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Dealing with a delinquent boss, how to become mega-wealthy, getting responses to your e-mail … and more

You can improve your meetings with one word: Jellyfish.


Yes, jellyfish, according to consultants Bob Frisch and Cary Greene. Too often in meetings we are led astray when somebody goes on a tangent and diverts everyone's attention to a matter that is only marginally related to the designated topic. "Then another person jumps in to elaborate, and the two start talking in detail about issues relevant only to them. Other attendees begin to tune out. Now 20 minutes have passed – and you haven't made any progress," they write on Harvard Business Review blogs.

That's when you or anyone else on the team needs to say "Jellyfish." It's not an incidental word. They note that jellyfish are funny-looking creatures with no brain, no blood, and no heart that have drifted along on ocean currents for millions of years.

So to prevent the meeting from drifting – and keep your intervention light and humorous – build a team culture in which the word jellyfish is a reminder that the meeting is losing its focus and the pair should take their discussion "offline" – discussing it later with each other. The word jellyfish could be part of a sentence, like "I think we're having a jellyfish moment" or "Gee, did I just see a jellyfish swim by?"

The idea is to make the intervention safe and accessible – anyone can speak up, rather than fume. It creates awareness of the situation. "Whenever groups meet, people inevitably drift off topic or delve into the weeds, often unwittingly. In decades of helping clients conduct better meetings, we've found 'jellyfish' to be one of the most effective ways of keeping the discussion on target," they conclude.

2. Dear Alison: My boss …

Alison Green is the Dear Abby of the work world, fielding questions from her blog readers about matters going wrong. Here's a recent question that may sound familiar: What do you do about a boss who waits until the last minute to give a subordinate things she needs to meet her own deadlines.

Ms. Green suggests focusing on what you can control in such situations:

Be very clear in advance about the tradeoffs flowing from delay. She gives this example: "In order to have this fully proofed and in the mail in time for the content to still be relevant to people, I need your piece by Tuesday. If we get it on Wednesday or later, we can still get it to the printer in time but will need to skip the usual proofreading. If it's Friday or later, we'll be giving recipients hardly any time before the offer expires." Then, if you get it on Thursday, you would say, "I want to remind you that because our deadline was Tuesday, we're going to skip the usual proofreading in order to get this in the mail on time." Of course, the boss may ignore you and insist the proofing occur anyway but then be clear of the consequences – what will now be delayed.

When a deadline is missed, follow up immediately, again giving the consequences. "I know you're swamped. I was hoping to get X from you by yesterday. At this point, we can still get it out next week but I'd need to get it from you today. If that's not realistic, can we talk about how to proceed?"

Are there other ways to get out of waiting for a delinquent boss? Ms. Green says you might say: "I know you're swamped – how about I draft this and then run it by you so that you just need to sign off?"

It may be difficult, but try raising the big picture pattern. For example: "I know that you're juggling tons of things and can't always meet the internal deadlines I'm setting for my projects. Is there a better way for me to navigate that? A few times, it's led to me getting dinged for delays, so I'm hoping that there might be a better way for me to approach it."

Suggest that the boss tell any other parties suffering from the delay – often it's the boss one-level higher in the chain – that you missed your deadline not because you made an oversight but because of conflicting priorities.

"Ultimately, your manager may make the call that Priority X is more important than your Priority Y, even if it means that Y is delayed or otherwise negatively impacted, but the keys are to make sure that she's making those calls with full information about the tradeoffs, and that she's making it clear to you and her own boss that she's doing that," Ms. Green concludes.

3. How to become mega-wealthy

Here's how to become mega-wealthy, according to business strategist John Spence:

You will never get mega-wealthy working for someone else. You must own the company or at least part of it.

You will never get mega-wealthy selling your time. You need a product.

The best products are digital. The reason? While you have development costs, after that there is no manufacturing cost.

There needs to be a large enough audience to bring in significant revenue. "Depending on the price of your product, that target audience could be anywhere from a few thousand people, to a billion or more," he says.

You have to create a product that is unique and compelling – highly valuable to your target customer. It must also be difficult, if not impossible, to copy. And, of course, you must be able to deliver it flawlessly to the marketplace.

You have to be able to sell – to customers, investors, and your staff.

4. Quick hits

– When you want a response to an e-mail, indicate that desire in the subject line, professional organizer Janine Adams tells Fast Company.

– Here's a counterintuitive thought: Blogger and former tech chief executive officer Penny Herscher notes that at a time when the average holding period of a stock by a mutual fund is 270 days, shareholder activists have become long-term holders, since they need time to drive the change they want. High-profile activist Jesse Cohn on average holds positions for 2.5 years.

– Marketing consultant Tom Wanek urges you to determine whether you are targeting relational or transactional customers with your marketing messages. Relational customers think long term, consider today's transaction to be one in a series of many, and fear making a poor choice. Transactional customers think short term, care only about today's transaction, and fear paying more than they had to.

The average visitor spends less than 10 seconds before making a decision to stick around your website, so when you put content into several slides – an image carousel, as it's known – you risk them not seeing it, entrepreneur Monika Beck says.

Reorganizations should advance strategy and drive business – not just cut costs, counsels the Boston Consulting Group.

– And in closing, writer Ursula K. Le Guin has noted, "There are no right answers to wrong questions."

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter