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671: How to Make Change Happen Faster, Easier, and Better with Jake Jacobs

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Jake Jacobs reveals why organizational change doesn’t have to be difficult and provides  key levers that make the difference.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to keep change from becoming overwhelming 
  2. The hack to accelerate change 
  3. How leaders accidentally kill enthusiasm for change 

About Jake

Jake Jacobs helps organizations, teams, and individuals make monumental changes. He’s worked in 61 industries, from high tech to manufacturing. He’s consulted for 96 organizations, from Fortune 50 to community theaters and supported more than 210,000 people in changing strategy, creating cultures, and mergers and acquisitions. 

Jake has partnered with CEOs, front-line workers and middle management at Ford, Kraft and Marriott. He’s also helped create change in the City of New York, U.K.’s National Health Service, and the United States Army and Navy. 

Clients call Jake when they need faster, easier, better results. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Jake Jacobs Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Jake, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Jake Jacobs
Thanks so much, Pete. I’m glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m glad to have you and I’ve got so many things I want to hear from you about how to leverage change but the first thing I want to hear from you is about your massive baseball card collection. What’s the story here?

Jake Jacobs
Well, first of all, we should tell your listeners it’s 45,000 cards, so for some people that’s considered massive; for others it’s just puny. But I started when I was about eight and just got the bubble gum and the packages, and then I hit about 15 and decided this was a potential way to send my kids to college at some point. And so I started ordering full sets and not opening them, which took the fun out of it but at 15 you’re kind of moving onto girls and other things. So, it sits actually in my parents’ basement, Pete, all 45,000. They’re not even with me. I moved into a house that I fell in love with a woman five doors down, so I can keep a ready eye on those cards.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. Now, 45,000 cards, how much space does that consume in a basement?

Jake Jacobs
It’s a healthy pile. It’s a healthy pile. I think it’d go about waist high. And if I did the splits, I’m not terribly flexible, but if I did the splits it’d probably be about that far wide.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. That’s substantial. And then, in the basement, are you worried about flooding? What’s the estimated value when you think on this collection here?

Jake Jacobs
No, you haven’t met my father so there’s no flooding in that basement, brother. And I do have several Mickey Mantles and one card when the Padres were going to move to Washington. Nobody remembers this, but in ’72 they were going to move to Washington and they printed 500 cards with Washington on the card and then they decided not to go to Washington, so I’ve got one of those 500 cards. So, who knows? Neither of my kids ended up going to college.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, hotdog. There are just so much there in terms of do you view these as an economic-type investment or do you go and look at them from time to time? I’m just fascinated by people with big collections.

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. On podcasts that I’m on, generally, Pete, I refer to the economic benefits because some people think that I’m crazy having that many baseball cards and possibly even immature. But in my place in the world, I have a heart connection to them because it brings me back to mark, row, sorting baseball cards, putting rubber bands around them with the teams in little pieces of paper, and so I don’t need to open them, and I figure, yes, they’d be worth more if I don’t open them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Fun. Well, so now we’re going to talk about leveraging change. I don’t have a great segue there. Just as sometimes teams change locations and then don’t change locations, some organizations fail to follow through with their changes.

Jake Jacobs
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, can you give us the rundown on when it comes to change in organizations, how often do those changes succeed versus fail and what’s behind that?

Jake Jacobs
Well, if you go by the Ready Reports, and in this is in the Harvard Business Review, this is in the Sloan journal, there’s all kinds of books that had been written on this, and the common number is 70% fall short of the objectives they set out to achieve. So, that doesn’t mean that they fell on their face, it just means that what set on to achieve, they didn’t. This is going to sound odd, but I actually, in 35 years of doing this work and had great mentors so this is not all on me, I had some of the mentors who started my field of organizational change, but I haven’t had a client disappointed.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Jake Jacobs
After all that time and all that work. And I think part of it, Pete, goes back to like a “Never say no” attitude. So, if we haven’t gotten done what we need to then we’re not done with the work that we set out to achieve. And so, that notion of continuous improvement and hanging in there, and so when I work with clients, we get very clear on the outcomes at the beginning and what the deliverables are, and that’s what we work to. And I don’t have a clock going. Some consultants track things by time, I track things by outcomes. So, if we’re short of the outcomes, then there’s work to be done.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Okay, cool. Well, sounds like a good consultant work. Good stuff. Well, so then you’ve packaged a good bit of your learnings and insights when it comes to change in your book, Leverage Change: 8 Ways to Achieve Faster, Easier, Better Results. So, can you maybe hit us with a power punch to start. What’s a particularly surprising, fascinating, counterintuitive discovery you’ve made in your decades of work on change when it comes to change? Like, what’s something most of us don’t know but should know about this?

Jake Jacobs
Sure. So, Pete, what I would say is that you, your listeners, people who’ve written about change, studied change, practice change, both been changed and changed others, that’s what they focus on is, “What’s going to be different? What’s changed? What’s going to be different?” And at face value it makes sense. I mean, it’s what you’re trying to accomplish so why wouldn’t you focus on it?

I talk with my clients about what not to change. Now this is a different perspective. It’s what I call a paradoxical approach. So, each of the levers in this book states a common problem that organizations and people bump up against when they’re trying to bring about successful change. And then I have a lever, or a strategic action, a high-impact action, people can take to remedy that problem.

So, in organizations where there’s too much change, a lot of people talk about change fatigue, it’s like, “Oh, there’s one more coming down the pipe,” and what people hope for is, “This, too, shall pass. So, maybe we can get another leader and survive this change effort.” And I have a lever that’s called “Pay attention to continuity,” so what not to change.

And what I tell clients, very simply, is to make a list of all those changes that are going to occur in their organization. And they make a list, it’s a couple of flipcharts long, and it gets a little depressing in the room because it’s overwhelming. You’re surrounding yourself by all of these things that you’ve got to do differently. Then I tell them, “All right, we’re going to change gears. Now, what I’d like you to do is make a list of all those things that are going to stay the same, that are based on continuity. This time I want you to make the list twice as long.”

Well, people have a lot of ideas once they start thinking about what’s going to keep going the way that it’s always been, whether it’s who they work with, how they get paid, where they work, I mean, all kinds of things stay the same. But once they see this continuity lever, it shifts the energy in the room, it shifts the purpose that people have, how driven they are going to work. It changes the organization.

And I think that all of this focus on change is good and right, and it’s half the story. And it’s like trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together with half the pieces. You get a great picture of what’s on half that front of the board but you’ve missed half of reality. And so, that’s one that I think has been really powerful with people that I’ve worked with.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I mean, that sounds powerful right there in terms of just the feelings you get, when everything is changing, is kind of uncomfortable. It’s sort of like a rising sense of, I don’t know, dread, anxiety, overwhelm.

Jake Jacobs
Those are good words.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you think about all the stuff that’s going to stay the same, it almost feels like after that it’s like, “Oh, no big deal. Okay, so I still got the same boss, I still got the same colleagues, I still get paid the same amount at the same frequency, I go to the same office, I use the same computer. Oh, but a couple of the software programs we’re using to insert inventory orders, or whatever, is going to be different? Okay.” It’s like, “What are we so stressed out about? Game on.”

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. And it really is I think it’s an emotional thing. I think that change goes to the heart of empowerment. And I’ve had clients tell me, “Everybody minds being changed and that people don’t necessarily mind change.” And so, if I’ve got my hands on the steering wheel and I’m starting to make some decisions about my future and I see that some of those are repeating the past, the way I describe it is that people find much firmer footing on that continuity side of the cliff, if you will, and they get a much firmer push-off into the unknown future. And so, you can be a lot more confident about how far you’re going to get because you’ve paid attention to the continuity.

So, when I even have executives give townhalls or they do communications, I had a client once that literally, in the working sessions that we held, it was about a rapid growth strategy and they needed to change a lot of things about how they did business and their roles and relationships and all kinds of stuff. And, in the meeting itself, he made sure that every time they worked on an issue around change, they worked on the same side of the issue but dealing with continuity.

And it was a very powerful session because it gave people permission at some basic human level to reclaim what was theirs. And I think that envisioning and creating our future is the most powerful thing that we can have and making that possible by reminding people of the things that are going to stay the same makes a big difference.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, heck, Jake, let’s just get into it. That’s one lever and that’s beautiful. You’ve got eight of them. So, you tell me, should we just maybe do a quick overview and then dig deep into perhaps two or three more that make a world of difference for a lot of folks?

Jake Jacobs
Sure. I’ll tell you what the problems are that people bump up against and then just a short bit on the lever because I think there are a few that can lead to immediate action that people can take. Levers can be used by individuals, teams, organizations. They can be used with existing methods that people already have in place, and it’s like, “No, no, don’t give that up. Build on it and turbocharge it.”

They can be used at the beginning of a change effort or in the middle. They can even be used as informal tools where you don’t have a formal change effort but you’re just looking to do business a new way because the subtitle of the book says, 8 Ways to Achieve Faster, Easier, Better Results. So, if you’re into faster, easier, better results, these are good things for you.

And let me say one quick thing, Pete, because people may wonder, “Why levers? Like, what does this mean?” And it comes from a story about Archimedes who was a 3rd century BC Greek mathematician, and he was known for describing the power of leverage by saying, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and, single-handed, I shall move the world.”

And so, I believe people can move their worlds in the arena of change by taking these levers and putting them under with the right results with a fulcrum and making change, something that can be faster, easier, and better.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. All right. Well, let’s hear some levers. Well, problems and levers.

Jake Jacobs
So, “Change takes too long.” Now this is one that you hear a lot from leaders and there is a lever, and I think I can talk more about this, which is “Think and act as if the future were now,” right? That’s number two. We’ve got one, “People reject your approach because it’s not invented here.” So, a lot of people will say, “Have you ever done this in my industry? Have you ever done this with an organization my side? Have you ever done it…?” And the answer to that is “Design it yourself.” There’s a lever that talks about “Taking the best of what you’ve used and actually looking back at your own organization’s capabilities with change and putting that into place.” So, design it yourself.

There’s “People don’t know enough to make good decisions.” In a lot of organizations, leaders appear to be making decisions that don’t make sense to frontline employees, and frontline employees are taking actions that leaves to throw their hands up. And so, this whole notion about not knowing enough, I have a lever called “Create a common database,” and it addresses this directly. And I’ve got a great story about that one with a client, too.

Then we’ve got “All change efforts must begin from the top.” So, this is one of my favorite ones because every consultant will come in and they will say, “Start with the senior executive team, get them on board, then cascade this through the organization. One needs to be transformed before they transform others. This is the way it goes.” Well, I say start with impact, follow the energy. So, that means start where you can make a difference and then follow where people want to do the work. And that’s a very different model than the waterfall approach that’s quite common.

So many ask, “What’s in it for me?” So, anybody who’s been in an organization may recognize the “WIIFM” way of talking about this, that’s, “What’s in it for me?” laid out in letters. So, the “What’s in it for me?” a lot of people see this as a problem, asking the question, like selfish, like there’s something wrong with the person asking it. And I look and I say, “No, this is a normal human reaction. This is not unreasonable to be asking ‘What’s in it for me?’”

So, the lever that I developed to address this is called “Develop a future people will want to call their own.” And if I developed a future that I want to be part of, then the “What’s in it for me?” question comes off the table, no longer is an issue. People get to only do their routine work of their daily job. Now I’m not saying that that’s unimportant but what I’m saying is that people yearn to make a significant contribution in their lives whether it’s in their places of worship, in their families, in their communities. It’s also true at work. And so, finding ways for people to make a meaningful difference is another one of these levers.

And then the last one. So, “People’s plates are already full.” You hear this all the time at organizations, they’re like, “I don’t want to take on change. I’ve already got enough to do.” And I have a lever that reframes this to say, “Make change work part of daily work,” that it shouldn’t be another item on the agenda, it shouldn’t be the meeting on Friday afternoon. You should be looking at it every day in everything you do, and that will actually change both your paradigm of what’s going on but also your experience of it.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to this extra bolt-on thing, it is rather the thing.

Jake Jacobs
Yeah, and it’s part of it. I had a client that was a team and they were looking at improving their performance, and they did an assessment and I was working with them instead of somebody else, and so they were like, “Well, let’s put a sub-team together, a committee, and they’ll study this,” and all this extra work that people resisted.

And I said, “No, no, let’s make this part of your weekly meeting. Every week we’re going to do something that improves your performance, whatever it may be.” And we started out taking part of the next meeting with feedback and the boss getting feedback first, and deciding what to do differently. But rather than separating change as “Another event, another item, that I got to deal with,” make it part of daily work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Well, so let’s hear about the common database. You said you’ve got a great story there. Let’s hear it.

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. So, this was in a merger and acquisition. And in that merger and acquisition, they needed to get a lot of people on board with the culture change. One of the organizations, I’m not going to be mentioning the organizations, but was a little slower, a little less rigorous, and worse-performing, and the other one was on the better side of that coin. So, what we needed to do was get everybody up to speed on what was going on with the merger and acquisition.

What we had were meetings. This actually took place around the world 200 people at a time but they don’t have to. You could do this with 10 people around a table. But what we did is we taught the frontline people about convertible bonds and debt and floating interest rates and all these things that the CFO and their people should be paying attention to, but what they were asking of these frontline people would not make sense unless they understood these business terms.

And so, they got a mini-MBA as part of these sessions. And that’s about people knowing enough to make good decisions. And so, that common database, it’s different for everybody. I do these LinkedIn videos, and one of them that I put up recently was “Do you know something that somebody else should know? Don’t keep it a secret.” So, this basic question of, “Do I know something, Pete, that you should know to be able to do your job better?” then it’s my responsibility to reach out and make sure that you know it rather than being too busy with my own work or having these senior leaders say, “People aren’t getting on board.”

Well, they don’t have the information you do. They don’t understand what the payoff is if we make these numbers this year instead of next year, and how much money saved, and what their bonus could be, and all those questions, I think, in that situation, needed to be information everybody knew. So, you get a mini-MBA if you need it as part of the work that I do.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s intriguing, and I recall, boy, with my very first internships. My boss, Kevin, we were working in channel strategy for electrical components in terms of like, “How can we get distributors to sell more of our stuff,” basically is what we’re trying to figure out.

Jake Jacobs
Good internship.

Pete Mockaitis
And he mentioned, numerous times, how he did a training in finance, and that he thought of it again and again and again with regard to what shows up with like the share price and the earnings and the expectations, and how things bubble up. And I thought that was interesting in that that’s not sort of directly essential to know that, and, yet, everything you hear from the CEO just makes a bit more sense forever when you have that internalized. And I want to hear you elaborate on how the frontline workers understanding the convertible bonds improved what they were doing.

Jake Jacobs
Well, for one thing, it shifted their motivation immediately because if you understand that if you pay off that debt sooner, you save money for the company. And that money for the company, yeah, it’ll go into innovation, and it’ll go into next year’s budget, but some of it was going to go into their pocket. So, understanding the relationship between how fast they paid this debt off and what they could buy at Christmas was fundamental. They didn’t understand that.

And once they understood that the floating interest rate was there and why was it that they paid so much for this other company if it was underperforming, they understood what it meant to have those assets and what it meant to open new markets that they weren’t in previously on a global scale. And so, rather than just being US-based, they diversified their risks by going global and they diversified their customer base.

