 notice the guys odd manner and feel repulsed. This begins to look even less satisfactory the more I reflect.

We are a little complacent now – we see the paralympics and marvel at how “the disabled” now have the same opportunities to compete and win as “the able bodied” – we don’t really question whether that impacts on disabled people who just want to live an ordinary life, we just stand open mouthed at crip power. We reel back in horror at some of the “antique” words that were commonplace a few years ago, like “nigger”, “dyke” (although that has now been wonderfully reclaimed!), “spastic”, “dolly bird” (a personal pet hate), and we turn our noses up at “black coffee”, the term of endearment from strangers such as “love” or “dear”, and find new forms of offence to be taken every week, new words and phrases with which to struggle and stammer over. No offence.

But have we moved on that much? We worshipped a rich-girl-made-good when Diana died – she never had the opportunity or perhaps even the desire to just be a woman. I used to wish she would break wind savagely when she got out of a car in one of those  fab dresses just to break the spell.  We follow the slebs lives slavishly, young women have surgery and starve themselves to be like the famous average and people line up to be humiliated on national TV in the hope of being famous for a while. We profess horror when a footballer says “black” to a black man but still have room for the BNP leader to tweet an incitement to harass a gay couple for winning a court case. Young women are still less likely to follow a career in Physics than their male colleagues. Charmless rich men still trot about with tall totty with boob jobs and bleach jobs, wide smiles and silent acceptance.

I think what I am saying is that the revelations about the alleged offences committed by some famous men over the past few years – probably decades – has caused me to take a long hard look at how we have all been living. Perhaps doing that can help to make sure we reduce the risks of abuses happening in the future. Abuse isn’t just about force, or about sex, or even about  violence. It is about violation and lack of respect. It is about reducing people to objects, or to things that we can make use of – the vulnerable, the young, the minorities, the poor. People with little or no voice. People who have been in prison, people with mental health issues, the homeless, people with learning disabilities, many many more – a long list of groups and individuals who have been – are – abused without consequence. When was the last time you were enraged when you heard about a homeless person being beaten up? Properly enraged?

Until we  take the time and the effort to see people as people, human beings, with worth and value, abuses will be a risk, and we will open the papers again soon to find ourselves shocked about another story of inhumanity, perhaps a story about human trafficking, about an “honour” killing, about something dramatic enough to excite the papers. We will not see the wifebeater next door, the abusive Father and his submissive daughter, the homeless guy in the shop doorway, the celebrity with his own set of keys to a place that offers asylum to some of the  most dysfunctional and voiceless people in the UK.

Nothing says I Love You like a well run meeting…..

So, you have recruited the best, and you are paying them well. You have a business to develop, and standards to raise. You are leading a team. How do you really screw that up?

Create meetings that don’t matter, allow people to arrive late and faff, and fail to tell people if they are cancelled.

You want to get the best from your teams, to create opportunities for them to thrive, to deliver and to grow. You need to meet from time to time to review, develop, touch base, share and cascade information, to brainstorm, to hang out, and to motivate. So, you have opportunities to value and reach out to your teams. If you fail to use that opportunity, you don’t deserve it.

Meetings are fab, and a great place to get things done and decisions made. They are also the best place to lose the good will of your teams, to send absolutely the wrong message, and to poison your relationships. Get it right, and they are brilliant. Get it wrong, and they are toxic.

Even in the best companies not every meeting can be a hit. However, if there is a clear, up-front goal, a visible agenda, and the players know the difference between a constructive tangent and a distraction positive results are inevitable. Are you willing to speak up if you see ways to improve? Don’t let yourself get comfortable with the status quo. It only takes a moment to plug the energy leaks.

                                           MEETING EFFECTIVELY

1. Don’t Meet. Yes, you heard me!

Avoid a meeting if the same information could be covered in a memo, e-mail or brief report. One of the keys to having more effective meetings is differentiating between the need for one-way information dissemination and two-way information sharing. To disseminate information you can use a variety of other communication media, such as sending an e-mail or posting the information on your company’s intranet. If you want to be certain you have delivered the right message, you can schedule a meeting to simply answer questions about the information you have sent. By remembering to ask yourself, “Is a meeting the best way to handle this?” you’ll cut down on wasted meeting time and restore your group’s belief that the meetings they attend are necessary.    However, when deciding whether or not a meeting is needed remember The Myth Of The Paper Trail: We’ve all heard the myth of the “paperless office,” but looking at the mountain of paper that’s engulfing your workspace, how many of us actually believe it? In fact, studies have shown that the volume of paper produced by businesses has increased rather than diminished in recent years. Have you ever written a memo or report, then printed off 10 copies to give to your colleagues for feedback? You end up with 10 edited copies that you have to try and integrate into one cohesive document. Wouldn’t it save everyone time (and paper) if you called a meeting with your team, collaborated with the live document, and made your changes then and there?

