Category: Ask Paul

Ask Paul: Engagement

Ask Paul: My question is regarding meetings that are for a larger group of people (15-20) and how to maintain engagement. Do you suggest different strategies than when you are working with a smaller group of people? I plan to buy your book, so if there is a particular chapter you’d recommend I review, that would be helpful information. – Maxine
Dear Maxine, thank you for the question and for purchasing the book. As a start, I’d recommend the chapter on leading meetings, particularly the section beginning on page 151: Creating a quality experience for everyone.
These are the variables that seem to impact engagement:

Keep the room and furniture as close and as intimate as possible. People feel safe and act differently when they are physically close to each other.
Make sure each agenda item warrants the attention of the entire group.
Remind people that even if they don’t have direct involvement in a particular topic, you value their thinking on each one.
Encourage people to listen and help out with the process of the meeting: keeping the conversation on track, inviting people in who haven’t yet spoken, listening for commitments to be captured, and thinking about the best way to wrap-up the conversation.
Manage the conversation for broad participation. Tell people that getting a lot of different voices into each discussion is part of your intent. Ask for permission to call on people to get this level of participation.
Give groups of three or four a chance to chat for six minutes on a topic before opening it up to the larger group when it makes sense to give them time to develop their thoughts as a preparation step for the large group conversation.
Minimize the use of PowerPoint, as this usually leads to less discussion and more distracted attention for people.

Good luck,

Ask Paul: Do we always need an agenda?

ASK PAUL: One of the consistent complaints in our organization is the lack of an agenda for our meetings. Seems to me like it depends on size of the group and what will be discussed. Would appreciate your thoughts. Thank you, Denise
Hi Denise, during a recent training program a gentleman approached me after we discussed meetings and shared: I came here from the military and made a promise to myself that I would not attend a meeting unless an agenda was sent out prior to the meeting. I quickly learned that I would never attend a meeting! 
So, you are not alone in wondering about whether agendas are necessary or overrated.
Perhaps, the most useful way to think about this would be to start with the default being: NO AGENDA since that is the norm anyway. Then the question becomes, under what circumstances do we add an agenda?
These are my criteria:

If it is a full day meeting, a request for agenda items and subsequent list of topics, outcomes, and time allocated is important.
If people need to prepare on one or more of the agenda topics by reading, reflecting, or discussing with their own groups before the meeting, they need adequate time to do so. Expecting to put anything in front of people for the first time during the meeting and get the full value of their thinking and experience does not make sense.
If you have attendees for whom English is their second language, it is courteous to give them time to think about the agenda before you meet.
If you have people who might want to opt out of the meeting or only participate for certain sections, an agenda is helpful for them to plan their day. Plus, if certain topics require some members being there, an agenda noting this would help.
If your meetings frequently run over or the conversation routinely gets off-track, adding a visible agenda with topic, outcomes, and timelines will definitely be worth doing.

You do not need an agenda when it’s a project review meeting and everyone knows exactly what will be discussed.
You do not need an agenda for meeting of less than two hours when you completely trust the person calling the meeting to be prepared and make very good use of your time.
One last caution: Not sending an agenda out before the meeting does not mean the leader gets a free pass on designing and thinking about the best way to conduct the meeting!   Good luck Denise.

Ask Paul: Alignment

ASK PAUL: Hi, I love the six most common meeting processes that you outline in your book. Could you say some more about the process for gaining alignment? Our group often leaves a meeting and then later second-guesses the decision that was made. – Sasha, Rio de Janeiro
Hello Sasha, Rio is one of our favorite cities. Thanks for the question.
Alignment is an important process because higher levels of achievement and job satisfaction can happen when groups talk long enough and openly enough to get everyone on board.
The most common place to check for alignment is whenever you are wrapping up or closing a topic. Stated simply, it’s checking in with the group by asking this question: “Is everyone okay with where we ended up on this?”
Alignment is also one of the conversational processes that supervisors and managers must master. Natural alignment occurs when people have a chance to be deeply involved in the creation of something. As the saying goes, people rarely destroy that which they created. This idea is at the heart of participative management and for some decisions is the best approach. Yet having everyone involved in every decision or building everything from the bottom up is not practical. Still, we need everyone on board, everyone aligned with the new direction or decision. People act consistent with their perspective and when someone is not aligned, they don’t make or keep the commitments required to produce a project or goal.
The foundational idea is that people’s preference is to be aligned with management and the organization. Sure there are a few outliers who will withhold their support because of some historical resentment, but most people want to be aligned. Therefore, if your people are not aligned, there is a good reason.