And all of these things which could’ve been on the rumor mill, which is very efficient, it’s one of the most effective communication strategies any organizations had, but around the rumor mill they were like, “We paid all this money for this company, and why did we? Look, they can’t even do their regular jobs right.” And that was the scuttlebutt on the street. And when they understood what that new business made possible for them, it made a lot more sense.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool in terms of immediate motivation for your compensation this year and what you can do as well as I think just enhancing some trust forever in terms of, “Okay, our senior leaders aren’t morons. In fact, they got a deep understanding of this thing, I’m just now learning about, that has implications for what we’re up to, okay. And I see how I fit into this.” So, even if there is not that direct connection to, “What can I buy at Christmas?” there’s a huge, I think, emotional energy lift that occurs there. So, that’s beautiful. Thank you.

Jake Jacobs
Sure. One other thing I’ll just jump in with, Pete, this is not just about people who don’t have to do with finance getting financial information. This is like even about what I do on my daily job and having information. So, years ago, there was something called open-book management that came out, and in plants and factories, they would post numbers on production numbers, and people hadn’t seen those before. They didn’t know what they were.

So, it’s not always this big leap in logic to say, “Well, we should teach somebody who’s on an oil platform enough to get an MBA.” But it’s like within your own team, do you know things that other people know? And like I said, if you’re keeping it a secret and you’re frustrated that your team is not performing well, then, I don’t know, it was Michael Jackson who said, “Take a look in the mirror and you might realize that you’ve got a lot more power in this situation than you thought you did.”

Pete Mockaitis
And just while we’re here, what are some things leaders ought not to disclose to more junior team members? Is more transparency, more openness always better? Or are there some guidelines, or limits, or times less is…?

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. So, there’s an approach that I take that really says you can have too much of a good thing, that there needs to be a balance between the sharing of information and the protection of information. And so, I worked with the Department of Defense and there was a lot of information they weren’t meant to share with other people. But if I have personal information about your performance, about the issues that you’re working on, about your family, about your development plan, there are a lot of things that I might know about you as a direct report of mine, and it’s probably not appropriate to be sharing all of that. It’s not helpful.

So, one of the things I would tell your listeners, and this answers the question simply, directly, and, I would argue, correctly, which is, “What do these people need to know to do a great job for this business and themselves?” And if you can answer yes to that 95% of the time, it’s a good thing to be talking about. And if sharing this is not going to make a profound difference for the performance of that team or that organization, like me talking about your personal issues, it doesn’t have a place in that, then they’re going to be safe sharing the information, and they’re going to be in a good place to protect what shouldn’t be shared.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, could you give us another story about a lever and action that made all the difference?

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. So, this is the one, when I talk about it, Pete, think it’s most unique. And it’s the one about change taking too long, that it being too slow, and leaders happen to complain about this a lot because they see what the benefits are, what needs to be different, and they’re trying to get things to move faster and they’re not for whatever reason. And I came up with this lever called “Think and act as if the future were now.”

So, what this means, it’s a paradigm shift, you got to think differently. Rather than the future being something that’s out there that will occur later, which sounds like common sense, what we’re going to do is we’re going to get some image of that future, however clear we can be, grab hold of that image of the future, pull it back into the present, and start thinking and acting as if that were our present now.

So, here’s a story that I have. There was a group of executives who were in deep debate, they had a day-long meeting set aside to figure out how to come up with a sales strategy in this new market, and they spent the whole morning arguing passionately about it, not as an unhealthy team. I mean, they listened to each other, but they came up with two answers to the question by lunch. And then people started to pick on sides and I could start to see this was not going to be a helpful way to spend the afternoon.

Now, this organization had said they wanted to create a participative culture. So, knowing my lever, I said to them, “Well, what could you do to create a more participative culture around this sales strategy issue?” Some of them looked around the table, didn’t know what to do, but there were a few of them who said, “Well, we’d probably get more salespeople involved in this conversation.” And that seemed to make sense to everybody.

So, they got out their version of a calendar, whatever it was at that point, and they started to make a meeting for next week when they would bring these people in. So, I saw this as a big, fat fastball down the middle, to go back to my baseball cards. And I thought, “All you got to do is swing,” because it’s going to make a lot of sense. And by that, I mean, I said, “Why wait for next week? You said you wanted to make a difference. And if you think and act as if the future were now, if you became that participative organization right here and right now at lunch, what would you do? Be in that future.”

And they said, “Well, we would grab the salespeople who were walking the halls here, and we would call up the ones that are out in the field, and we’d probably might even get some customers involved in this because we said we wanted to be bridging relationships with them.” And I said, “Great. Set it up for 1:00 o’clock, finish lunch, and let’s go to work.”

And what they found in the afternoon was this common database lever came into play, and a lot more people learned about what the issues were, and people on the frontlines talking about a new region of business, they had opened new regions before, they knew what was needed, they knew what was going to be a good or a bad idea.

And so, by learning that and by thinking and acting as if that participative organization was part of one that they were members of, they came up with an entirely different solution. It was a third solution that nobody in the morning had come up with but one that everybody in the room, customers included who were in on the phone, thought, “I got a lot more confidence in this being a path to take.” And what they found was they opened that new region faster than they’ve ever opened another region before, and it got to profitability faster than any region had before.

So, they came up with a good idea but it goes back, for me, to this, “Well, do we want to wait a week?” No, you lose time, you lose money, you lose energy, you lose political capital, all of these things. Why wait to get a better answer when you can start behaving as if you already knew it?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. And I think it’d be really fun if you are a salesperson in that afternoon who are just kind of surprised, pulled into a room full of senior executives, like, “Oh, okay. Well, I feel kind of special and important right now.”

Jake Jacobs
A little nervous too.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And then that creates all sorts of good things in terms of some of the other levers with regard to they all make meaningful difference in that work and bringing it together.

Jake Jacobs
Absolutely. Absolutely. And the levers, Pete, work together that way so you can focus on one and start to make gains on two more where you don’t have to think, “Well, let me find a meaningful way for people to contribute. Let me find a way to create a common database.” They were working on thinking as if the future were now, and they got freebies in terms of what the results were on those other two.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, can you tell us, Jake, what are some key things to not do when we’re trying to get a change going?

Jake Jacobs
Yes. So, one of them, I think, is the notion that people see change as something that happens to them instead of with them. And so, if you can engage people in conversations that matter about their future and talk about the meaningful difference that they can make, avoiding those conversations, being nervous about those conversations.

I once had a client, it was a plant, and they were going to close. It was in Cleveland, it was a casting plant, I won’t tell you the company, but it was going to close. And so, they held a big meeting, there were 300 people, to talk about it. And there’s one woman who stood up and she said, “Look, if closing this plant is going to create an opportunity for my son to work at the plant the next town over, I’m willing to close it here.” The place went dead silent and it’s like, “Was she serious?” I mean, that’s something that you’re not really supposed to be talking about. It doesn’t make sense to talk about and, yet, for her, she decided that that was important.

So, a lot of people, when they deal with change, emotion is something that’s off the table. You shouldn’t be talking about how people feel. And what she did is she put on the table, her bare to her soul, and I’ve worked with clients a lot of times. I had a leader once who basically said, “We’re not dealing with feelings; we deal with facts and figures in here.” And his people were dying because of the support they needed and they couldn’t even ask for it because they saw it as a sign of weakness.

And so, if you can create a culture in your team or your organization, where people can speak the truth, and including their emotions and put it on the table, even this woman, it was a safe enough environment for her to stand up and say, “Look, I’ll put my job on the line.” But I think, too often, we look at change as a project, and it’s got deadlines, and it’s milestones, and it’s got resources, and it gets very cold and calculated, and we’re dealing with human beings, and that’s not how we’re wired.

Sure, you’ve got to pay attention to all those things but if you’re not looking at people’s experience of the change and asking them, “What’s going to make it better?” you don’t have to have the answers, but if you ask them, they know most of the time what’s going to work better for them. And so, that ask, and then you got to listen. So, if you’re asking and don’t pay attention, you’re in worse shape than if you hadn’t asked in the first place.

Pete Mockaitis
“Man, you don’t care.”

Jake Jacobs
Right. Charlie Brown, Lucy and the football, and Lucy pulls the football out and Charlie Brown ends up on his backside. It’s like asking people what they need and then ignoring it entirely – not smart.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. So, this one is actually one that I’ve used a lot of ways in a lot of places. So, this comes from Thomas Jefferson and it goes back to 1820, and he said, “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves. And if we think they’re not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is to not take it from them but to inform their discretion.”

So, I think what he was saying is if people don’t know enough to be smart about decisions they need to make, then educate them. Help them make good decisions. Don’t take those decisions away from them. So, I’m a big believer in engagement in organizations for all the right reasons. It’s not right all the time but in a lot of organizations today, we err on the side of not informing discretion. So, I think that’s less of an issue for most people to deal with, but I think Thomas Jefferson in 1820 had it pretty darn well.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, now could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. My mentor’s mentor, Ron Lippitt, people don’t believe this but actually, was a significant player in the invention of flipcharts, being if you want to claim the fame. Ron was at the University of Michigan, and what he studied was the difference between what he called preferred futuring and problem-solving. So, what he did is he gave two groups the same situation. One of them was to go about it as solving a problem, “What’s wrong? What do we need to do to fix it?” The other, he came up with this thing called preferred futuring, which said, “We’re in our future and what did we do to get there?”

And what they found at the end of this study was that people who were in the problem-solving group had less energy at the end, greater blame on other people, and they had reduction of pain solutions. So, it’s like, “It won’t be as bad if we do this than it normally would.” The preferred futuring group was the exact opposite. They were more energized at the end, they took more ownership of the situation, and they found innovative solutions to their problems.

So, this preferred futuring is actually the precursor or the father of all the visioning work done in organizations today. Until that time when Ron did this experiment, problem-solving ruled the day, and this was in the ‘40s, but he had the insight to say, “Maybe there’s another way.” And now it’s so commonplace, people would look at you like they had their heads screwed on backwards if you didn’t think about what the vision for your organization was going to be.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Jake Jacobs
So, for me, I think that my favorite book is a book called The Practical Theorist. It was written by a guy named Al Marrow, and it was written about the founder of my field of organization change, his name was Kurt Lewin. And The Practical Theorist was saying, Lewin said, “There’s nothing so practical as a good theory.”

So, to me, it’s very concrete because I love the story. It’s very useful for the listeners. He was in Germany before World War II, and they used to sit and have coffee at the cafes, if you can imagine, and students would sit with them, and they had this wondering about, “Would the waitress remember the bill better before or after it was paid?”

And what they decided was it was going to be before it was paid. Other people decided after. So, they asked the waitress what it was before and what it was after. She could remember to the Deutsche Mark before it was paid, she had no idea what it was afterwards. A woman named Bluma Zeigarnik took this on as her doctoral thesis and it became known as The Zeigarnik Effect.

And what it says is that people have greater recall and motivation to go back to unfinished tasks. So, don’t tie a bow around something at the end of the day or the end of a meeting. Keep it open and you will find that people would be more motivated to go back to it the next day, or the next meeting, than if you finished something at the end of the meeting. So, a lot of times there’s this mad rush to get through the last slide or to get the last agenda item covered, and I would say don’t. Leave it for next time and you’ll find a lot more energy to work on it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting. And, likewise, I think, for, I don’t know, books, movies, stories, TV shows, like if the story is not quite finished, it’s like, “Ooh, what’s going to happen?” You got to know and you keep going.

Jake Jacobs
Absolutely. I think a lot of sitcom writers probably studied Kurt Lewin before they got into sitcom-writing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. So, this one for me is that I find that listening is the most powerful tool that I have at my disposal and it’s readily available anytime, place, or with anyone. And when I say listening, I mean listening to see the world through their eyes. And so, I talk with my clients about four magic words that they can use whenever they’re in trouble. It’s like you get a little hot under the collar, you start breathing a little faster, you start interrupting the other person, like we all know what it looks like for our own version of that.

And I tell them, “As soon as you start to feel that happen, say, ‘Could you say more?’” And that gives an invitation to the other person that they have the floor still, and it creates a safe place for that person to go deeper into whatever it was that they were saying because you’re inviting them. So, when I give you an invitation, Pete, that says, “Could you say more?” you’re going to feel better about sharing it with me.

And the other thing it does is it interrupts that whole building of interruption and heat and breathing, all those things when we get a little ticked off. But when you say, “Could you say more?” well, one thing is they see Jake in their face saying, “Say it,” and hopefully your listeners will hear me next time they get in that situation. But it’s very practical advice. I think, like this guy who wrote the book “The Practical Theorist,” it’s like, “If you can’t put theory and put it into practice, then it’s not worth knowing in the first place.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a particular nugget that you share that really connects and resonates with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. So, this one goes back to that lever about “Think and act as if the future were now.” I interviewed people to put on my website, clients, and half of them came back to me and said, “You know that thing you say about living in the future and making it happen today? That’s been really helpful.” And one of the people said, “Yeah, I went back to my team the next day and there was a guy, after I said that, who was like the chief engineer, had a whole list of things that he needed to start doing differently if he was going to operate and do business in new and better ways.”

And so, that has been something that a lot of people have come back to me and said, “You know, one thing, for sure, that I’ve taken away from my time with you is that quote and putting that quote into practice.”

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear it one more time.

Jake Jacobs
“Think and act as if the future were now.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And, Jake, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Jake Jacobs
I would point them two places. One, my website JakeJacobsConsulting.com. The other thing that I would encourage them to do, if they’re not on LinkedIn, I’d get on it, but if they’re on it, look me up there, I’m Jake Jacobs. And I’ve got a short Jake on Change, two-minute videos, that I put up there, there’s articles, there’s quotes, there’s all kinds of materials because I believe you go into the world with open arms. And the more you share the more you receive. So, it’s really important to me to make sure that I continue to push my own thinking, and I continue to give whatever gifts I have to other people so it will help them create faster, easier, better results, whatever they may be working on.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Jake Jacobs
Yeah. I think that the final challenge is for them to picture a day when the results they’re working on for their change effort are achieved, for them to picture a day when somebody who’s been resistant to their change work comes up to them and says, “I’m really glad I got involved. I’m excited about the future we’re creating,” and to picture a day wherein their organization, faster, easier, better results just become the way of doing business. It’s not something special or different. It’s just the way that we operate.

And if they could sit back and picture those days when those things are happening, I think they end up getting pulled into the future more by what Ron Lippitt would call their preferred future or vision, and less of it is about getting mired trying to solve today’s problems. It’s much better to get pulled forward than pushed from behind.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jake, thank you. This has been a treat. And I wish much luck in all the ways you achieve faster, easier, better results.

670: The Four Keys to Leading Successful Virtual Teams with Darleen DeRosa

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Darleen DeRosa discusses how to build top teams and deliver high-impact work while leading from a distance.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The quickest way to build trust in your team 
  2. How to ensure accountability with the ATC model 
  3. Simple, but effective ways to keep your team motivated 

 

About Darleen

Darleen DeRosa, Ph.D., is a consultant in Spencer Stuart’s Stamford office and a core member of the Life Sciences and Leadership Advisory Services practices. Darleen brings more than 15 years of consulting experience, with deep expertise in talent management, executive assessment, virtual teams, top team effectiveness and leadership development. Darleen works with leading companies to facilitate selection, succession management and leadership development initiatives. She is a trusted advisor to CEOs, CHROs and boards. 

Darleen earned her B.A. in psychology from the College of the Holy Cross and her M.A. and Ph.D. in social/organizational psychology from Temple University. Darleen is the co-author of Virtual Success: A Practical Guide for Working and Leading from a Distance (with Richard Lepsinger), as well as other book chapters and journal articles on leadership. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Darleen DeRosa Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Darleen, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Darleen DeRosa
Thanks, Pete. Thanks for hosting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, I’m excited to hear about Leading at a Distance insights. But, first, I want to hear about your love for deep-sea fishing.