2. Set Objectives for the Meeting
Set objectives before the meeting. Before planning the agenda for the meeting, write down a phrase or several phrases to complete the sentence: By the end of the meeting, I want the group to… Depending on the focus of your meeting, your ending to the sentence might include phrases such as: …be able to list the top three features of our newest service, …have generated three ideas for increasing our sales, …understand the way we do business with customers, …leave with an action plan, …decide on a new widget supplier, or …solve the design problem.

One benefit of setting objectives for the meeting is to help you plan the meeting. The more concrete your meeting objectives, the more focused your agenda will be. A second important benefit of having specific objectives for each meeting is that you have a concrete measure against which you can evaluate that meeting. Were you successful in meeting the objectives? Why or why not? Is another meeting required? Setting meeting objectives allows you to continuously improve your effective meeting process.

No clear goal invariably results in circular thinking, being “lost but making good time,” misusing the time for irrelevant details or pet distractions – a classic case of the “hours are lost while the minutes are taken.” Set the agenda in advance, gaining consensus on purpose.

If people drift off topic but nobody says “refocus” or gently challenges the speaker to tie comments back to the stated purpose it is a poorly led meeting and has a high risk of failure – it will also lose good will. Diversity of opinion is helpful when it leads to creative insight, but lengthy tangents often stem from unclear direction or not taking the agenda seriously. A flip chart page labeled “Parking Lot” can be used to quickly record side issues (I love this one – and it always works!) A gentle intervention is “Tie that in … how does that relate to our topic?”

3. Provide an Agenda Beforehand
Provide all participants with an agenda before the meeting starts. Your agenda needs to include a brief description of the meeting objectives, a list of the topics to be covered and a list stating who will address each topic and for how long. When you send the agenda, you should include the time, date and location of the meeting and any background information participants will need to know to hold an informed discussion on the meeting topic. What’s the most important thing you should do with your agenda? Follow it closely!

4. Assign Meeting Preparation
Give all participants something to prepare for the meeting, and that meeting will take on a new significance to each group member. For problem-solving meetings, have the group read the background information necessary to get down to business in the meeting. Ask each group member to think of one possible solution to the problem to get everyone thinking about the meeting topic. For example, to start a sales meeting on a positive note, have all participants recall their biggest success since the last meeting and ask one person to share his success with the group. For less formal meetings or brainstorming sessions, ask a trivia question related to the meeting topic and give the correct answer in the first few minutes of the meeting. These tips are excellent ways to warm up the group and direct participants’ attention to the meeting objectives.

5. Assign Actions
Don’t finish any discussion in the meeting without deciding how to act on it. Listen for key comments that flag potential action items and don’t let them pass by without addressing them during your meeting. Statements such as We should really…, that’s a topic for a different meeting…, or I wonder if we could… are examples of comments that should trigger action items to get a task done, hold another meeting or further examine a particular idea. Assigning tasks and projects as they arise during the meeting means that your follow-through will be complete. Addressing off-topic statements during the meeting in this way also allows you to keep the meeting on track. By immediately addressing these statements with the suggestion of making an action item to examine the issue outside of the current meeting, you show meeting participants that you value their input as well as their time.

If the meeting is not well managed outcomes drift and results are nebulous, or worse, wasted. If there is no accurate, written record of decisions made, clear consensus and accountability on action steps, or no follow-up from prior work, the bottom falls out. Make sure you verify all agreements, making sure there’s a reasonable “by when.”

6. Examine Your Meeting Process
Assign the last few minutes of every meeting as time to review the following questions: What worked well in this meeting? What can we do to improve our next meeting? Every participant should briefly provide a point-form answer to these questions. Answers to the second question should be phrased in the form of a suggested action. For example, if a participant’s answer is stated as Bernie was too long-winded, ask the participant to re-phrase the comment as an action. Remember – don’t leave the meeting without assessing what took place and making a plan to improve the next meeting!

                                                   

   LEADING A MEETING   – Lead that meeting! Grab it and steer it and use it!

Want to lead your next group meeting, but aren’t sure what to do first? Follow these guidelines and it’ll be easier than you think!

1. Schedule the Meeting

  • When scheduling your meeting, consider the information that must be covered, then allocate an appropriate amount of time. Don’t try to cram too many agenda topics into a 30-minute meeting. You’ll end up going overtime and attendees will become frustrated. On the other hand, don’t schedule too much time or the meeting may become slow-moving and get off-topic. My advice? Being realistic is the best way to allocate an appropriate amount of time for a meeting.
  • Don’t get caught up on halves and wholes. Many people will automatically allocate either 30 minutes or a full hour when scheduling a meeting simply because these quantities of time are common and expected. Schedule a 40-minute meeting if that’s the amount of time it takes to cover the subject. Don’t feel pressured to fill an hour if you don’t have an hour of issues to cover.
  • Carefully consider who should be attending the meeting. Only invite those whose attendance is absolutely necessary. If there’s someone who should know what happened in the meeting, but whose attendance isn’t absolutely necessary, send them a quick e-mail outlining the outcomes of the meeting. All of us already attend too many meetings. These individuals will be thankful for that one extra meeting they DIDN’T have to attend that week.

2. Create the Meeting Information
When sending invitations to a meeting, ask attendees if they have any agenda item requests. Once the agenda items have been requested, the agenda must be created at least one day before the meeting is scheduled. This way, you can distribute the agenda to all of the attendees before the meeting begins.

3. Distribute the Meeting Information
When participants have the agenda and access to background information before the meeting, it gives them sufficient time to prepare for any discussions or decisions that will occur during the meeting. This also saves time during the meeting. If attendees come to the meeting prepared, less time will be spent answering background information questions and more time for discussing the important issues. When distributing the agenda, remind participants that it’s their responsibility to come prepared to the meeting!

4. Lead the Meeting. Take responsibility. Step into the limelight!

  • Start your meeting on time! Even if all the attendees haven’t arrived, begin when you said you would. Adhering to the schedule sends out a message that you’re serious about the meeting and expect attendees to arrive on time. If your meetings often start late and run over time, it doesn’t have to be this way! It’s time to take your meetings more seriously!
  1.  Commit to starting and finishing your meetings on time.
  2.  Expect attendees to be punctual and the meeting to finish on schedule. Intolerance for tardiness will set a behavioural standard for the group, and participants will likely conform if expectations are well-defined and consistently enforced. Listed next are some tips to help you and your group stay on time.
  3.  Send a reminder e-mail thirty minutes before the meeting begins and encourage meeting participants to arrive on time.
  4.  Ensure that you begin the meeting at the scheduled time. If you’ve encouraged others to be prompt, don’t embarrass yourself by showing up late.
  5. Close the meeting room doors at the scheduled time. There’s nothing like late attendees to disrupt the flow of a meeting!
  6. Consider posting a note outside the door stating the meeting’s time. This may seem harsh, but it clearly communicates how serious you are about keeping your meetings on time.
  7.  If the tardy participants don’t consider your meeting important enough to arrive on time, perhaps they shouldn’t have committed to attend at all.
  8.  If your meeting starts a little late, you should still finish the meeting at the scheduled time. It’s inconsiderate to assume the participants’ schedules revolve around your meeting, so wrap up the meeting when you promised.
  9.  Consider creating a “latecomer jar” to which meeting participants must contribute £1 for each minute they arrive late to meetings. At the end of the week, you can buy muffins or doughnuts for everyone who attended the meeting… courtesy of the latecomers!
  • As the meeting begins, provide an overview of agenda items and introduce the overall objective of the meeting. This provides direction for the meeting and reinforces what needs to be accomplished during this time. Introduce each agenda item by mentioning who will speak next and what will be discussed.
  • As the meeting leader, you’re responsible for recording the meeting notes, whether it’s on an interactive whiteboard, flipchart or in a notebook. This will free participants from the burden of note-taking and encourage richer, more in-depth discussions.
  • It’s also your responsibility to keep the meeting on track. This means steering the meeting discussion in a way that fulfils the meeting objectives. If you have difficult personalities in the room or opposing views, this can be challenging! Try using sentences such as, “That’s a valid point, but doesn’t directly apply to this discussion. Perhaps we should schedule a separate meeting to address it fully.” Or, “It’s obvious there are some opposing views surrounding this issue. Perhaps our time would be best spent working towards a compromise. Any suggestions?” If a meeting becomes particularly heated, it’s best to address what’s possible in the meeting but consider hiring a professional facilitator for the next meeting – a neutral leader who’s trained to deal with high-pressure, high-conflict meetings.
  • Items that surface and must be addressed should be assigned during the meeting discussion. Assign a particular individual or group to follow-up on each action item. A deadline and priority level should also be assigned for the action items.

5. Wrap-up the Meeting

  • At the end of the meeting, the leader should review the action items, who’s responsible and by when. This way, everyone has a clear picture of who’s responsible for what when the meeting’s over.
  • Another item that should be addressed at the end of your meeting is the meeting process itself. Take a few moments at the end of the meeting to discuss what the group did well during the meeting and which areas need improving.
  • Once the meeting objective has been accomplished, adjourn the meeting. Even if it’s thirty minutes earlier than expected! Don’t continue meeting simply because that’s what the schedule dictates.

