Monthly Archives: January 2013

People – the cost of treating them as costs

20130129-154842.jpg A headline in the business section of a national newspaper recently caught my attention. It read: “Company reports rise in profits despite employee numbers increasing”. The inference seemed to be that the company employees had no role to play in the company’s success; in fact it appeared to suggest that company profits might have been even higher were it not for the increase in the number of employees. While one might be tempted to blame sloppy editing I think there is a lot to be considered in the thinking behind this type of narrative. Is the underlying motto “Maximise profits and minimise employees”? Think about this before answering. Some commentators might like to soften the language by replacing “minimise” with “optimise” but the tenet is basically the same.

I detect a worrying shift in business language since the onset of the recession. There has been a tendency to revert to a Command and Control view of management where employees are expected to be motivated by the fact that “at least they have a job”. This is hardly sustainable in the long run. Of course, companies need clear direction and tighter cost control in these circumstances but does this mean that employees should now be seen purely as costs? Does it have to be like this is a recession? I would argue that of course it doesn’t. In fact, during a recession, you need employees to be even more empowered, more committed and more engaged. In addition, you won’t want to lose them when things start to pick up and you really need them to grow the business. Your competitors, who will also be growing, will very happily take these experienced employees away from you (probably without even offering extra money, just a better place to work).

I believe that managers may be tempted to avoid the people management aspects of their jobs in favour of task management. In other words, a return to the comfort zone. But, here’s the point, it’s during the tough times that the real leaders emerge; leaders who can deliver the bad news but still bring their staff with them, provide clear vision and actually increase loyalty. Unfortunately we may have to wait for the recession to be over before we will be able to see the fruits of their labours.

In a nutshell, you should grasp the opportunity to be the leader that your employees deserve. They will stand by you in the good times if you stand by them in the bad times. Tough decisions have to be made but that doesn’t mean you have to be tough on people. Treat them as assets, not costs.

Meetings – A Sanity Check

ImageOk, it’s important that I begin by saying that I believe meetings (in general) to be important in business. And, just to be clear, I’m not looking at the usual one to one meetings here; I’m dealing with the larger (team) meetings that are now part of everyday organizational life – usually punctuated by Powerpoint presentations and minute-taking. Meetings are there to provide an opportunity for teams to share knowledge, to strengthen interdependencies and, overall, to have better informed decision-making. In practice however, many meetings are unproductive, seen as time-wasters and generate more conflict than synergies. I’m not going to look at how to make meetings more effective – there is sufficient, although generally ignored, advice on this topic. What I really wanted to look at briefly is the decision-making process we use when deciding to have a meeting and press the “Invite” button.

It’s important to have the right meetings, with the right people, dealing with the right issues. Otherwise you might be responsible for wasting a lot of valuable resources in the form of people’s time. Even those regular meetings that are are in your calendar, the monthly/weekly/daily(!) update meetings should be sanity checked at regular intervals to ensure that they are still fulfilling a need. Regular scheduled meetings can often remain long after their “best before” date. They can remain in place when all of the original meeting members have been replaced over time, the original focus is lost and the meeting seems to be there for reasons that no-one can really articulate (Skinner might well give a wry smile). Meetings with titles such as “Strategic Review” can become entirely operational with the agenda being no more than an aspirational list of to-do items.

It’s important therefore to take a long hard look at the meetings you arrange and confirm that they are not just there by force of habit or a remnant of how some previous management team ran the business.

The next time you are about to set up a meeting,  stop first and ask yourself a few questions.

  1. Do you need a meeting to achieve your aims? Ask yourself this question twice!
  2. Are you clear on the purpose of the meeting? What are the desired outcomes? Use the following as a check by completing the phrase  – “If the meeting is successful then……..”
  3. Are the agenda items aligned with the purpose of the meeting? What is superfluous? What is missing?
  4. Are you clear about what your role will be at the meeting?
  5. Are you clear about who needs to attend? Treat each invite as a valuable resource that you are taking away from other value-adding activities.
  6. Are you clear about what each invitee will bring to the meeting and/or take away from the meeting?
  7. Have you allocated the right amount of time for the meeting? (Or have you just clicked “one hour” because its the default?)

Sanity checking your meeting should be an ongoing activity. The hidden cost of meetings can be enormous if they are unproductive so, before you even start, make sure you know what you’re meeting will deliver.

As for the efficient running of meetings – that’s another day’s work!

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