They simply do not understand or are not clear about what is being proposed. This can either be about the decision or the initiative itself or the way it will be achieved.
They do not see the value in what is being suggested.
There is something in their way that, if it were addressed, they would sign up, such as not having enough time, or seeing that something they care about would be at risk.
There is something missing that, if provided would make a difference in their support, such as allocating additional resources or providing access to technology.

Often, people are not quite sure why they are not excited about a new program or about a decision—it just doesn’t feel right. If you can engage your people in an open conversation that is psychologically safe and where their questions and comments are not resisted but truly heard, they will tell you what you need to change or add to get their support.
Alignment is important to execution. Going deliberately and thoughtfully through this series of questions will reveal what needs to be addressed to reach alignment.
Take care, Paul


Ask Paul: Confidentiality

ASK PAUL: Hello, I just read your recent post on sharing information. I have two follow-up questions for you. Thanks for taking time to answer. Julie
1) What if there is something I do know but don’t want to share it with employees?
2) What if someone tells me something that I need to share with others, yet I want to respect their confidence in me?
Julie, thank you for following the blog and for the excellent follow-up questions.
Let’s take your two questions one at a time.
What if there is something I do know but don’t want to share it with employees?
There are circumstances when you might not feel comfortable sharing everything you know. In such situations, there are a number of conversational moves you can use that respect both the person asking the question and the situation.
“I do know something about what you are asking. While at the moment I am committed to not saying anything, I will be able to say more about this next Wednesday. Please follow up with me then, and thank you for understanding my choosing not to answer this today.”
“I will tell you what I know with one caveat: The last time I spoke with the director for this area was two weeks ago, so I may not have the latest information. With that background, here is what I knew to be true two weeks ago.”
“I know something about what happened and the actions that will be taken. I’ve been asked not to speak about it until the manager for that unit has had a chance to speak with her people. Ask me again at our next meeting if you still need clarification.”
“I think this is a conversation that needs enough time for us to go back-and-forth long enough to get clarity and understand each other. I would prefer that you and I find 20 minutes for coffee rather than trying to give a quick answer that might not be sufficient or that might be misinterpreted.”
“I do not know anything about that. Here’s when I can find out and get back to you.”
This last answer is only an honest one if you truly don’t know anything. If you’ve demonstrated your willingness to be open when you can be, as in the other responses, the last response is more likely to be seen as authentic.
What if someone tells me something that I need to share with others, yet I want to respect their confidence in me?
Part of being a supervisor who can be trusted is based on what he or she does with confidential conversations. Again, there are options for how to proceed.
“Thank you. I appreciate your confiding in me. I will not pass this conversation on to anyone without checking with you first.”
“Okay, I appreciate that you are willing to tell me. However, you have told me something that I must legally report to human resources. Let’s talk through how to make this work for you and the organization.”
“Thank you. You have told me something about Mike that he needs to be made aware of. I can try to respect your confidentiality, but I expect Mike will want to know where I learned about this. Let’s discuss how we can make this work for everyone involved.”
Julie, these are also excellent topics to discuss with Human Resources and senior supervisors to deepen your understanding of how your organization prefers to share information. Being thoughtful about conversation is at the heart of creating safety, permission, and building your reputation for being a reliable person to speak with and confide in.
Take care, Paul

Ask Paul: What are the keys to meetings?

Q: Hello, I’m getting lots of value out of your book. Next week, I’m meeting with many of the new supervisors in our organization. I’d like to have a couple of slides in my presentation that get them thinking about running better meetings. What do you think is most important? – Ganesh 
Thanks for the question, Ganesh. You might try these two slides. Each of the bullets could lead to a rich discussion. For example, what does it mean to lead the meeting thoughtfully? Or what does powerful participation look like?
I choose this set because most of these elements are missing in many meetings.

After your discussion, you might ask some of the supervisors what they intend to try in their meetings. In my mind, front-line supervisors have a very difficult job. Helping them develop their skills around meetings will make it easier for them to do their jobs.
Good luck,