6. Provide the Meeting Information
After the meeting is over, send the meeting information to all the participants. Because you were responsible for note-taking during the meeting, you may be the only one who has this information after the meeting ends. Whether you provide the notes by e-mail or photocopied hand-outs, sharing this meeting information is vital for proper follow-up. It’s also a good idea to include a summary of all the action items assigned during the meeting. This acts as a reminder to all participants of who’s responsible for what and by when.

Remember…

It’s important to keep in mind that calling a meeting doesn’t always have to be a major production. Keep it brief, focus on the issue at hand, and concentrate on reaching a workable conclusion. Remember, scheduling a 15-minute meeting can be a lot more effective than three e-mails, two missed phone calls, and a paper report!

RIGHT – THAT’S THE ORGANISER SORTED. WHAT ABOUT THE ATTENDEES?

  Attend meetings well – impress your Boss!

Attending a meeting is an activity, not a passivity! Make sure your Boss remembers you for the right reasons!

  • Quickly review the agenda before heading to the meeting. It’s a good idea to remind yourself why you’re attending the meeting. Reviewing the agenda helps attendees be better prepared for the meeting and, in turn, will help focus the meeting, enable all of the agenda items to be covered and allow the meeting to finish on time!
  • Make your way to the meeting ten minutes before it actually begins. This will give you enough time to visit the washroom, pour a cup of coffee or deal with any issues that may come up along the way. Plus, you’ll get the best seat for the meeting!
  • Consider speaking up if the meeting organizer shows up late. There are several ways to do this tactfully without insulting anyone. For example, if the organizer consistently arrives ten minutes late to your weekly meetings, ask him if it would be more convenient to start 15 minutes later next week.
  • Try to ask only relevant questions during the meeting. If your comment isn’t directly related to the topic at hand, don’t mention it. Getting off track is one of the main reasons that meetings go over time. If your group can avoid getting off track, you’ll all spend less time in meetings.
  •  Leave the meeting when it was scheduled to end. When the organizer extended the invitation to meet, he stated when the meeting would finish. It was on this condition that you accepted the meeting and committed your time. If you have work to which you must attend, politely tell the organizer that you have to leave and excuse yourself from the meeting.

By acting on these ideas you can indicate how important punctual meetings are and how committed you are to making them work. Trust me, your Boss and the meeting organiser will remember you fondly if you follow the above steps!

      Make Meetings Fun! This goes for everyone who has to organise or attend meetings.

When the average employee is asked to attend another meeting during their busy day, the natural response is to run like the wind – or at least fake a “scheduling conflict.” It’s hard to imagine meetings being considered “fun.” But injecting a little fun into your meetings might be just the right thing to encourage participation and creativity.

No one will be required to recite knock-knock jokes, wear silly costumes (although I did once go to a meeting dressed as a Chuckle Brother – they were desperate times!!) or balance a spoon on their nose, but a little laughter can go a long way towards improving productivity and employee morale. Unless the meeting is scheduled to deliver bad news, why not try a few of these ideas?

  1. Most people learn by doing. Whenever possible, include hands-on activities, live demonstrations, field trips, games, role-playing, etc.
  2. Don’t be afraid to mix it up – variety is what keeps people interested.
  3. Bribery works! Organize contests to generate ideas and offer prizes to encourage participation. A little friendly competition can bring great results.
  4. If your meetings tend to be dominated by a few people, try passing out five pennies to each meeting attendee. Attendees must “spend” a penny each time they talk. And no borrowing allowed!
  5. Consider appointing a Director of Fun for meetings. The Director will be responsible for dreaming up participatory activities, bringing in additional fun materials (videos, comic strips, articles, snacks) that relate to the meeting topic. A different Director could be appointed for each meeting.
  6. For a fun change of pace, consider hosting a meeting in talk-show style. Have the speakers act as guests, attendees are audience members and the meeting facilitator can be the talk show host. The host will encourage the audience to ask questions and share their opinions on the speakers’ comments.

Having fun at work leads to a more enjoyable time and increased employee loyalty. It’s important to always provide employees with the caveat up front that they’re free to decide to what extent they wish to participate. Some employees will warm up more slowly to an unconventional meeting style than others. It’s not fun to have your meeting facilitator (or worse, your boss) breathing down your neck to hurry up and start enjoying yourself. People will participate when they’re comfortable and relaxed.

 Remember, laughter stimulates blood flow, strengthens the immune system, reduces levels of hormones that create stress, and reduces pain perception (this is especially important when you’re attending the sixth meeting of the day). Happy Meeting!

This is an extract from an Education and Development Workshop devised and delivered by Bernie Mayall for Mayall Management Ltd. Mayall Management Ltd devise bespoke educational experiences for your services and your organisations and deliver them, from Execs up to Domestics, there is education for all!

berniemayall@gmail.com     07757262380

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