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Tips for better meetings: Go smartphone cold turkey, and keep them short Add to ...

Sixteen quick-hit tips you won’t want to miss, curated by our management columnist.

Mike Figliuolo was flabbergasted when he joined a new team and learned that the monthly divisional meeting ran from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. – yes, 14 hours. But his quiet rebellion was quickly joined by others equally frustrated at the foolishness, and his actions hold three lessons that might help you to orchestrate your own shorter meetings.

At the initial session, when his one-hour slot rolled around, he gave just a one-paragraph update: “Everything is green except Project Flurgenburger. That one is one week behind on implementation. We’re adding a few consultant hours to get us back on track and we should be green again within two weeks. I don’t have any current decisions that require input from the group, so I’m good to go. That’s all I’ve got.”

When he was asked to walk them through his other projects, the founder of Thoughtleaders LLC recalls on his corporate blog saying that he already had – everyone knew what he was working on and it was all on target for the various measurement metrics. “I’m not going to burn everyone’s time going over things that are on track,” he told them.

As you can imagine, the next month, everyone else followed his lead, focusing on variances. And that’s what you should do at meetings, he insists:

Manage by exception. If a project is on target, don’t talk about it beyond that. If somebody needs a deeper understanding of a metric or project, handle that outside the meeting without wasting everyone else’s time.

Focus on the decision at hand. You don’t need to rehash all the background during the staff meeting – send that out beforehand. Spend your valuable meeting time discussing the pros and cons of the recommendation and making a decision.

Stop having staff meetings. “See if you can convince folks to hold meetings by exception. If a metric is out of line or you need to make a decision, convene a meeting. Recurring meetings can lead to lazy behaviours,” he writes.

Management professor Michael Roberto, however, sees a different role for meetings, after reviewing research from psychologist Kevin Dunbar that found the most creative and greatest discoveries in four microbiology labs came at regularly scheduled lab meetings when individual researchers shared their latest findings and most difficult setbacks. When they worked together to find a solution, inspiration boiled over.

He writes on his blog that to make this type of meeting worthwhile, you have to be willing to share your work process, not just your outputs. “You have to admit what you do not know, and you have to be willing to ask for help. In other words, you have to have a very safe climate in which all attendees are comfortable sharing these types of issues with others, and in which they are willing to make themselves a bit vulnerable. Unfortunately, that’s often not the case in many meetings,” he observes.

Two more meeting tips, from consultants Bob Frisch and Cary Greene on Harvard Business Review blogs:

– Before a meeting, tell your team that silence denotes agreement. If people don’t speak out against a direction the group is taking, they will be supporting it. And enforce that: If someone tries to buttonhole you after the meeting to take a different course, tell them they missed their chance.

– If people still seem hesitant to voice their opinions, take anonymous polls during meetings. Ask everyone to write down questions or concerns on index cards, place them in a bowl, and read them out without using names.

Marketing and the death of gender

Online searches of Getty Images for photos of dads changing diapers increased seven-fold in the past three years. It’s a reminder that gender roles are more fluid these days than when many marketers started their careers, and they need to adapt. Marketing consultant Rohit Bhargava suggests on his blog that “the death of gender” means:

– You need to rethink gender roles in your imagery. Seek more fully evolved images illustrating new gender roles and relationships to influence your customers.

– Expand your target market, as Harley Davidson did a decade ago when it moved from viewing women as scantily clad marketing props to courting them as potential customers. “What if you could double your target market overnight, simply by thinking more broadly about who your customers really are?” he asks.

– Make gender irrelevant in promoting your product. No more pink and blue. No more using “he” to discuss your customer. As gender roles evolve, so should your marketing.

Today’s Best Read: 18 Months without a Smartphone

While more and more people ditch their landline for a smartphone, writer and graphic designer Jenna Woginrich went in the opposite direction. “I’ve been clean a year and a half now, and I’m doing fine. I get plenty of work, I don’t miss invitations, and I’m no longer scared of my own thoughts. These are not small victories in a world where constant communication isn’t just a convenient accessory – it’s a second skin,” she writes in The Guardian.

Her story will make you think.

Closing Tips

Stop making lists, advises consultant Alan Weiss, not just long daily to-do lists but also bucket lists, which make you feel like a failure if you fail to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Focus on two priority results for each day, personal or professional, and keep them realistic.

Make low-risk decisions quickly, says executive Karin Hurt.

– Do you mention “core competencies” on your résumé? “You do not need that horrible piece of jargon on your résumé, and its presence there instantly makes hiring managers’ eyes glaze over,” warns HR consultant Alison Green. Replace it with “profile” or “highlights.”

– Here’s a wild thought from communications specialist David Grossman: Make the performance review a chance to inspire.

– The secret to getting more women at the top, reports workplace columnist Jena McGregor, may be to give fathers paternity leave. The highest 10 countries for women in the top ranks have 11 times more paternity leave days than those in the bottom 10 countries, a recent study found. Countries with mandated maternity leave benefits were not linked with a greater share of women at the top while more paternity leave was strongly correlated with the percentage of women on boards.

– At the end of today, write down what you will do tomorrow. This “shutdown ritual” will shut down your anxiety, and allow you to enjoy your evening.

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, 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 work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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