Darleen DeRosa
I knew you were going to ask that. Well, people don’t know this and they’re often very surprised for whatever reason, I’m not going to read into that, but I love deep-sea fishing. And wherever I go, whether it’s Hawaii, here in Connecticut, we charter boats and we love to go fishing. And I probably go six or seven times a year. I don’t always catch anything crazy, I’ve never caught a marlin, or anything fantastic, but it is something that I love to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I have fond memories. I think I did deep-sea fishing exactly once for a bachelor party and the father of the bride fell into the water and it was a heroic rescue, so that story. You make memories when you go on those trips.

Darleen DeRosa
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to hear, we’re talking about leading at a distance. Can you share what’s perhaps one of the most surprising or counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made while researching this stuff and putting things together?

Darleen DeRosa
That’s a great question. And so, what’s very interesting is I wrote a book on virtual teams in 2011, and my co-author, Jim Citrin, keeps reminding me that that is the most, at that time, it was a very obscure topic even though, as you know, companies have been working remotely for quite some time, especially big companies that are more complex and more global in nature.

So, what was surprising, I guess most surprising to me, is that a lot hasn’t changed. Yes, technology, of course, has evolved and business is more complex and more dynamic, certainly, but, in general, what’s fascinating is that a lot of the best practices that we learned way back 10 years ago actually hold true now and have just become even more important. And so, that’s very interesting to me that there’s not a lot of major profound differences in what we found.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is noteworthy in and of itself. You’d think that we, as workers, would have learned a couple of lessons in a decade. So, share with us, what are some of those kind of foundational things that are still at play and maybe overlooked?

Darleen DeRosa
Yeah. So, it’s interesting, there’s a number of things, and we try to make the book really practical. What I really wanted to do here, was have a practical hands-on guide for anyone, anyone who’s managing telecommuters, whether you’re managing remote teams, whether you’re a CEO who’s managing a large complex organization with distributed employees. So, we wanted to make it very pragmatic.

And, interestingly, the topics ranged from everything like, “How do you build trust remotely?” to “How do you coach and hold people accountable who you don’t see?” But one of the things that hasn’t changed, as I was mentioning, even from our early research in 2010, is what we found is that, back then anyway, the best-in-class leaders who are managing remotely do a great job balancing the relationship side of things, the interpersonal components, with the tasks and sort of execution-oriented behaviors. In other words, they don’t overly weigh any one of those and they’re really good at managing that big continuum. So, it’s a big complex role.

And what we do know is that managing virtually is hard. It’s harder than managing people who are co-located in the same room. And leaders have really had to adapt a lot, especially in this current environment where you’re leading through technology, but the best-in-class leaders really do a great job at that, balancing that continuum, and we call that RAMP. So, we frame it as the best-in-class leaders are really good at relationships, which is the R; they hold people accountable, which is the A; they know how to motivate people through a screen basically, people they don’t see, or through a phone; and they can use process, things like technology, which is the P, to engage and try to replicate what they would do if they were in person.

So, that’s one framework that a lot of our clients find practical but like the fact that it’s research-based and comes from data on what differentiates best-in-class virtual leaders.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you tell us a cool story about a virtual leader who was struggling and then employed some of this stuff and had a transformation?

Darleen DeRosa
Absolutely. So, we have a number of those but one of the things, and, again, it’s surprising how we fall back on some of our bad behaviors, and we all do this. We all succumb to sort of those bad habits. Especially, in COVID now, I think people have gotten better but we were working with the CHRO of a global hospitality company and he was so focused on results and he had a very large distributed team. And one of the things that he wasn’t really cognizant of was, “How do you build relationships and trust with your team members but also with one another?”

And so, we talked to him about, “Here are some ways on that RAMP continuum to focus on building trust, and how you infuse collaboration and relationships from a distance.” And so, he started doing simple things, things that you would think, “Well, we should all be doing that anyway.” Like, once or twice a week, he blocked time in his calendar proactively to just give people feedback. He had recognition sessions to thank people on the team. He also would call people, and he actually called these care calls, where he would randomly call people and just check in, no agenda, no real need, but just to say “Hey, how can I support you?”

And his engagement scores and the team’s performance, over a period of time, of course, changed dramatically and were much more positive. So, again, it’s a good example of if we focused too much on any one thing, and we’re not very balanced in how we engage and lead, it can become almost like a strength overdone.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s hear some of those best practice approaches there for each of those four components: the relationships, the accountability, the motivation, and the process. What are some top things people should start doing and stop doing?

Darleen DeRosa
Yeah. So, on relationships, and this is by far, when we asked people, “What is the biggest challenge you’re facing?” in our most recent survey for the book, it was that sense of connectivity. So, in other words, if I were to bump into you in the hallway, Pete, or in the lunch room, we could have that spontaneous interaction, and virtually you don’t have that. It’s lacking.

And so, some of our clients have started using apps like Donut, which sounds a little funny, but what it does is it randomly pairs employees with one another all around the world for 15 minutes once or twice a month, and it allows you to create that spontaneous interaction. And some people might think that’s a little strange but it really does replicate, and, again, it’s one example of replicating what you would do if you were in person. So, having a lot of these virtual lunches, building time into your meetings for watercooler conversation.

The chief technology officer that we interviewed at Starbucks for the book, talked about she started using fun warmups at the beginning of her calls, playing Kahoot!, doing Wordles, or Pictionary, putting people in breakouts to do really fun activities. It’s those simple things that really go a long way for relationships. So, those are just a few examples. Again, simple but highly effective.

Pete Mockaitis
And I don’t think I’ve ever played Kahoot! before. What does this consist of?

Darleen DeRosa
Yeah, they’re like little quizzes and you could make them up. They’re all random topics. They’re just little fun games. And, again, it sounds crazy but it’s just something to get people to get to know one another, because when you’re building trust virtually, it takes a lot longer. So, what we tell leaders is, “The one thing you can control when you’re working virtually is what’s called task-based trust.” In other words, the most important thing as a leader when you’re managing remotely is to help your people get to know one another and find that they are credible and they’re going to deliver on commitments, and that’s really important.

And, actually, this trust is different in a virtual setting. So, basically, invest in building that task-based trust early on and it will go a long way because it takes a long time to build interpersonal trust when you’re not face to face. So, that’s just, again, a very simple technique but something that best-in-class virtual leaders consistently apply.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when it comes to building task-based trust, I guess I’m not quite seeing the connection between how the games accomplishes that. Or are there additional practices for accelerating that?

Darleen DeRosa
Yeah. Well, it gets people to know familiarity with your background, who you are as a person, your experiences. So, a lot of the games can be around getting to know people so it sounds like it’s task-based but the idea is that it helps build credibility and are simple ways, again, everything together builds trust. But creating fun, not focusing so much on the work, and focusing more on the people is really, really critical.

So, again, we’re not telling people, “Don’t focus on interpersonal trust virtually,” but if you want to get the biggest ROI, initially, helping people learn about one another’s background through, again, it could be fun games, it could be little polls in your virtual meetings, those things have a tremendous impact on trust.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s interesting, and maybe it’s a matter of the terminology we’re using here, but it seems like if we’re getting to know each other better, that’s fun. It has some connections. I know there’s a face and a name and a person and a story behind that. I guess I’m not quite seeing how that makes me think, “And that guy is going to rock out and deliver on the thing I’m going to ask of him or her.”

Darleen DeRosa
Well, yeah, it definitely is the fun component and that’s what I was starting to talk about early when I mentioned the relationship-building piece, the R in RAMP. But, again, it’s almost like it has a dual purpose. So, when people are playing those fun games, especially if people are just getting to know one another, because, basically, no matter what, people are sharing their experiences, who they are through these polls, these chat exercises.

A lot of our clients do fun chats in their meetings, things like, “What’s the first you can’t wait to do after COVID?” “What’s your favorite hobby?” So, it is a way to get to know one another, and sometimes the questions are around projects, which is very linked to task-based trust. So, again, when we think of trust virtually, it’s the combination of task-based trust and interpersonal trust that matters, but it’s easier and quicker to focus on the task-based trust early on. And you can do that through building people’s credibility and helping people get to know their colleagues.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. And then when it comes to accountability, how do we make that all the better?

Darleen DeRosa
So, this is actually a pretty hot topic virtually because, as you can imagine, it’s hard to know what people are doing. And so, the biggest mistake that we see leaders make is they don’t trust and empower their employees. Now, COVID has been a great example because, in many industries, productivity is actually up right now. It could be masking extreme burnout and fatigue, which is actually well-publicized right now, but, in all seriousness, many people are productive. And I think this COVID environment right now has led some leaders who were very skeptical about working virtually to realize that it actually can work.

And one mistake that leaders make is they’re so focused on when people work, “Is it 9:00 to 5:00? Are they available? Are they doing something with their kids when they’re supposed to be working?” and that actually is a myth, and people will be productive, but you have to empower them and find ways to check in and hold them accountable, of course, but just by empowering them alone, you get higher levels of productivity.

So, you’ve got to change your metrics with accountability. You can’t look at when people are working. You have to look at their output, which is much more important. And that’s why many companies have now started to really change the way they measure performance because it’s much different in a virtual setting.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. So, the clock is not going to be your guide in terms of seeing, “Are people performing well?” And so, what are some of the best approaches to do those check-ins and see the output flowing?

Darleen DeRosa
Yeah, some companies use software and different technologies to help measure output but, in general, the advice that I give leaders is, “You have to work harder at setting very clear goals for people.” And one of the things we know is more challenging virtually is making sure that people understand the priorities. So, in a more dynamic virtual setting, priorities shift, and if you’re not seeing people in the office where you could do a quick check-in with them, you’ve got to find ways to replicate that virtually.

So, setting clear goals and then being clear about what good looks like, what’s the deliverable, what’s the timeline, and then having checkpoints to actually check in with people. And we call this the ATC model. Again, lots of models today, Pete. But we call this the ATC model because it’s simple and people get it. And what we tell people is, much like an air traffic controller who’s managing numerous flights, “You’ve got to help your people manage a tremendous workload and priorities that are shifting fairly quickly.”

So, the A is really being clear about what it looks like, what’s the product, and being super clear about that with people up front. So, what’s the action and who’s accountable? Sometimes we see leaders say, “The team should do this,” but no one really knows who’s actually on point for that and who’s taking full ownership. The T is timetable, so, “Is it next quarter? Is it May 1st?” Like, what’s the real deadline and being very clear about that.

And then, finally, checkpoints, which is the most important, in my opinion, is, depending on the tenure and experience of that employee, you may need to check in with them more or less frequently, but actually have a conversation with the person to say, “Here’s what we’re going to be working on. When should we touch base? Would it make sense to touch base in two weeks? Next week?” And for people who you’ve known for a long time and might be high performers, you might not need as many checkpoints. For others, where this might be a newer task or developmental task, you might need to check in more frequently. So, the ATC model is a very simple way to make sure that you’re setting people up for success virtually.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, you mentioned some software tools, and I find that intriguing because I guess it will probably vary quite a bit based on what work you’re doing. But it’s really kind of hard to measure one’s true value-add contribution. I don’t know, like if I were to say, hey, lines of code as a metric, or words produced, or invoices processed, in some ways that can be counterproductive to have automated software kind of counting that sort of thing. So, what are the software solutions and what are they doing?

Darleen DeRosa
Yeah, a lot of it is things like Teams, which now has a lot of like optionality in there for tracking projects and milestones and things like that. A lot of clients use Basecamp, as one example. But it’s less about tracking, like literally what you’re doing, and more about helping the team members stay on track together when they’re working virtually. So, it’s much more collaborative to help track and measure the team’s performance.

So, to store documents, to have the timeline up there, to keep track of things, to have version control for things that people might be working on together. So, technology has continued to evolve significantly, as you know, over the last decade, and I think it will continue to evolve even more in the next five or six years alone. So, those are just some simple things that some organizations are using but, clearly, depending on the role, the complexity of the job, and the industry, there’s a lot of variability.

Professional services, that’s not how we’re measured. It’s more we’re measured on how we deliver to clients. We’re measured on our productivity. But we have internal software to track that, just as one example.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about the motivation?

Darleen DeRosa
Yes, I love this topic because this is very challenging virtually. So, first of all, you’ve to set people up for success, but what we do know is that motivation takes on a different meaning virtually. It’s harder. Virtual colleagues and employees face very unique challenges. And you probably have seen this in this year alone where it’s particularly difficult for people because people are feeling isolated, there’s much less work-life balance with the blur between work and home being gone, so managers have to think differently and really try to be proactive at checking in with people.

People are exhausted and people are burnt out. Again, I’m making a generalization but this is pretty well documented in all the research. So, encouraging people to take breaks and schedule time for their own personal development is very important. Don’t have meetings just to have a meeting. Having meetings for status updates is one of my pet peeves and it’s very unproductive. Encouraging people to get off video. Non-stop video or that Zoom fatigue that you’ve probably read about, Pete, is real because it’s cognitively draining to sit there and stare at a camera all day.

So, encouraging people to take a walk and just talk on the phone is really good. Again, these are just a few simple ideas but really checking in with people, depending on where they are in their own personal development journey is important, and finding time and encouraging people to make time for non-work interaction, the relationship piece that I talked about, is really important.

The other thing that’s very important virtually is you’ve got to recognize people. So, clearly, recognition is important but many leaders are so busy that they’re not doing it proactively. So, one tip I’ll give to senior leaders that I’m coaching is, “Block time in your calendar, even if it’s once a month, and call it your time to recognize people. Send him notes. You can send gift cards,” a Grubhub Gift Card, for example. Again, it doesn’t have to be monetary. Just send someone a text to thank them. It’s simple things that really go a long way to recognize the team.

One of my clients, it’s a pharma company, they have guest speakers come in, they have recognition sessions where they actually get the team to talk about, like, a colleague who’s been helpful to them. And, again, it sounds really simple but these are critical drivers of motivation when you’re working remotely.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about process?

Darleen DeRosa
So, process, the most simple thing about process is technology, that’s what we think about. So, there’s a bunch of processes that fit in the P but the one that’s probably most relevant here is match your technology to your task. So, I talked earlier about using technology well. What we learned is that best-in-class virtual teams don’t necessarily have the most sophisticated technology, they just know how to use it.

So, really, as a leader, what’s most important is if you’re going to have a meeting, don’t have a meeting for a status update, that’s just one simple example. Don’t use email to coach someone. And, again, it sounds crazy but I see this all the time. So, you’ve got to be very thoughtful when you’re working virtually about how you use technology appropriately depending on what your goal is and what you’re trying to accomplish.

So, if you’re going to have a tough conversation with someone or you’re going to give someone feedback, do it by video or phone, obviously. It has to be that high-touch environment. So, really being thoughtful about that and making sure that teams are not overwhelmed by technology, that everyone is using the same thing, that’s very important. So, those are just a few quick examples. But this idea of Zoom fatigue is very real.

And I don’t know if you’ve seen like the articles in Forbes, in Fortune, and the Times, HBR actually has an article on this. Basically, people are sick of video. And I think many organizations went to the extreme with video in COVID because they were unsure how to connect with people, but being thoughtful about video, encouraging people to take breaks, some of our clients are doing video-free Fridays, or video-free half days. So, for those of us who are on video nonstop, it actually really matters. So, being thoughtful about how people are working is really important.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Darleen DeRosa
So, I think one of my favorite quotes, is from this book Illusions by Richard Bach, and it’s this quote that says something like, not verbatim, but something like, “Every person, all the events of your life are there because you’ve drawn them there, and what you choose to do with them is up to you.” And I love that because, throughout my career as a psychologist, I really believe that we have some control over how we respond to things, how we handle stress, how we handle all of those types of things that really build our resilience, so I’ve loved that quote even from more than a decade ago.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Darleen DeRosa
I think one of the ones that has been the most profound for me was one that what I read about in grad school, so a long time ago when I was doing my dissertation on virtual team work. And it was a study that looked at trust and how you build trust virtually. It’s exactly what I was talking about before. It was one of the first studies, it was pretty old at that time even, but it still rings true about, “How do you build that swift trust or that task-based task virtually?” and that it’s actually more important.

