“It’s easy to make great progress when you aren’t doing much in the first place,”
when commenting on the lift in performance experienced after tweaking the approach to running his organization’s weekly Operating Meeting.
The motivation was to stop wasting countless hours discussing philosophical and theoretical matters that had little-to-nothing to do with operations and that kept them from getting important work done in their operating meeting up to that point.
The point of his Haiku-like phrase is that it is not hard to run an organization better…but you do have to work at it.
Every meeting needs to be thought through to get clear why it is being held, what it is to produce, how it will be accomplished, and what outcomes are to be generated (see: How to Run a Great Meeting).
A good approach for Operating Meetings is for the organization’s leader (e.g., CEO, unit leader, initiative leader, project manager, etc.) to have each functional leader (e.g., head of engineering, head of marketing, etc.) present in literally just a few minutes:
When top leaders are informed, thinking critically, and engaged enough to provide guidance and direction, things tend to go pretty well. That is, things get done better, sooner, and more smoothly when leaders pay attention. This note describes an efficient way for top leaders to get and stay up-to-speed, see and understand what is going on, ask questions and think critically, develop a point-of-view, and provide advice and guidance on their organization’s most important functions, projects, and initiatives.
Nearly all of the things that cause activities and initiatives to go off track (see Kotter’s list of eight reasons initiatives fail) could be averted if someone in a position of authority had been involved enough to give guidance along the way. It is hard, though, for leaders to stay sufficiently engaged even in the most important activities and initiatives because it takes time and focused attention that is easily diverted to other urgent matters.
It Pays to Pay Attention
There are a lot of reasons why a given activity or initiative might be considered important. For example, it may be relatively large; risky; involve skills, technology, and methods that are new to the organization; have the potential for great leverage in terms of intellectual property development, revenue generation, cost savings, or skill development. When an activity or initiative is important, it is also important that the effort stays on track, on time, and on-budget!
The best way to ensure on track, on time and on-budget performance are for top leaders to regularly review with those responsible for completing the activity or initiative how things are going. Doing so provides an opportunity for:
Activity and initiative leaders to step back from the press of day-to-day in order to pull together a consolidated picture of what they are doing to share with others in a safe environment, to challenge their thinking, and to provide advice and counsel on strategy, focus, next steps, and to provide guidance, ideas, and resources that can be brought to bear so as to increase the odds of success.
Top leaders to stay in touch with what is going on with frontline activity. Any important activity (e.g., delivery, sales, development, marketing, strategic initiatives, etc.) should be reviewed regularly to keep leaders informed about what is going on and for leaders to efficiently provide guidance and direction, consolidate insights across activities, and to drive cross-sharing of resources, insights, and ideas in the best interest of the organization as a whole.
Informal communication on progress is not enough. Neither are occasional one-on-one chats. It is important that those in charge of the function or initiative need to be asked to prepare to brief others on their efforts in a scheduled forum where the activity or initiative is the only agenda. Even better is when others from across and outside the organization with a stake in performance or with relevant past experience and knowledge are also in attendance.
what we said we’d do
what we did
what we learned
what we plan to do next
Leaders set the tone for reviews to ensure that they serve their intended purpose (see: Review POAD) and that they are not done just for the sake of it and to be sure they do not become a “show and tell” exercise. Reviewers must make it safe for those whose work is being discussed to embrace the process and seek input from participants because what is being reviewed is what the organization does and deserves input from the best the organization as to offer.
Leaders ask questions to:
Draw out clarity
A review is an efficient and smart way for leaders to keep close to what is really going on and to increase the odds that important work gets done well. Reviewers must not look to find fault or assign blame. Instead, they strive to understand what is really going on and to find the best way to improve performance and learn the most.
Provide visibility for key staff.
Create high-stakes circumstances that push up performance.
Create a forum for executives to model the behavior they want others to emulate.
Reveal important lessons and insights to share with other teams and initiatives.
Reviews are successful when:
The Project Manager (PM) and the project team feel:
They have successfully stepped back from the press of the usual day-to-day to pull together what they are doing into a consolidated whole and shared it with a team of supportive professionals who themselves have reviewed advance materials, showed up, paid attention, participated, and supported the team by challenging its thinking, offering the best advice, and providing access to resources that can be helpful (such as written materials, outside experts, training, and time that will help improve performance).
That the preparation process, the review meeting itself, and the follow-up will help them achieve project objectives better, faster, and more smoothly.
Management is enlightened with respect to what was reviewed; specifically, what is working, what is not, and what needs to be done and learned as a result
The organization’s best ideas, thinking, resources, and skills have been brought to bear.
Supported, appreciated, enlightened, engaged, heard, and respected.
Appropriate next steps have been lined up in the face of the realities and understanding reached.
The PM understands and internalizes:
The group’s best thinking in terms of what can be done to most improve performance and/or lower risk and is committed to making that happen
The top few actions necessary to follow through
What others will specifically do to support these efforts.
An open discussion of status leads to the fertilization of ideas across the organization.
Top leaders collaborate in support of the PM on front-line work.
The work is completed successfully or it is going so well that reviews are no longer needed to ensure success!
When it is time to start planning but the top team is maxed-out just keeping up with operations, outside help may be just the thing. But what kind of help is best to get? Continue reading Four Kinds of Help→
It is well known that firms with inadequate systems for managing risk are liable to suffer serious breakdowns that interrupt operations and cost the companies dearly in terms of fines, remediation efforts, and damage to their reputations. But firms’ risk management systems are only as good as the data fed into them. What of firms that pay attention to the wrong metrics, employ error-prone data-collection practices, or rely on otherwise misleading data to manage their risks?
Better Risk Data: Regulatory Mandate and Strategic Opportunity, an article written by Promontory Financial Group’s Ray Strecker, Yoko Otani, and Stacy Coleman, focuses on U.S. and global banking regulators’ increasing expectation that financial firms bolster their risk management by improving how they collect, manage, and assess data. But these best data practices for the financial sector are broadly applicable to firms, in every industry, that need to negotiate complex risks. This article demonstrates that firms should incorporate forward-looking, data-driven risk assessments into their routines of doing business.
Bank regulators like the Financial Stability Oversight Council, Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, Federal Reserve Board, and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency have suggested that financial firms need to improve how they aggregate and report risk data. Many of these banks are attempting to meet the regulators’ requirements by building a series of one-off processes and systems. That approach can lead to a patchwork of partial capabilities that may leave firms farther adrift from the goal of having the authoritative, consistent information they need.
Most leaders find it difficult to adequately prepare— assuming they even know how — to facilitate a high-powered, executive offsite. The truth is that it is nearly impossible for a leader to facilitate and participate in, let alone also lead, their own offsite. A better strategy is to hire experts who use proven approaches, tools, and methods to prepare and facilitate a great annual leadership team offsite meeting.
The ten tips and resource links below will help the thoughtful leader to get out in-front of the planning process and make clear to the board, top team, and employees that the organization is in good hands and well-led.
Plan the Plan
Inform the board and the management team that it is time to work on plans for the coming year.
The management team can be as small as three to five members or as many as 15 to 20.
If there are more than seven, pick three to five to serve as an executive committee.
Prepare a time-line of steps, outputs, and review points.
Assign a process leader who will manage planning as a project.
Schedule offsite session and line up facilities and facilitation support.