Pointless Conversations


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Management meetings

Do you ever lose the will to live in management meetings?  Sometimes they are so bad I want to scoop out my eyeballs with a tea-spoon.  I’d do anything to get out of the conversation. I hate futile meetings that are a waste of everybody’s time — usually highly paid people’s time.

Here are a few of the most exasperating conversations I’ve sat in over the past 25 years…

Reporting lines: Should they be full, dotted or bold?

Which is better, a centralised or decentralised structure?  The answer has nothing to do with strategic merit. It has everything to do with people’s personal empires.

What would happen if you put a freeze on all organisational changes (except for deaths, resignations and retirements)?

Which is more important?  How well your teams work together, or who they work for?

Performance management: Can you see “daylight” between people’s performance?

What is a good example of “meeting expectations”? Is that “solid”? Does everybody agree? Why don’t you have 10% of your population who are “below expectations”?  We would all expect the “curve to be normal”.

What would happen if you stopped the cross calibration and validation sessions?  Microsoft, famous for “stack ranking” did.  So did Accenture.  What would it do for you?  Is it likely that employee performance would suffer?

Leadership styles: What is the optimum team?

Are your team leaders: transformational, transactional, democratic, autocratic, charismatic or bureaucratic? Who are your best managers and which development programmes should you send them on?

Could you ask your staff who they would like to work for?  Let them vote with their feet.  That should answer the question for you.

KPI’s and balanced score cards: Which metrics should have the highest weight?

What is the perfect scorecard, with the perfect weighting, that will promote perfect performance?  Which measure is most important: service level or abandon rate, stock turn or weeks cover?  How should you balance timeliness, cost and quality?

If you were clear about your purpose, then lined everybody up to achieve it, what would that do for performance?

Diversity statistics: Should your organisation be meritocratic or diverse?

What should the male / female split be at a senior level?  What proportion of people should come from which racial origin? Should you promote people on merit or their sexual orientation…

Why not try recruiting some people into your organisation who see the world differently.  They will challenge your thinking.  Or is having your thinking challenged too …erm… challenging?

Targets: How should you incentivise performance?

Are the goals you set SMART enough? Are they linked to the right performance measures?  Will the incentive scheme improve performance?

Most people are more than happy to “hit the target but miss the point”, particularly if they have a bonus riding on it…

If you must set a target how about setting a “biggest % uplift” instead of an arbitrary finish line? At east that way there won’t be any sandbagging.

Low hanging fruit: Are there any left?

If you work in the line, then obviously you run things well. There are vanishingly few opportunities left.  If you are in support then obviously there is more to go at.

Low hanging fruit ripens throughout the year.  It is amazing how much people can find in the month before their annual performance review.

There is always something that you can improve.  If there was nothing that could be better we would still be sitting beside caves waving flaming branches at wild animals.  Rather than debating how much there is to improve, why not tackle the reasons people can’t (or won’t) go after it?

Cost control: How do we justify the overspend?

How are we doing versus our budget?  Why do we have an overspend?  What short-term measures can we take now to ensure we hit our cost target? Could we transfer the funding from another budget?  Who can we blame?

Anybody can save money. You can sack the cleaner, cut the number of staff on shift, stop the free coffee or tighten the expense policy.  Saving money is easy.

Getting more out of the money you spend is a very different challenge.  I’d like my staff members to spend a lot more money, they just need to spend it wisely.

Staff motivation: How will we hit our employee engagement target?

Should you improve the quality of free coffee in the vending machines?  How would it be if you let people dress down on Fridays? What about a table tennis table?

You can’t motivate anybody to do anything.  You can hit them with targets, money, praise, or a big stick, but their “motivation” will evaporate the minute you stop.

All you can do is remove the sources of demotivationWhat demotivates your staff, and what are you doing about that?

Incidentally putting a table tennis table in your call centre will not improve anything. With the possible exception of your staff’s ability to play table tennis.

They are only meetings

Obviously everything else I do as a manager helps people to do good work…

Mind you, I do spend an awful lot of time in meetings.  Next time I’m invited to one I will run and hide give my apologies.  It will save on the tea-spoons.

Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done ~ Peter Drucker

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Image by Ashleigh Ozment

Republished with author's permission from original post.

James Lawther
James Lawther is a middle-aged middle manager. To reach this highly elevated position he has worked for many organisations, from supermarkets to tax collectors and has had multiple roles from running a night shift to doing operational research. He gets upset by operations that don't work and mildly apoplectic about poor customer service.


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