And that, again, it’s interesting because I never realized, way back then, how much of this would be part of what I do day to day many years later, this idea of studying virtual teams and helping leaders be more successful remotely.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share a favorite book?

Darleen DeRosa
One of the books that I love that has been profound in my CEO succession practice is The Leadership Pipeline mostly because I’ve always been fascinated with “How do you identify high-potential leaders?” So, besides the virtual team stuff that I do, that’s a huge part of my work and I’ve been fascinated with, “How do you identify people who have potential to do more? What does that really look like?” and then building assessments around that. So, it is a bit specific but it also has been a big part of the work that I’ve been doing over the last decade.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m just kind of curious. And what are some of the top telltale signs that someone has great potential?

Darleen DeRosa
Yeah, that’s a good question and one that we continue to try to evolve on, Pete, over time. But definitely, people who take initiative, which isn’t a surprise; people who are engaged and advocate for their organization; people who have learning agility, which is one of the most important predictors of leadership potential, so someone who’s put in unfamiliar situations who can really thrive; and then, lastly, someone who’s self-aware. So, self-awareness and then they’re able to flex and adapt and learn very quickly. So, I think, again, these are just some of the dimensions that I think are quite well documented when we think about what really defines people who have the potential to do more over time.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Darleen DeRosa
Honestly, right now, video conferencing because, besides all the virtual team stuff that I do, I am on video every day. So, using Microsoft Teams and other technologies I use constantly. But the other thing that I do, and I’ve been using a lot more, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with these tools, but in a lot of my training work where I do leadership development with top teams and companies, we’ve been experimenting and using collaborative software technologies to help teams brainstorm, share ideas, whiteboard, and also have fun while they’re working together in our leadership development virtual classrooms.

So, we’ve been using tools like Mural and Miro which are really fun, innovative, collaborative tools that help people. It almost replicates what you do if you had people around the conference room table, so I love those two.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you frequently?

Darleen DeRosa
I think one of the things, this was in an article that I wrote in the Wall Street Journal years ago, and it was this idea of out of sight but not out of mind. And it’s the notion, at that time when I was writing this article, it was something that I said and is now very widely quoted. And, at the time, I was writing about “How do you, as a leader, own your career? And even if you’re not in the same office or geography as your boss, how do you win over a boss who’s remote?”

And I started talking about this idea of out of sight but not out of mind. You’ve got to work a little harder at it. And I do really believe, and it’s a great lesson for all of us, that being virtual or hybrid in this kind of some of us in the office, some of us not, really requires more initiative and ownership, as like us managing our time, managing our calendars, and taking initiative to reach out and not just rely on our boss or manager reaching out to us. And I think that’s really important.

And I think it’s actually more true than ever because most organizations, about 80% of companies, are going to land in what we call a hybrid environment where you’ve got some people in the office and some people at home. And, frankly, that is the most challenging environment to manage in because of lack of equity, some people feeling like they’re not next to their boss, they might not get cool projects so they might not get promoted. So, that is the hardest model to manage in but it’s going to be the one where most organizations land.

And so, I think this idea of trying to create an even playing field is going to be really critical for all of us as leaders in the next decade.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Darleen DeRosa
They can go to my LinkedIn page. They can go to the SpencerStuart website. We’re actually going to be putting up some pretty cool self-assessments and technologies, or quizzes rather, that people can use as the book launches. So, the SpencerStuart has a Leading at a Distance page that people can go to as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Darleen DeRosa
I would say get feedback. That is something that I believe is true. Again, super simple but let me end with this one statistic. In our first study in 2011, this was based on 50 global virtual teams that we ended up publishing in the book, more than two-thirds of the leaders were not seen as effective by their boss and other stakeholders, and they had no idea.

So, the biggest learning, again, under this idea of taking initiative and really owning your own career, it’s important to ask for feedback, and most of us don’t do it because we don’t want to hear it necessarily, but even if you don’t want to hear it, people might be thinking it. And so, what I would encourage us to do is to step outside of our comfort zone and check in with people more because it’s more important in a virtual setting where you can actually course-correct and make some improvements.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Darleen, this has been a treat. I wish you all the best as you lead from a distance.

Darleen DeRosa
All right. Thanks so much, Pete. Appreciate it.

577: How to Manage and Engage Remote Teams with Kevin Eikenberry

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Kevin Eikenberry says: "Leadership first, location second."

Kevin Eikenberry discusses the small, but powerful changes leaders must make when managing remote teams.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The foundation of successful remote teams
  2. How to measure your remote team’s productivity
  3. Top tips for facilitating better online communication

About Kevin

Kevin Eikenberry is a world renowned leadership expert, a two-time bestselling author, speaker, consultant, trainer, coach, leader, learner, husband and father. He is the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group, a leadership and learning consulting company that has been helping organizations, teams and individuals reach their potential since 1993.

Kevin also is the creator and content developer of The Remarkable Leadership Learning System, a continual leadership development process focused on developing the 13 competencies of remarkable leaders with virtually delivered content to leaders worldwide. Kevin and his family live in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Kevin Eikenberry Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Kevin, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Kevin Eikenberry
It’s awesome. I’m glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m glad to have you. And one fun thing we learned about you in stalking you is that you have an antique tractor collection.

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, I have an antique tractor collection. The first question people ask is, “Do you mean like real tractors?” Yes, 13 of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Thirteen real full-size tractors?

Kevin Eikenberry
I also have spread around this office, I have toy tractors of different ages as well.

Pete Mockaitis
So, please, how did this come to be? And what is your fascination with them?

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, I grew up on a farm, and my grandpa u sed to say, “You can take the boy off the farm…” which I largely did, “…but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.” I own the farm I grew up on, started the hobby, if you will, 21 years ago. It became a hobby I shared with my father, and then he passed away unexpectedly and I’ve continued it. It’s a way to connect to my kid-hood, to my adulthood. It’s created a bunch of great memories for me. And, like most things in life, it’s not really about the tractor. It’s about the why underneath it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so do these antique tractors work or is it sort of a mixed bag, more for show?

Kevin Eikenberry
It’s a mixed bag. I have some that people that do this would say are parade quality or show quality. I have others that run, I have a couple that aren’t currently running, but I don’t have any that are like torn apart in 3700 pieces, anything like that.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I, one time, went to a tractor pull, and it was a unique event. So, I grew up in Central Illinois so that’s not so outrageously a thing to do.

Kevin Eikenberry
Completely outrageous, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
But it was interesting to me not knowing much about tractors, how much people got into it, like, “Good pull, buddy. Good pull.” But toward the end, it’s like these tractors didn’t even look like they did farm work. They were more like the sports car tractor.

Kevin Eikenberry
Yeah, exactly. Depending on what kind of tractor pull you went to, they weren’t anywhere close to being an actual tractor. So, my collection ranges from 1939 to 1966, is the range of the tractors.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, so I don’t have a poor segue but maybe you’ll give me one. We’re talking about long-distance leadership. And I’d love to know, so you put together this book The Long-Distance Leader. What would you say is the most surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made while researching and putting it together?

Kevin Eikenberry
So, I think, I don’t think it was the biggest thing I learned during it, but I think one of the biggest things that people can take from it, and, of course, now lots of people are living in this world in a forced way, is that the first rule we mentioned in the book is the idea that it’s leadership first, location second. It’s not that everything changes, but lots of little things change. And, as one of my mentors told me a long time ago, Pete, little hinges swing big doors.

And so, there’s a whole lot of little things we got to get better at, nuances we need to take advantage of and pay attention to that will help us be effective in leading a team when we don’t see them every day.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you say leadership first and location second, do you mean in terms of your priority for how you’re allocating your time, attention, resources, and growth? Or, what is the first and the second that you’re getting at?

Kevin Eikenberry
Yeah, there’s some truth to that. There’s some truth to that we need to remember that we’re leaders and be leading. And we’re only leading, by the way, Pete, if people are choosing to follow us, right? So, that’s the first thing I would say. And so, part of the message is don’t get worried or lost in, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t see them. Are they working?” So, don’t get lost or worried about the location, but we must recognize the location, and because of the fact that we’re not in the same place, we have to be more intentional and work harder.

So, in other words, everything we had to do in leading people when they were down the hall, still needs to happen. May need to have more of it but don’t forget what you already knew, transfer those habits to what you need to change and adjust to do it when people aren’t right down the hall.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, in summary then, what would you say is fundamentally the same and unchanged versus, indeed, unique here in the remote world?

Kevin Eikenberry
We’re leading people. They’re all different. They have unique needs, wants, etc., and so we must work harder to understand those things and understand those people so they will still choose to follow. I believe that our job as a leader is to create a sense of commitment and not just try to create compliance. So, to do that at a distance requires us to b e more intentional, more focused, more diligent, because we have to continue to build those relationships.

Some of the things that happen without us even thinking about it at the coffee pot. Someone pops their head into the office, none of that is going to happen when we’re at a distance, so we’ve got to be more intentional and more focused to make those spontaneous things, serendipitous things, happen when they can’t be that way anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then I’d love to hear your take from lots of experience with working with lots of people. What would you say are the top one to three struggles or surprises or challenges that remote leaders, when they start doing it, go, “Uh-oh,” they’re having a tough time with?

Kevin Eikenberry
They have trouble with figuring out, “How are we going to communicate with each other?” and the frequency of that communication. They have trouble, oftentimes, with trusting their teams, which often manifests itself as micromanagement. And they have a lot of trouble with coaching and holding people accountable often. I would say those are three areas that often show up early.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then, well, tell us, what are some of the best pra ctices there in terms of addressing each of these?

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, so the first thing, we can’t create clear accountability unless there are clear expectations. And, foundationally, for us as leaders, and I’ll talk to the leaders and to the team members here for a second, okay? So, we need to, as leaders, be setting clear expectations for our folks. Because if they don’t know what’s expected, how can they possibly deliver? And if you’re on the other side, as a team member, out working from home or wherever, and not seeing your boss, your leader, your manager, you need to be making sure that you know what those expectations are.

So, don’t just say, “Well, they haven’t told me.” Instead, say, “I need to understand them so I need to make sure that I’m clear on what they are.” And once we’re working remotely, Pete, the expectations aren’t just about what needs to be done, but also how we’re going to do it, because so many things that sort of just happen, were obvious when we saw each other in the hallways and we could commit in someone’s office, it doesn’t happen anymore, so we’ve got to make sure that expectations are crystal clear in both directions. And if we don’t do that, we can’t get accountability, we can’t really do coaching until we have that set. So, that’s one of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to get your take there in terms of arriving at those crystal clear expectations transmitted and received, are there any key questions or approaches you use to ensure that you land there?

Kevin Eikenberry
Step one, as a leader, make sure you’re clear yourself, which often isn’t the case. So, just because you think you know and you roll your eyes because they’re not delivering, you can’t even make it clear to them yet, so you got to get out of your head and written down. So, when I’m coaching leaders, in fact I have a conversation with one of them tomorrow, the challenge was, “Okay, tell me what you really do expect. Don’t just tell me. Write it down then we can talk about it, because until you’ve written it down, it’s not clear enough. Thoughts are fuzzy, words bring clarity.”

Once you’ve got it written down, then you can share it with the other person. So, you can’t make it clear to them until it’s clear to you, and seldom is it clear enough. You are too vague and too high level usually, or too close to a job description and not close enough to clearly what we want. I’m not talking about creating a situation for micromanagement. What I’m talking about is creating a set of boundaries and lanes so people know where they’re headed, why they’re headed there, and how they can succeed when they arrive.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. So, you write it down, and then you…

Kevin Eikenberry
Then you have a real conversation, which means don’t just go, “Okay, I wrote all this down. Let me email it to you. Any questions?” Don’t do that, first of all. And don’t just say, “Well, let me read all these to you.” Rather, send them, and say, “Hey, I want us to have a conversation, make sure we’re clear on expectations.” And as we’re having this conversation, a lot of people who are listening to us are now maybe 60, 80, 90 days into working remotely for the first time, or leading remotely for the first time, right?

And so, maybe we got by for a while, the honeymoon is over. It’s still okay to have this conversation now, say, “Hey, listen, Pete, I’ve put together some thoughts. I want to make sure we’re on the same page about expectations, so I’m going to send this to you. I want you to review it. It’s meant to be a draft for us to have a conversation about. Then I’d like for us to meet and talk about it. I want to make sure it makes sense to you, it’s clear. Did I leave anything out? Does it leave any questions for you?” etc.

Then when we get on the phone or perhaps on a video call, then I need to start by saying, “So, Pete, what are your questions? What are your thoughts? What’s missing?” Because as the boss, as the leader, there’s a power differential between you and I, right? So, if I do all the talking first, there’s nothing left for you to say.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha.

Kevin Eikenberry
So, if I want a conversation, I have to engage you in it first or early. The more I talk first, the less likely you’re going to say anything even if there’s a high level of trust between us, even if you are pretty self-assured and self-confident because just of the unspoken nature of the power differential between us.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. So, there we go with the communication. Let’s talk about the trust next.

Kevin Eikenberry
So, the trust piece is, well, people will say, “Well, if I don’t see them, I don’t know if they’re working.” Well, you don’t know if they’re working anyway, right? Just because they happen to be in their office, and they happen to be typing away on the keyboard, you don’t know if they’re working unless you’re looking over their shoulder, which I surely hope you weren’t doing before.

People get lost in activity versus accomplishment. What we want is to accomplish things, not to be busy. I don’t care if my team members take a time in the middle of the day to go for a walk. I want the team to know it, in case you’re trying to get a hold of them, but I don’t care when they do their work. I want the work to be done successfully. And, especially now, we may need to allow people to be flexible about how they actually get it done, if they’ve got other issues like teaching school while they’re trying to work.

So, the reality is if we can stay, as a leader, focused on accomplishments and not activity, we can let go of all this garbage about, “Well, I don’t know if they’re working or not.” Does it make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Absolutely. And it’s intriguing because before, the phrase “work from home” often just sort of had scare quotes in it because I’m always working from home so for me I really mean it. But it’s like, “Oh, I’m working from home, wink, wink, wink.” And so, it’s intriguing there because some folks really aren’t doing much with the activities, but it sounds like where you’re going with this is if the accountability is clear and the expectations are clear in terms of the output and achievements, then it’s like, whether they’re working 10 hours or one hour, they’ve accomplished all that they were supposed to accomplish.

Kevin Eikenberry
It really shouldn’t matter. If people can get their work done in two hours, then maybe you’re not giving them enough to do, or that you’re not using them to their potential. That’s a different subject than what we’re talking about right here. Now, if you’ve got someone who’s working remotely and they’re on a call center, they need to be customer-facing, or they can’t be away from their desks, that’s a different thing. But for many of us who are working from home, that doesn’t matter whether you do it at 2:00 p.m. or 2:00 a.m. sort of it doesn’t matter. And as a leader, I should let go of that because what I want is I’m investing in this person to get an output that creates a profitable exchange. And so, as long as that’s happening, that’s what I should be focused on.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’m with you. And let’s talk about the coaching now.

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, so we kind of went to the coaching first when we talked about expectations. I want to come back to the communication in general. They’re connected, of course, but the communication in general is chances are, once you’re working remotely with folks, you’re going to need to communicate with them more frequently than you were before because you don’t have any of the happenstance, and you probably need to be a little more formal about it, and here’s why.

Like, right now, I’m in our offices, I’m the only one here. I’ve been the only here for 60 some days or however long it’s been now, but when there were a couple of people that were here part of the time, then they could see if I was available, they knew if I had a minute or not. Now, they don’t. They look at my calendar, it looks busy, and so they don’t reach out, not because they don’t want to, maybe not even because they don’t need to. And, in part, in my case, I think it’s because they’re honestly thinking about my time.

However, it ends up a phone call that ends up, “Hey, Kevin, I know you don’t have much time. I’ll make this quick.” And all of the conversations then become very transactional. We get no interaction. We only have transaction. And we, as leaders, got to make sure that doesn’t happen. I’ll get back to how to do that in a second. But what we need to do is schedule those times, and we need to be reaching out to each other, talking about, and this is part of the expectations of how, about how often we’re going to interact and have those one-on-ones. Why? Because, otherwise, they’ll not happen. And more of the times we have to be way more intentional about all this.

And here’s the other part, you got team members who are thinking you don’t trust them. So, we hear all the time, “Well, my boss is just checking up on me.” Well, if we pre-scheduled a rhythm for these conversations then it’s not going to feel like checking up, it’s checking in, because we’ve already decided we’re going to have this conversation. Kevin didn’t call or Zoom you or Slack you because, in this moment, he decided he wanted to figure out what you’re doing. We decided that at 10:00 o’clock on Friday we’re going to chat. Does it make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That makes sense. And so, then with the coaching portion of that chat, do you coach differently remotely than you do when you’re in person?

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, I would say a couple of things. Number one is whenever possible, use the video cameras because we’ve got more cues from the communication perspective, we have better sense. You and I had that better right now than if we were only on the phone.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Kevin Eikenberry
It’s certainly a lot more than if we were only doing it via typing, right?

Pete Mockaitis
What the audience doesn’t know is that we’re looking at each other.

Kevin Eikenberry
We are looking at each other.

Pete Mockaitis
But that’s not…

Kevin Eikenberry
I’m looking at your bookcase, and you can’t see mine, you can’t see one of the eight in this office because it’s off to the side. But the point is that if we’re going to coach, we need to make it as close to face-to-face as we can, as much as we can. That’s the first thing. The second thing that I would say about the coaching piece is that every time we have a one-on-one, there are opportunities for coaching because coaching isn’t just about, “You’re screwing up and we need to fix it.” Coaching is also about, “You’re doing awesome. And how can we do even awesome-r?” Right?

So, all coaching is, “How do we help people continue to advance in the direction of a desired outcome?” And so, I think that we ought to be, as we create this rhythm, have the opportunity for coaching to not be an event but an ongoing process.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Good deal. Thank you. Well, so you mentioned, you rattled off a number of tools, Zoom, Slack, etc. I’d love it if we could touch that for a moment in terms of you’ve seen a lot of stuff. What do you think are some of the greatest tools available?

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, first of all, it’s always a danger for me to say ones out loud because then people say, “Well, that’s not the one we use.”

Pete Mockaitis
And they’re changing, what people are using.

Kevin Eikenberry
And they’re changing, right? So, we’re writing this new book called The Long-Distance Teammate, we had this long conversation, “Do you use those words?” In the last three months, Zoom has become a verb, right? A lot of people have never heard of it until a few months ago. But I would say this, chances are you already have tools that will work just fine. What you need to do is two things. Learn how to use them beyond the 20% you got, and then use the right tool for the right thing.

So, for example, there’s good times to use email and there’s better times to use your instant messaging tool, be it Slack, or Microsoft Teams, or whatever it is. So, the point is it’s not like, “Well, I think Slack is better than Microsoft Teams.” It doesn’t matter. Pick one. Don’t let there be in-squabbling about, “Well, I like this better than that one.” Pick one, set clear expectations as a team about when we’re going to use which tool for which job, and then use them for the right reasons not because it happens to be the one you like.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, could you maybe give us some category of tool, good use for it, and bad use for it?

Kevin Eikenberry
Email is not for a conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Kevin Eikenberry
All of us have been in the third email in, right? That’s not going well. Someone needs to pick up the phone or do something else, right? At some level, as long as you and your team, or you and your organization, have agreements, that’s the most important thing. Have agreements about how you’re going to use which.

But let’s just take your instant messaging tool versus your email. Now I’m talking about how we do it. If it doesn’t need to be responded to in the next hour or two, email is fine. And we’re not expecting people to automatically respond to an email that quickly. We’re a little more so with Slack than with email in our case, our instant messaging tool that we use.

So, shorter, synchronous, instant message. Longer, really needs to be asynchronous or could be asynchronous, email. That’d be one way to look at it. Another thing is if you’ve got multiple tools that you can use to do video, for example. You’ve got a Zoom thing. Like, in our case, because we work with clients all over the world, we’ve got, like name them, we got them all.

But we, as an organization, say that when we’re communicating with each other, it’s either this one or this one, not all of them. One of these two. And for the most part, if we’re having a two-person conversation, excuse me, it’s Zoom. If we’re having a larger team, it happens to be GoToMeeting. That just happens to be how it’s evolved for us. The most important thing is know how to use your tools, know how to use most of their capabilities, and then get agreement with everybody about how you’re going to use them.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say, you mentioned 20%, like we only know 20% of how to use Zoom or a given tool, what are some sort of features that most people are just leaving on the table? Like, “Did you know you could do this? You can. Maybe start doing that.”

Kevin Eikenberry
Here’s a simple one. If you’re in a meeting room, in a conference room, you’ve got a whiteboard or flipchart and you’re using it, maybe not using it as well as you could but you probably are using it. Pretty much all these tools have that. Are you using it there? Do you know how to use it there? One example. Do you know how to, if you’ve got a Brady Brunch screen with 12 of you, or whatever, and that’s driving you nuts, do you know that you can change it so you only see the active speaker?

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Kevin Eikenberry
There’s two simple examples. We could go a lot further but there’s two simple examples.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, when you mentioned asynchronous communication, there’s email. One of my favorite tools for asynchronous communication, personally, is Loom with a screen-recording videos that are super zippy. Anything else that maybe is not on most people’s radar but should be?

Kevin Eikenberry
I don’t know that I have. I mean, there are some pretty cool tools, or bunch of them. There are some pretty cool tools that allow you to shoot quick videos that you can then include. I will give you one that you may not know. Did you know that you can send someone a video message in LinkedIn?

Pete Mockaitis 
Oh, yes. I do.

Kevin Eikenberry
At least, as far as I know, you can still only do it with your mobile device. You can’t do it from here, but you can send someone a more personal note. So, that’s probably more for networking, or staying connected with other people, or for sales and marketing roles within your team, there’s an example. I’m always open to finding new stuff, but I’m always concerned when people just keep hopping, “Oh, we got to try this. Oh, we got to try this. Oh, we got to try this.”

Let’s see what we’ve got and what works with it before we start looking because, again, a lot of times we’re not using the capabilities of what we’ve already got, and we create some amount of…especially the larger our team or organization, we create a whole lot of new angst and spinning of wheels by introducing new tools before we use the ones we got.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. And so, when it comes to knowing how to use them and using them well, part of the game is to just be aware of the features that are in existence when you click different popups and dialogues and submenu items. And I think, beyond that, there’s also how we conduct ourselves as humans when, say, on a Zoom or video call. Can you lay out some best and worst practices that we should be aware of?

Kevin Eikenberry
Before we got there, I want to say one more thing back to where we just were, and that is the way to learn these tools is two things. Watch other people using them well. And, number two, don’t try to figure them out when you’re live. Go into the tool and practice. This sounds so simple but people don’t do it. You’ve all been in a meeting, “Well, how do you do this?” And someone else is trying to tell someone else how to do it. You could’ve taken 10 minutes ahead of time and already figured it out without the stress and the pressure, and wasting everybody else’s time.

So, to your other question now, how do we behave on a Zoom call? Is that kind of the question?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, I mean, I think there are some sort of givens that don’t need to be articulated. But, at the same time, there are other stuff that you’ve probably seen hundreds of times that annoys you like crazy. So, spell is out for us, what should we start and stop doing?

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, the first thing is people need to be focused on what they’re doing, and multitasking is a myth, and we shouldn’t be trying to do it. And so, one of the many reasons I love people having their webcams on is it’s harder for them to multitask. I mean, it’s pretty obvious if they’re looking away or doing something else, right? So, on my team, webcams are on, mute is off. In other words, unless you’ve got ambient noise that doesn’t allow it, or in the past, you’re in an airport, you’ve got a barking dog, the reality is I want your mics open, if at all possible.

Why? Because that helps you stay more attentive and stay more connected, and it helps the meeting be more natural. It’s never going to be quite the same. There’s still the hesitations and the interruptions and all that stuff, but we take a lot of that away, people are talking, “Hey, you need to go off of mute,” and we lose all of our momentum and all of our rhythm.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so true.

Kevin Eikenberry
So, set some clear ground rules as a team about how you’re going to do some of those things, first of all. Next thing is put a background behind you. And you can do all those things if you don’t want people to see where you’re at. You can do all sorts of things to change that. But, more importantly, is set yourself up, if at all possible, so you don’t have light behind you so we can see you.

We don’t need to look like you’re in witness protection, you don’t have to have professional lighting, but you just need to orient yourself so that when you look at yourself, can you see your face just like you want to see everybody else’s. So, those are a couple of simple little things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what I love about that mute tip so much is that, one, it’s counterintuitive. I think everyone thinks, “Oh, I should mute it so that I’m not annoying everybody.” And, two, it’s sort of like I think people already have some resistance associated with speaking up. And there’s all this research which suggests that just removing a little bit of friction just can go a long way in driving behavior. And so, if you want more people to participate and have more engaging interactive exchange, well, that mute button is providing just one more little bit of friction to make it less comfy.

Kevin Eikenberry
“Oh, I can’t find the mute button,” blah, blah, blah.

Pete Mockaitis
“I have a thought but it’s not that important and I’m going to have to reach for my mouse to unmute it, so I’m just going to hold it back.”

Kevin Eikenberry
Yeah, like when you say it like that it sounds kind of silly, but the reality is it’s friction.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s true, how we work.

Kevin Eikenberry
It’s friction in the system. So, let me give you a tip around this for the leader and as a member of the team, because even if you’re a leader, you’re in a bunch of meetings that aren’t your meetings, right? So, first, as a leader, you need to, if you want people to engage, we said this earlier on a different topic, if you want the team to engage, you’ve got to engage them early. If you don’t engage them early, the longer you do the talking, the less likely they will engage so you’ve got to engage them early.

And the second thing you need to do, as the leader, is facilitate better, which means more directive in terms of asking for input because, again, there is friction and there’s reasons, “Oh, wait, I’m not sure. I think someone else is going to say something.” That friction exists in the room, but when we get on Zoom or in a video conference setting, it’s enhanced. So, I will say, “So, hey, we haven’t heard anything from the marketing department yet,” or, “How about someone on the West Coast or in Pacific Time?” or

I was teaching a two-hour virtual session earlier today, and I had some people that, for some reasons, had to be on mute. And I said, “Hey, James, I’m going to give you a chan ce to get off mute. But before that, Keith, what do you think?” What I want to do is set him up to succeed in sharing something valuable, and ask questions that they have answers to. Like, “What do you think? What’s been your experience?” those kinds of questions will happen, help.

Now, if I’m on the participant side, it’s not my meeting, recognize that chances are the leader wants you to participate, “Oh, that’s true.” Assuming that’s true, then be a little more proactive, be a little more bold. What might feel like you’re jumping out on a limb, probably isn’t. It’s probably actually helping you be more, what I would call, ethically visible. You’re not trying to grandstand. You’re just trying to contribute. And so, don’t be afraid or, to say that in a positive way, I encourage you to be proactive and share your thoughts when you have them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I like that. So, let’s see, I want to make sure I get some tasty morsels that caught my eye in your book. You said, “Leading successfully requires understanding not just what they’re doing but what people are thinking.” How do we pull that off to get that understanding of what people are thinking?

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, we’ve got to have more conversations. Let me go back to one other thing about the conversations we need to have, especially remotely. let’s say, Pete, you and I are having our weekly one-on-one call. The first thing I need to do is not dive into my list. First thing I need to do is start with a little bit, and maybe one minute, maybe three minutes, it depends on the person and the relationship with that person, I want to start with, “So, how is it going? What’s happening?” And, especially during this whole COVID thing, that’s been a super important point. We need to talk about something besides the work first so that we start to create the sense and continue to nurture the relationship, number one.

And the second thing is I encourage all of my team members, and I encourage all of our clients to do the same, if we know we’re having a weekly one-on-one, or whatever the frequency is, I’m always creating a list of things that I can save for that conversation with you, and I’m asking you to be doing the same. So, everyone in my team calls it the Kevin list. So, I always start with, “So, what’s on your Kevin list?” If I go first, we may not get to theirs. If I’ve got something we got to get to, I make sure we get that done. That’s not a problem. But, really, what I’m after here is to get more of their thinking earlier.

So, if I start finding out what they’re wondering about, what their questions are about, I’m getting a better chance to get inside of what’s going on for them, what their worries, concerns, anxieties are. And by really creating conversation, then I have a chance to ask those questions to learn more and to be more observant about those things as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. And by having this running list, you also reduce all the other options, they’re all bubbled together.

Kevin Eikenberry
That’s a whole episode right there, Pete, about how we manage our time and the productivity around that. There’s no doubt about it. If we both know that we’re meeting on a regular rhythm, and the rhythm for me with my team members isn’t the same for each person based on who they are and the role that they play and the five or six other things. But if we know that, then if something comes up that goes to the top of the list and we need to talk, of course we talk.

But by having that regular rhythm, there’s a lot of things that it doesn’t have to be, “Oh, by the way, I just thought this as I come down the hall,” and we are both interrupted. You were interrupted and so was I, right? Now we just put that down, we’ll get to it, it’s all good. If it’s really urgent, we’ll talk about it. No problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. All right. In chapter nine, you have a golden suggestion for working with others. Did we already get it? Or what is it?

Kevin Eikenberry
not do unto others how you want to be done unto. It’s do unto others how they want. So, in other words, always focus on “What would work for them? How can I communicate it in a way that will work for them not what I would want, but what will work best for them?” So, it’s shifting, it’s still thinking about it’s more empathetic, more outwardly-focused approach.

Pete Mockaitis
And how does one get to that understanding? I imagine you have to ask, you have to discuss your preferences and needs and habits, and how things flow well for another.

Kevin Eikenberry
Hopefully, if you’ve been leading a person for a while, working with someone for a while, you’ve started to figure some of that out. If that question that Pete just asked you, “Oh, I’m glad he asked that question,” then it’s probably time for you to step back and be a little more observant, number one. but you can come out and ask, “Hey, I’ve been doing it this way for a while, Pete. Is that working for you? Would there be a better way than that? Hey, when we had that exchange, I didn’t feel like it went super well. It felt maybe I was misinterpreted. Can we talk about it? I want to make sure what I could’ve done differently or better.”

So, we can do all those kinds of things, of course. We should be asking for feedback, Pete, to help others get better. But there are other tools, too, like whether for you and your organizations, it’s Myers-Briggs, or if it’s DISC, that’s what we happen to use. But some sort of a tool or assessment or model that gives us all a sense of where people are in general is helpful. We don’t want to put people in boxes but those kinds of tools can be helpful too.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then how do you think about politics in the world of remote leadership?

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, people think, sometimes people think about politics as a negative, right, “Well, I don’t want to play office politics,” or they think, “Well, I’m remote, some people are in the office and I‘m not, so I can’t play those games.” So, I don’t think you want to make that such a negative thing. The human condition is that we make decisions based on who we know and what we know about them. So, I think building relationships and trying to keep our conversations in a positive vein, and not getting into all the gossip stuff, of course, is very helpful. But I wouldn’t cast a pall over the word politics. We can be seen, we can be effective, we can be influential without it being scummy. How about that?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you.

Kevin Eikenberry
I don’t think I ever said the word scummy on a podcast before, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
We break ground. We’re innovatives over here. Well, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Kevin Eikenberry
No, you’ve asked great questions.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Kevin Eikenberry
James, the book of James, chapter 1 verse 2, “Consider it pure joy, brothers and sisters, because…” now I’m going to paraphrase the rest “…because through trials and challenges, we have the chance to grow in the Church.” So, I think especially now, that when there seems to be challenges around us, if we consider it all joy, to say that there’s good that will come, we must look for it. And even in the challenge is opportunities for us to grow.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you give us a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, I’ll just mention one that was in The Long-Distance Leader and also will be in The Long-Distance Teammate. Bettina Buchel wrote a piece that talks about richness versus scope in communication. The idea is that the richest communication is the face-to-face, nose-to-nose, across the table conversation, right? But that is not much scope, it’s just two people right now, that’s all there is. Scope is something like a mass email. It has a tremendous amount of scope but not much richness. And so, using the idea of richness versus scope and trying to balance those to help us pick which communication tools might help us is a useful model.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Kevin Eikenberry
Okay. I knew this was coming and it’s an impossible question. I read probably a hundred books a year and so, on one hand, I would say the one I’m reading now, but instead I’ll give you three.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Kevin Eikenberry
And they’re all old, right? The Bible, Think and Grow Rich, and How to Win Friends and Influence People would probably be where I’d go. All of them have had, and continue to have impact on me. They all are examples of timeless principles that we can continue to apply even if context changes.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite tool?

Kevin Eikenberry
You know, I knew you were going to ask me that question, and I’m going to say, I’m actually going to say LinkedIn, and maybe because, I’ll say it for two reasons, number one is I’ve been fortunate and blessed to have the chance to work with them and have some LinkedIn Learning products, and so I love it from that perspective. But here’s the thing, of all of the social media channels, at least for what I see. There’s a much higher ratio of useful versus noise. And I think maybe people overlook it a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
I agree. And how about a favorite habit?

Kevin Eikenberry
Reflect. We have a tremendous amount of opportunities to learn from what we have experienced, both what has gone well and what hasn’t, and most of us don’t take near enough time to reflect, not only on what happened, but what to do with it now that it has happened.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a particular nugget that you have shared that really seems to connect and resonate, and gets quoted back to you often?

Kevin Eikenberry
I think I say this a lot, that there’s a big difference between deciding and doing, and the difference is action.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, they could certainly go to LinkedIn. They can go to KevinEikenberry.com. We’ve got a number of websites related to the various books and all that stuff. But if you can remember how to spell my name, you can find us. I hope you do. I hope you let us know how we can help.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Kevin Eikenberry
Yeah. When you were a kid, your parents asked you a question every day, and if you’re a parent, you’ve asked this question of your kids regularly, but when was the last time you asked yourself this question, “What did I learn today?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Kevin, thank you. This has been fun. I wish you lots of luck in all of your long-distance leading.

Kevin Eikenberry
Thank you so much, Pete. It was a pleasure to be with you. Thanks for having me.

573: How to Leverage Your Time by 6000% through Effective Delegation with Bill Truby

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Bill Truby shares the simple trick to getting better results when delegating tasks.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biggest mistake leaders make when delegating
  2. The most crucial thing you need to delegate
  3. The only four reasons why people fail to follow through

About Bill

Bill brings the background of common-sense learning (being raised on a cattle ranch), a B.A. in Theology, an M.A. in Psychology, the experience of a MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist), and nearly 30 years of business practice to the table.

These multiple perspectives and backgrounds synergize to bring amazingly simple, yet powerful tools to leaders and managers – tools that have been proven over and over for nearly four decades.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Bill Truby Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Bill, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Bill Truby
Well, my pleasure, Pete. I’m thankful to be able to talk with you, and I guess it’s been a while since we’ve began to connect, and now we’re really voice to voice.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am thankful too because I remember I’ve discovered you in my very first batch of guest recruitment. It was in the For Your Improvement book by the Korn Ferry folks. It had a nice bibliography of folks and books and resources associated with each skill I thought I might focus in on. Yours is one. I looked, I liked it, didn’t work out. But four years later, well, here we are. I’m glad that we both stuck with it.

Bill Truby
Well, I embarrassingly apologize, Pete. There was a lot going on in life back then.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. And I didn’t really follow up much. it was like every, I don’t know, year, “Hey, Bill. I still want you.

Bill Truby
Well, I am thankful too. And, yeah, it’s the way things are meant to be, I suppose.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so we’ve got a lot of fun to get into when it comes to delegation. But I want to hear just a smidge about… you grew up in a cattle ranch in Texas. And my experience with ranches is limited to the Nickelodeon program “Hey Dude” I watched as a child.

Bill Truby
Oh, you poor soul you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, tell us about this.

Bill Truby
Well, I tell you what, I attribute most of who I am and how I am to my cowboy background. And I didn’t grow up in Texas but I have roots in Texas. If you look at a map of Texas, about two hours north of Abilene, you’ll see a little town called Truby, Texas. And there’s a little book written by the Arizona Historical Society about the Trubys and the Coxes. The Trubys were the cattle ranchers, the Coxes were the sheepherders. And if you know about American history, they were at war, when guns ruled the land.

I mean, it was late 1800s and the Trubys and the Coxes were both bull-headed and they were shooting at each other, and the local sheriff finally rounded up the most offending Trubys and the most offending Coxes and put them in jail. And in those days, you couldn’t convict them till the circuit-riding judge came around, which he finally did.

Well, the judge finally said, because cowboys are loyal, and apparently sheep herders are too, and people were lying for their family of support and their family of choice. So, finally, the judge said, “There’s no getting the truth here. You’re free to shoot it out.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow.

Bill Truby
Yup. So, everybody left the courthouse. The book talks about it. And Trubys, apparently, were smarter than they looked because they left, and they went to New Mexico, and that’s where my dad was born, and he was raised on a little ranch there and a sod house. And then he moved to northern California where I was born and raised on a cattle ranch in Humboldt County. And I end this little story by telling you that the Texas Historical Society allows you to adopt a small town. So, I adopted Truby, Texas. I have a town.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, there you go.

Bill Truby
But, apparently, Trubys weren’t worth much because it only cost me 25 bucks to…

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what are your responsibilities if you’ve adopted a town, you’re the father? Like, do you have to pay for things?

Bill Truby
Yeah, I have a certificate. That’s it. That’s it. And there’s 24 people that lived there so they had to split that last dollar, Pete. So, that’s the beginning of my heritage, and a lot of things I learned though, Pete. Hard work. Honesty. Integrity. My word is better than a contract.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. Well, let’s hear your good word when it comes to effective delegation. it’s a universal skill. We need some more, great wisdom, on how to do it well. you’re one of the guys. So, your book has a compelling bullet that says “Effective delegation can leverage our time by 6,000%.” That’s quite a figure. It’s kind of specific. Where do we get it?

Bill Truby
Well, that book, first of all, was written long ago. And one of our claims to fame long ago was the ability to teach people how to delegate effectively, and always get follow through, or if you didn’t, you were able to fix it with one or two times, and it’s powerful. So, our co-author at the time, I’ve written some other books, but I did a co-author at the time, and he did some research on some of our folks that used the tool and multiplied their time that they used to take to fix delegations that just didn’t work well, and did the old math. I don’t know how he did it, but it was a pretty impressive number, but I know intuitively, and I know empirically that over 40 years of doing this is it just proves this tool. It works. It always works.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I imagine, you know, 6,000%, 60X, I mean, if you’ve got 60 people and you’re delegating well, then that would do it and work out there. So, I want to really dig into a whole lot of the particulars, for what’s the system and how we can utilize it. First off, I think maybe could you frame it up for us? Like, I think we probably all know delegating is handy as opposed to trying to do everything yourself, and yet it seems hard. So, can you share what makes it hard? What’s holding us back? What are some of the mental blocks? Like, why don’t we just do this?

Bill Truby
That is an excellent question, and it’s excellent because it sets the premise. If we don’t delegate, then we have to do it ourselves. The only way that a leader, the only way that a father can leverage his or her effectiveness is by working with people and through people. So, it’s absolutely imperative that we delegate in order to be successful. We are self-limiting by self-doing. If we try to do everything ourselves then we are limited by the capacity that our energy and that our time extends to. That’s it.

So, the only way that you can play a beautiful orchestra is by not playing one instrument but leading and directing the delegation of a variety of instruments who all play the same song.

But your question, “Why don’t we do it?” Well, that’s a multifaceted answer. Some people are just too controlling. They will not let go. Other people are trying to make it perfect and they don’t think anybody else can so it’s a self-esteem issue. There’s a variety of issues, Pete, that cause people to not delegate. But the number one consistent theme that I’ve seen throughout all my years of teaching people to delegate is simply they don’t know how.

They’ll try to duplicate themselves. They’ll try to get people to do things exactly the way they would do it. They try to micromanage. They try to just give them a little, few pieces of information and tell them to go, and they don’t give them all the information. So, our tool has been built to cover every eventuality of delegation, and, thereby, make it successful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Exciting. Well, so then you got a lot of reps of experience, a lot of clients and students who’ve picked up on this. Could you share with us maybe an inspiring case study of someone who was having some trouble delegating, but then they saw some really cool things happen on the other side just so we can get a taste and feel some inspiration for it?

Bill Truby
Sure. There’s a man named Mike Solano who owns a $14 million hardware billing supply enterprise. He has a rental center, two billing supplies, two hardware stores, etc.

Now, this man worked six to seven days a week, every day spending eight to ten hours a day. He was overwhelmed because he wanted everything to go well, and he was successful. But he was overwhelmed, tired, weary. He was not going to be able to keep up this pace. Now I want to say something right now, Pete, about delegation, and that is delegation is a tool. What you delegate is also very important because you just don’t delegate tasks. You delegate roles. You delegate departments. You delegate businesses.

So, Mike learned this tool. He used it at the core of all of our other processes and teachings and tools that we use to run a business, and this was the core, and now Mike works two to three days a week if he wants to. His delegation process has empowered people. People have a sense of ownership. People have a sense of accomplishment and achievement and they enjoy going to work doing their role, their job, and reaping their results. And he’s allowed them to feel that kind of ownership.

We teach people, we teach leaders, we teach managers that you need to lead accountable people and not hold people accountable. That’s a core concept that we teach always. If you hold people accountable, you’re the one holding the accountability. If you lead accountable people, then they’re the ones holding the accountability. And that’s a whole other subject.

But Mike’s people have learned to be accountable and he doesn’t have to hold them accountable, and this tool is the core of how this process works.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Okay. Well, so then lay it on us. What is this tool, this process? How do we go do it?

Bill Truby
Well, when your listeners go to the delegation flowchart link and download it, they’re going to see what I’m talking about, but it truly is a flowchart, Pete. It starts at the top with what you do and then it flows down the page, and it teaches you what to do at each stage of the delegation process.

And at the very top, there is the point that you need to delegate. Accountability. Notice you’re delegating accountability. You’re not delegating just a task. You’re delegating accountability and you’re including responsibility and authority. Now that’s an important point. Sometimes people try to delegate by giving people a task to do but they don’t give them the authority that’s associated with the responsibility.

And here’s one of the first points. Sometimes the person doesn’t have literal authority. For example, there’s a safety officer in a big company. The safety officer doesn’t hire and fire, but the safety officer is charged with going through the facility and making sure people are doing safe practices and following safe protocols.

So, what happens if Mr. and Mrs. Safety Person says to John or Jane Doe manager, “Hey, you need to stop doing that”? If safety officer doesn’t have authority, that person doesn’t have any teeth in their words. So, how do you give the safety officer authority? You give it to him or her as vicarious authority, no different than air traffic control.

I’m sure you’ve flown a whole lot, Pete. When I listened to the pilots, air traffic control says, “United 73, descend and maintain 10,000.” I have never once heard a pilot say, “You’re not my boss.” And, obviously, they follow the instructions of air traffic control because of two reasons. One, there’s benefit. They’re not going to run into another plane. And, number two, FAA and the United Airline, or Delta Airlines, or whatever company you’re looking at, have given the air traffic controller vicarious authority to give orders to the pilots.

So, what that looks like is John or Jane Doe’s CEO says to the company, “People, Martha or John, this is my safety officer. When he or she is asking you to do something, it’s as if I’m asking you to do it.” So, that’s the first mindset that needs to be delivered in the context of delegation. We’re delegating responsibility and authority.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. So, responsibility, authority, accountability, and so it’s sort of like the whole enchilada. It’s like, “You own it. It’s yours.” And that’s really handy in terms of there’s not a lot of excuses that emerge in that, that’s like, “Well, I just did this because that was what was on the process sheet I was supposed to follow,” as opposed to, “Well, no, you own this sort of domain so, yeah, you’re going to follow the process but you’re also going to kind of exercise some judgment to do what clearly needs to be done to make it work out well.”

Bill Truby
You’re right, Pete. And that’s a very insightful way of putting it. The person who it’s been delegated to feels ownership of that enchilada. But the most important point is that other people know that he or she has that enchilada. If they don’t know, then that person is limited in their ability to carry out the task or the project. So, that’s the first mindset.

Many things that we teach, Pete, have to do with mind shifts. It’s sort of like leading accountable people rather than holding people accountable. That mind shift alone changes a ton of behaviors and beliefs and attitudes. So, that’s the top of the flowchart, delegate accountability, including responsibility and authority.

And at that point, you create what we call a contract of expectations. There’s never an assumption. The person being delegated to never walks away with a question. It’s a two-way communication, and this is where our communication tools come in, but you must create a clear contract of expectations. The core of a contract of expectations, or CoE as we call it, is a, “What? By whom? By When?”

Pete Mockaitis
Who will do what by when?

Bill Truby
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Bill Truby
Included in that is the purpose and context. Because if I just asked you, Pete, “Go do this,” and you say, “Okay, I’ll do it,” and you have no purpose or context, then you cannot be creative in the obstacles that may come your way. If you know the reason, the why, the purpose and the context where it fits in, then you can be a little bit more creative in your work as you encounter the unknown, which is always the case.

Pete Mockaitis
That is so valuable and really worth, I think, underscoring because a lot of times we don’t know the why behind the request, and we just sort of kind of do it. But I think I’ve been on both sides of things in terms of being the doer of the task and not really knowing, it’s like, “Well, I could go either way but I don’t know. Is this in my thing? So, my instructions are I’m just going to make a note and kind of keep on rolling.”

And then, as a leader, when I have been so wise as to share the purpose and context, to be surprised and delighted with people that I’m managing, say, “Hey, I bumped into this and so I did that.” And I think, “Well, that is perfect. Thank you.” It just feels so good, like I don’t have to say anything, and it came back even better than I had imagined it could have from my just process instructions, so this is really cool.

Bill Truby
Purpose and context has many psychological benefits. It increases ownership. It shows respect. It feels like you belong, that you’re included. But, more importantly, if the percussionist in an orchestra doesn’t know the song, all he can do is play the music. And if you don’t play the music in the context of the song, you might play too loud, you might play too soft. Same with a violin, same with a piccolo, same with a French horn. We must understand the purpose and context of the notes that we’re playing in order to make it effective in the long run.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Bill Truby
So, this is the first thing that happens in the delegation process, it’s preventative. So, there’s this clarity of what, by whom, by when. There’s a purpose and context. If it’s a long project, then you clarify when you want reports, and you always ask the person to do it. You don’t tell. This is about leading accountable people.

Pete, if I said, “Pete, go do this or that,” then you’re just a puppet, you’re just a person that’s doing a job. If I say, “Will you do it?” and you say, “Yes,” now we have a contract and you own it. So, when you don’t do it, if you don’t, I don’t say, “Didn’t I tell you?” I keep the accountability where it belongs. I say, “Pete, didn’t we agree?” And where does that put the accountability? Right on you. Okay, so that’s the first step.

So, we build all of this, it takes a few minutes. Obviously, it could take hours depending on if it’s a large project but there’s clarity, there’s absolute clarity, no assumptions ever. Clarity, clarity. Pristine, clear communication and an agreement. Now, when you do that, one of two things happen. If the person follows through, and if you look at the delegation flowchart, you’ll see on the right side of the page there’s a box that says, “Follow through.” And when a person follows through, then the arrow goes down to what we call a continuous improvement celebration.

Obviously, the type of celebration depends on the extent of the delegation. If I asked you to go get lunch for the team, that’s different than solving world hunger. So, the celebration is congruent with the task. And I don’t know if we want to get into all the details of a celebration at this point but just to earmark the four parts, there’s the party factor because everybody wants to have fun. There’s the recognition and appreciation, people need to be recognized and appreciated. There’s the learning what went well, what didn’t go well. What didn’t go well so you can fix it. What did go well so you can repeat it.

Because if something went well and you don’t know why it happened, you’re not good, you’re lucky. And then you transfer that knowledge to other people in the company, or other friends, somebody else who could benefit. So, that’s the right side of the flowchart, follow through, and then the last thing you do is to have some kind of a celebration, which gives closure and recognition and that motivation to want to be delegated to again.

Now, the left side, is when somebody may not follow through. This delegation process always works but what happens when somebody who doesn’t follow through is that you follow this chart and you’ll fix it typically one time. There’s a circle that goes on. So, if there’s no or limited follow through, there are four reasons. You know, Pete, I’ve never heard anybody talk about this, I’ve never heard anybody write about it, I’ve never heard anybody speak about these four concepts. But there’s only four reasons why someone won’t follow through, only four.

And I’m talking about anybody. Your friend, your neighbor, your spouse, your kid, your employee, your employer. Human beings have four reasons why they won’t follow through. A wise delegator will search for the reason in the order that I’ll give them to you right now. The first is, and they all start with lack of. The first is lack of awareness. They weren’t aware.

Now, typically, we’re communicating when we’re delegating, and humans aren’t the greatest at communicating. And so, if it’s lack of awareness, it’s often some glitch that occurred in the communication process, “Oh, I didn’t know you meant that.” We could use the same word success and you could think of different criteria for success than I do. So, the first is lack of awareness. And you never demand, you always ask questions, “So, what was your understanding of the task?” to see if there was awareness.

If there was awareness, the second reason a person won’t follow through, or can’t follow through, is lack of training. They thought they knew how but they didn’t, “So, did you know how to do this?” The third reason is lack of resources. They didn’t have enough time. They didn’t have enough equipment. They didn’t have enough staff. They didn’t have enough money. Something was lacking that wasn’t prevalent or wasn’t known at the beginning of the delegation process. And the only other reason a person won’t follow through is lack of accountability.

So, lack of awareness, number one; lack of training, number two; lack of resources, number three; and lack of accountability, they’re just not doing it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, let’s define accountability there in this context. So, is it they don’t feel like or what do you mean specifically by accountability here?

Bill Truby
They just didn’t do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Bill Truby
It’s just the outcome wasn’t there, “You didn’t bring lunch.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I guess, well, call me a stickler as a former strategy consultant about when you lay out, hey, there’s four reasons, I get really excited about a mutually-exclusive collectively-exhaustive categorization set because I’m a dork that way. So, lack of accountability, they just didn’t do it. That almost feels like an everything-else bucket, I guess, in a way, you can maybe subdivide that. Like, there are multiple reasons why they just didn’t do it. They didn’t feel like it. They weren’t motivated, and they don’t care. Yeah, can you unpack the lack of accountability a little more?

Bill Truby
Sure, and I love all those big words you used to identify this set. That was awesome.

Bill Truby
Okay. Remember what we delegated at the beginning of time, at the beginning of this delegation process. We delegated accountability. Well, there’s an obvious finishing of that sentence. The accountability to do blank. So, you and I are climbing a mountain, and I delegate you the holding of the rope to belay me as I climb.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Bill Truby
If you do not adhere to that accountability, you just don’t hold the rope, I don’t really care why because at this point, we’re not talking about the why. We’re simply talking about the outcome. Period. So, if you don’t hold the rope, there’s danger. If your hands hurt, if you’re sad, if you sneeze, if you don’t feel like it, those are all beside the point. When you’re out on the football field, and the ball is thrown to you, it doesn’t matter how you feel, your job is to catch the ball. And if you don’t go up to catch the ball, then you have not been accountable to what you’ve agreed to be accountable about.

So, it’s really not a catchall. It’s specifically focused on the task that was delegated. In some ways, I suppose the four reasons are the why, but they’re all about behavior and resources to do the behavior. They’re not diving into the emotional or psychological or relational reasons.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. I guess what I’m driving is, what I love about the first thing is lack of awareness, “Oh, okay. well, we’re going to have a clarifying conversation, we’re going to have some more detail, and we’re, okay, good, good, good. We’re all on the same page. Solved.”

Lack of training. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Well, here’s an instructional, a tutorial, a class, a course, whatever. Okay, now you know. Okay, good to go.” Lack of resources, “Oh, shucks, you’re right. We’ve got to free up some things from your plate or get some more people or budget under your purview, so that’s solved.” But how does one solve a lack of accountability?

Bill Truby
This, again, insightful, Pete. That’s fantastic, because if you’ll look at the chart, you’ll notice that the first three items, awareness, training, and resources, are typically one-time things. Once you find that that’s the case, then you provide the fulfillment of what was missing, awareness, training, or resources. And then you re-negotiate the contract, it goes up, you re-negotiate the contract by saying, “Okay, let’s look at the contract of expectations again, and re-enter your delegating process, your process of doing what I’ve delegated you to, given your new resources, or your new training, or your new awareness.” So, that one is a one-time loop. One-time loop.

Now, the lack of accountability, that one is fixed by using a separate tool. Now, first of all, I want to make sure that we understand that lack of accountability is binary, they either did it or they didn’t. And if they didn’t, they agreed to, so the first thing we do is to ask the question, “Didn’t we agree?” Right now, we’re working with a $440 million 2500-person nonprofit dialysis company. That entire company is using this particular process to fix people who are not performing effectively, who are not being accountable.

And, HR, if you call HR, the first thing HR will say is, “Have you asked them if they agreed to the contract of expectations?” So, we keep the accountability where it belongs. And, quite frankly, that’s respectful. If I take your accountability away, and say, “All right. Now I’m just going to demand this, and I’m going to make you do what I’m wanting you to do,” then you’re a slave, you’re not a fellow human being.

So, how you fix a lack of accountability is through this process. Number one, “Didn’t we agree?” and the person says, “Yes.” Then, secondly, “Then what happened?” We don’t ask why, “Then what happened?” We give a chance for a person to give their reasons. Then, third, “Then let’s re-negotiate the process here. Will you do A, B, and C by X, Y, and Z with J, L, and K outcome?” So, you’re basically revisiting the contract as well, but this time the person is simply agreeing again.

Now, let me get a little more practical. Let’s say that you asked somebody to do something, they didn’t do it, they weren’t accountable, so you ask these questions. Then they don’t do it the second time. Now, it’s your wisdom that has to determine how many times you loop. If it’s very, very important, it may be one or two times. If you’re trying to grow something, somebody, maybe it’s 12 times. But you will never ever, you can never ever, and this is the beauty of this tool, you can never ever, ever say, “Oh, well, that’s Johnny.” Because if we do that, everybody around us knows that we broke the contract and we perpetuated Johnny’s behavior, we’ve allowed it to happen to other people, we destroy our own ability to delegate if we break the contract ourselves.

So, whatever your wisdom says, one time, two times, 12 times, there comes a time when you say, “Didn’t we agree?” “Yes.” “Well, what happened?” “Well, A, B, and C.” “Well, let’s agree this time that if you don’t do it, that…” and then you have to default to your discipline process, “…that you’re going to be getting your first verbal warning.” Let’s say it’s a verbal written writ and termination. So, the person says, “Okay.” So, if the person doesn’t follow through, they know before you do, that they’re not following through so they’re managing their own discipline process. So, they come back, “Didn’t we agree?” “Yes.” “Well, then you remember, too, I’m giving you a verbal warning. Let’s agree that if it doesn’t happen again, you’ll be getting your first written warning.”

So, people either step up or step out. And here’s the good news, Pete. Most people step up. We don’t lose good people. They step up. They just needed boundaries, they needed clarifications, kids need boundaries, our employees need boundaries, friends need boundaries. And when we put a boundary in this tool, a person steps up or steps out. And so, that’s what you do when there’s no or limited follow through, you find the reason, fix it one time with the first three, use wisdom to fix it for the fourth reason, the lack of accountability, and then one or two things happens. The person follows through, which happens most of the time, or the person doesn’t, and they’re terminated from the team, they’re demoted, they’re not allowed to be on the team anymore.

And so, the delegating of the task always works. The person who is in the process of being delegated to sometimes might change if they’re not willing to step up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is really stretching my brain in some great ways, so thank you. I guess I’m wondering if, let’s say, they do the work but the results are not as grand as you’d hope. I don’t know, maybe in terms of like the quality, like, “Oh, I asked you to write up this document, and the writing is lackluster.” Or maybe it’s a higher-end result, like, “Hey, you were supposed to run this business division and generate $10 million in gross profit this quarter, and you got 8.” So, I guess, in a way, they do the work but they don’t get the results. How do we play that game?

Bill Truby
Well, two things. One, we must look at the delegator first, because you’ve got to be sure and have a clear contract of expectations at the beginning. So, lackluster of a writing material is a bit fuzzy. So, it’s up to the delegator to be clear and precise in communicating what needs to be done. The $10 million is rather clear and precise. So, the first thing, we’ve got to look at the delegator to make sure that the delegator is clear in his or her communication about the contract of expectations.

And then, secondly, part of the contract of expectations at the beginning, I mentioned just briefly in passing, if it’s a longer timeline, you want to get reports. And so, the $8 million at the end of this stretch of time should not be a surprise. The first benchmark, the first waymark, if the person was not on track, there’s a communication that goes on with the delegator and the delegate as to what’s going on. And one of two things happen. Either the goal begins to be adjusted or it is strengthened by some other resources to allow that goal to be reached.

So, the delegator in both cases, the lackluster in the writing or the diminished return on the 8 million versus 10 million, is involved in the process of guiding and helping along the way. But the key thing is the delegator is not doing it. The delegator is leveraging him or herself by delegating to the person who’s trying to play the violin, “Oh, you’re not playing that note quite right. Here are some techniques that you could use. Go practice those and then come back.”

I will tell you this, that through the delegation process, we do find that some people just are not bad people, nor are they unwilling people, but they don’t have the capacity. It’s up to the leader and manager to understand this over time. I didn’t mention this earlier but I have a master’s degree in psychology, and I was a marriage and family therapist in the early ‘80s for a couple years. And I’ve always needed to know the intent of a person not the behavior of the person.

In fact, my dad taught me that on the farm, he said, “Billy, always know why people are doing things. Don’t just look at what they’re doing.” So, I look at the why when a person isn’t following through, and it could be those four reasons, like I said. But we’ve entered into another little dimension here. If a person doesn’t have willingness or capacity, they won’t do it. In fact, they can’t do it. Even relationships. Relationships can only be successful if both parties have willingness and capacity. And I’m not talking just about a married couple. I’m talking about business and customers. Both sides of the equation, both people, have to have willingness and capacity.

So, in our process of delegating, everything might be going well but then we realize, “This person, no matter how great they are, no matter how talented they are, no matter how willing they are, they just don’t have the capacity,” and that’s where we have to adjust who we’re delegating to.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Bill, thank you. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Bill Truby
The core concept of everything we teach is to be other-centered. I want to just highlight that. That’s embedded in this. It’s clearly seen in leading accountable people. It’s clearly seen in asking the person to agree. It’s clearly seen even in the disciplining process if a person has lack of accountability. But I believe that the most successful businesses, the most successful leader, the most successful delegator will do so in the context of where the other person is coming from, how to communicate to them.

We’ll communicate to a 12-year old differently than we will a 48-year old. We’ll communicate to a person with a different skillset differently than a person who has a limited skillset. So, the delegation process is a tool. It’s like a shovel but you dig differently in sand than you do in clay. So, we exercise our interaction with the other person using the same tool, we exercise it a little differently based on that other person’s needs and wants. And that’s how we make them successful is that we’re always other-centered in our application of this tool.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Bill Truby
I suppose my favorite quote in all of my life has come from my dad, and I’ve illuminated it earlier. He always said two things, “Billy, always understand why the person is doing what they’re doing. And that understanding breeds empathy, acceptance, and the ability to lead them.” Then he also said, “Billy, if you can’t do anything about it, it doesn’t exist.”

And what that meant, I grew to learn over time, is that I deal with what I can do and I don’t take your stuff. And that gives respect. And that particular quote has caused boundaries that are freeing. It enables me to not have to run to the rescue. It’s like, if it’s not mine, I’ll care but I won’t carry. I’ll love but I won’t take it back from you. So, that’s a roundabout way of saying my dad gave me those two quotes that I live by, and they are very, very meaningful. They’re very deep in my soul.

He said, “Always know the why, and then you’ll understand the person. And if you can’t do anything about it, it doesn’t exist.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Bill Truby
I love the book Thinking Fast and Slow. Daniel Kahneman wrote it, and it tells you what goes on in your brain, very fast when you encounter something, and then what happens after you think about it. And that research has literally changed my life on how I teach, on how I think, on how I do what I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And, tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate, and people quote back to you often?

Bill Truby
Well, there isn’t necessarily one, but I will tell you this little story. There was a man in one of the large companies, 8500-person company, that had this Christmas party, and this man went as Bill Truby, though nobody knew he was Bill Truby.

And he was dressed in a tie and shirt and overcoat. And people said, “So, who are you?” This was a dress-up affair masquerade-type thing. He said, “I’m Bill Truby.” And they would say, “What do you mean?” And he’d open up his coat, and in there were 3×5 cards that he called Trubyisms. So, apparently, I say things all the time that people remember and, yeah, I don’t think there’s one, Pete. I think that there’s things.

I make them up. I go to a company and I’ll “efficiefy” them, and then people start using that word, “Okay, we’re going to get efficiefied.” “And I’m here to bring you to a state of efficiefication,” so I don’t think I’m stuck on one.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Bill Truby
TrubyAchievements.com. And this delegation flowchart can be found there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Bill, this has been a treat. Thank you for sharing the good word, and good luck in all you delegate.

Bill Truby
Thank you, Pete. I really appreciate you hanging in there for four years so we can meet each other. I do appreciate what you’re doing and I’m glad that I could help support it.

492: Making Meetings Work with J. Elise Keith

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J. Elise Keith says: "Every meeting is an opportunity. Seize it."

J. Elise Keith shares what makes meetings succeed vs. fail.

 

 

You’ll Learn:

  1. Signs of an ineffective meeting
  2. How the best organizations approach meetings
  3. When and how to opt out of a meeting

About J. Elise

Elise Keith is the co-founder of online meeting management platform Lucid Meetings. Known as the ‘Meeting Maven,’ Elise offers unprecedented expertise that inspires audiences, proving that meetings shouldn’t be fewer or shorter—but better and more effective. She is the author of Where the Action Is: The Meetings That Make or Break Your Organization, which contains eye-opening strategies companies can use to structure beneficial meetings, create a healthy workplace culture, and propel overall team momentum.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank You, Sponsors!

J. Elise Keith Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Elise, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

J. Elise Keith
I’m glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, I’m excited to dig into this. And I want to get your take, you know, often the first question I ask is an icebreaker of sorts, and you’ve seen a lot of icebreakers, I imagine, in your day. Could you share maybe an all-time favorite or least favorite icebreaker and story that goes with it?

J. Elise Keith
Okay. So, I have two for this one. The kind of icebreaker you should use really depends on the kind of meeting you’re having and what’s going on in your culture. So, there’s all kinds of really good icebreakers that are also really different. But one I like to use when I do, like, say, workshop where I’ve got a group and maybe they know each other or maybe they don’t, but you’ve got to get them loosened up a bit, is, “What was your favorite band or artist in high school?”

Pete Mockaitis
That is fun.

J. Elise Keith
It is fun because you get a chance to get a sense of people’s culture and sort of their inner id when you find…I did this with a group of librarians recently, and to hear the number of them that were, you know, deep hardcore punk funs than old-school hillbilly rock was kind of enlightening.

Pete Mockaitis
That is fun. Well, and what was yours?

J. Elise Keith
You know, I was a big Midnight Oil fan in high school which I grew out of, but at the time it seemed appropriately edgy and world-saving and different enough to be special, yeah. How about you?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, it’s funny, I didn’t own a lot of CDs, because that’s what we had at the time, but I do remember I think that Blink 182 Dude Ranch was the album I played again and again. And I also went to a number of punk rock shows myself. I remember the band 15 with Jeff Ott was something in vogue with my people and myself. And then, yeah.

J. Elise Keith
See? I mean, like all of a sudden, you know, I like Midnight Oil. My first album was Pour Some Sugar On Me, Def Leppard.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you. Well, I think we’re going to have some extra fun here talking about meetings and so meetings are often such a huge pain point for professionals. So, I’d love it if we could maybe you could start us off by orienting us to kind of the state of meetings today. Like, any hard numbers you have in terms of how much time professional spend in meetings, what proportion of those meetings are effective, how do you even define effective. Kind of where do we stand today?

J. Elise Keith
Yadda, yadda, stats, stats, right? So, in terms of the overall situation with meetings, our most recent and best research shows that there are somewhere north of 65 million meetings per day in the US alone. And a lot of us are not working just in the US, it’s an international economy now so that’s millions and millions and millions of meetings every single day.

Now, it’s a huge number so that’s not necessarily relevant to each of us personally, which brings you to the second question, right, like, “How much time are individuals spending in meetings?” And that’s kind of all over the map depending on where you are in the organization and what0 kind of organization you’re in. It can be somewhere as low as like, say, half an hour or less for some people.

But when you get farther up the chain, when you get into middle management, or C-suite, or VP suites in collaborative organizations, that’s going to be typically somewhere between 60% and 80% of their day they’re going to spend in meetings. It’s a ton of time. It’s a ton of money that we invest in these.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, because every one of those hours has dollars associated with it. All right. So, that’s kind of the time load. And how often are the meetings working? How do we even define working from a numerical perspective?

J. Elise Keith
That’s a really good question, right, because a lot of times the way that, there’s a fair amount of research into whether meetings are effective. And often the way that research is done is people would throw out a survey, lets a Survey Monkey surveys, which are like, “Think of your last five meetings and estimate which percentage of them were effective.” And there you get a number where people who say, “Half of them were effective.”

But when you dig into that research a little bit deeper, you do some actual investigation with the companies and people, talking about the specific meetings they’ve attended, “So, how was your last meeting? Would you rather have that been a giant series of email?” that kind of thing, what you find is that the equation flips. And it turns that folks, by and large, think meetings work a lot better than the alternatives.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s good to know. That’s good news.

J. Elise Keith
The thing about effectiveness is that what is that word even mean, right? And that’s where you get into sort of the more interesting tactics and tools because for a meeting to be effective, you have to be asking yourself, “Well, what is it effective at? Can you use that effectively to do?” And in that case, you’ve got to look at both, “Are the people in the room enjoying it? Do they feel it’s a good use of time? And then, is it producing results for your business?” So, those are the two angles on effectiveness that you can pull together, and then you can start to see, “Okay, now, regardless of what the big stats say, what’s happening in my world here?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. And so then, I’d love to get your take then, so what do some of the best in class versus worst in class organizations look like with regard to meeting performance on these dimensions?

J. Elise Keith
So, it’s often easier to start with the worst because that’s probably where a lot of people are. Meeting performance isn’t something that most organizations have taken seriously. And so, what they do is they wing it. Essentially, you leave it to each and every manager and project manager and leader and whatnot to figure out how to meet as they think best for what they’re trying to do.

And that kind of approach sort of assumes that, “You know, everybody’s been in a lot of meetings. They ought to know what they’re doing. Let’s get them in a room. Off they go.” So, that’s what most people are doing and it’s deeply, sadly ineffective most of the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And in what ways?

J. Elise Keith
Well, it turns out that meetings are different than conversations, right? And meetings are a skilled activity that you can learn how to run and then design to achieve specific goals. So, there really isn’t any such thing as a generic good meeting. There are really good sales calls, there are really good interviews, there are really good ways to keep a project moving, and each one of those is a different kind of meeting that should be designed to achieve that goal.

So, in the best organizations they do that. They get training for everybody and they design systems. So, they take their meetings and they stop them being habits and they turn them into systems that are designed to achieve the goals that they support.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, now you lay out 16 types of meetings that work and you’ve mentioned a couple there. I guess I’m curious to hear what types of meetings don’t work?

J. Elise Keith
So, the types of meetings that don’t work are the ones that are basically, you know, kitchen soup. Do you ever do that? Do you ever do like a kitchen-sink soup or a casserole where you’ve got a pot and you just kind of throw everything that you own in there before it goes bad, and that’s the soup you’ve got? Which sometimes works great but most of the time it doesn’t.

So, that’s what a lot of folks are doing with their meetings, “I’ve got a time block on Tuesday. We always meet on Tuesday. My whole team shows up and we decide, ‘Hey, what is it we have to talk about today?’”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, there it goes. So, it’s kind of like I’m hearing some telltale signs there. One, it’s recurring and, two, there’s not a plan in advance and, three, there’s multiple people as opposed to like the one-on-one. So, there are some ingredients, I guess, that may have a higher risk perhaps of not working out optimally in the course of having that meeting. So, everything is just sort of like, “All right. Here we all are now. So…” as opposed to a proactive, thoughtful, upfront design of, “What are we hoping to achieve?” and kind of planning from there.

J. Elise Keith
Yeah. So, it’s really about clarity of purpose, right, and what you’re trying to accomplish in the room. And if you walk into the room and you’re not entirely sure what you’re trying to accomplish or why everybody needs to be there, so you’ve invited all of the people because you’re not entirely sure who should be in and who should be out, then you’re likely to waste your time.

And, certainly, even if you do know what you need to accomplish, there are some things that just psychologically we’re not designed to do at the same time. So, let’s take, can we do a couple of examples?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes.

J. Elise Keith
So, the project status update. It’s a meeting most people loathe, right, but it’s designed to make sure that everybody working on the project knows what’s happening, gets an update about anything that’s changed that they need to know about, and has a chance to raise any concerns, like, “Hey, here’s a red flag. We need to work on this.”

But the underlying psychological thing going on there is you’ve all agreed to do something together and you’re going to make sure that you continue to trust each other and execute on that so that you can keep the work going. You’re doing momentum and energy and trust, right?

In a meeting like that, when we have already made promises in the past and we’re showing up to recommit to those promises and show that we’re good for them, it’s not a great moment to say, do something like, “You know what, let’s just go crazy and think of some wild ideas about what we might do now,” right? Or, “Hey, here’s a great problem. Why don’t we explore all of the different kinds of creative out-of-the-box thinking on how we might tackle this problem?”

The whole point of the project status meeting is to say, “Yes, we’ve defined a box and we’re in that box and we’re moving this box down the road.” When you ask people to step out of the box, right in the middle of that, you’re having them break from one mode of interaction to a completely different mode and you get the worst possible ideas ever because everything people raise is safe, right? And you don’t want safe when you’re doing brainstorming. You don’t want safe when you’re doing problem-solving. You want innovative, you want effective, so you got to break those conversations into distinct conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. So, you’ve got a clear purpose and a design, and that’s what you’re running with, and you’re not kind of mixing and matching in there. Understood. And so, I’m curious, with the project status update meeting, let’s talk with that example, so people often don’t like it. And so, what are some of the other things that they’re going wrong? Sometimes folks are sort of wildly go off script and enter a different phase. And what are some of the things that are going that also can go awry or indicative of, “Hey, this project status meeting is great”?

J. Elise Keith
So, what you’re looking for in terms of signifiers of great are energy, right? You’re looking for energy, you’re looking for some amount of dynamic, and in the case of a status meeting, which is probably one of the worst meetings to be using as our example, but in the case of that meeting, that energy and that dynamic might come from just keeping it really crisp and short and being very, very respectful of everybody’s time.

But in every case, one of the things that keeps these meetings from being particularly successful is that whoever is in charge of that meeting is probably frantic, they’re probably running from one thing to another with very little time to prepare, and they walk into the room believing that it’s their job to make that a fabulous experience, or an effective experience, or an efficient experience, or whatever it is that they believe for everyone else, and they do all the talking, and they set the agenda. And then they basically demand reports from everyone else. Well, that’s deadly.

It’s like you’ve shown up to the soccer match and you’ve got a sense of what it means to win the game so you get your team together and then you run the ball up and down and tell them what you’re doing. You don’t have anybody else participating, you don’t have everybody else bringing something to the field and helping you get that goal together. So, the best meetings are ones where everybody has got a job to do in that room, and they’re team sports. It’s not the leader’s show.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s a good thing to talk about right there. So, if there are folks in the meeting who say nothing, does that suggest that perhaps they ought not to be in the meeting?

J. Elise Keith
It either suggests that they shouldn’t be in the room because meetings are not a spectator sport, right? Or, they need some training, they need some education. So, they need education and the person in charge needs education because if you have people who are in that room who should be contributing and they are not, that’s broken. We don’t hire and have people work on our team so that they can absorb oxygen in the space. They’re there to contribute their perspectives and their ideas and the information they have that we don’t that helps us collectively get to a better result.

Pete Mockaitis
And would your view then be if they are just sort of receiving information that we should use a different format to convey the information?

J. Elise Keith
Absolutely. Absolutely. Now, sometimes that’s not practical, right? Like, sometimes you just can’t count on everybody to have done their homework in advance, so there are practices that companies put in place to help with that. Like, there are ways to get around that that are respectful of the fact that people don’t necessarily have time to proactively prepare. And yet you still don’t want to lead to them like they were in kindergarten because that’s disengaging and a little insulting, frankly.

So, one of the really famous ones is Amazon, in their corporate headquarters. They begin all of their meetings with 10 minutes of silent reading where whatever it is that they’re going to discuss, “Is it a proposal or the financial reports, or whatever it is?” it’s distributed in paper and everybody at the table has 10 minutes to read it through right there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. You know, I really like that maybe because, you’re right, as opposed to people just trying to fake it and not look dumb and sort of say expansive things, it’s like, “No, just do this right now.”

J. Elise Keith
Let’s just do it, yeah. And it’s also kind of a wonderful way to acknowledge that, like, you need people to come prepared but you don’t control their calendar outside of that meeting, right? So, that prep work is part of the work of the meeting, why not just build that time into the meeting itself?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And especially if it’s 10 minutes, because that’s something that can be handy in the sense of you’ve maybe looked a lot of those bits and pieces over time, and, “Oh, here it is collected,” and you’re kind of up-to-speed or on the same page and we’re moving. I’ve actually had a couple of guests before, they’ll ask me, “So, tell me about your audience.” And I’m thinking, “Okay, this means you didn’t read all the things I sent you.”

J. Elise Keith
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And I was like, “Well, hey, how about this? Let me send you this link and we can just sort of read that quietly for a moment and I’m going to go sort of get a glass of water, and we’ll reconnect?” So, I try to do that as respectfully as possible.

J. Elise Keith
But it’s maddening, right, because you only have so much time.

J. Elise Keith
So, you asked me earlier about both an icebreaker and then about meeting research, right? Like, the stats behind meetings. But when you dig into meetings and you see that what’s going on there is you’re bringing together a complex group of people to talk about work, which, in and of itself, is probably pretty complex too. So, it’s this really dynamic system of things going on, all kinds of things that can go wrong.

So, one of the reasons the icebreaker is such a great tool and why Amazon’s 10 minutes of silent reading is also a great tool is that the first tip to every successful meeting is to help people transition into the room because we’re all – and this is coming out of like the neuroscience and the social psychology research. We’re all dealing with up to like six different levels of distraction in our brain when we walk into that room.

So, our first job is to clear all of that and there’s a technique called clearing that explicitly does that, but you can do it a whole bunch of different ways, and get everybody focused on whatever is going on in that room and not the email they need to still write, or the fact that their kids might call, or their hungry stomachs, or any of those other things. How do you get people into the room? That is the absolute first tip to any successful meeting. And silent reading is one way to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it. So, what are some of the other alternatives and clearing approaches?

J. Elise Keith
Yeah, so clearing approach, and actually several companies use this, is it’s explicit, it is you walk in and everybody takes a moment to say, “Hey, today I’m dealing with this, I’m feeling this way, but I’m ready to put that aside and I’m in.” And everybody else says, “Welcome.”

Pete Mockaitis
In other words, “I’m in.”

J. Elise Keith
Yeah, I’m in. And so, you go around the room and everybody says, “This is what’s going on for me but I’m ready and I’m in.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I imagine that could go quickly or not so quickly. Are there some guidelines there?

J. Elise Keith
You know, that’s really up to the team and the culture. So, in some teams they go real fast and they keep it fast and many people pass, right, because their values are about efficiency. In other teams, their values are about community. And this is another tip with meetings. Your meetings are absolutely the best place to design in the values you want to see your culture support and engage, right?

So, at lululemon, they do the clearing, and then they follow the clearing by the vibrations. And that practice is where they go around and they say, “Hey, is there anything you’re hearing that you think we should know about?” And a vibration might be like a rumor that’s going around the office, or something somebody saw in the news, or the weather, or it could be any of these things, whether just like, “Hey, we think the group ought to know about this.” And what they do in their teams is sometimes what comes up in clearing or in the vibrations is a big deal, and that’s what they talk about. And they take the rest of their agenda and they move it to another day.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And that is really handy because I think a lot of times there’s great information that just never has an opportunity to surface, and it’s like, “Oh, someone else launched a competitive yoga pant on Kickstarter that everyone is raving about.” It’s like, “Oh, I had no idea.”

J. Elise Keith
Right. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
“That’s so cool and we have a moment for you to share that with us because that could change all kinds of things and maybe we wouldn’t have noticed this for another five months until maybe it’s a lot later for us to respond effectively.”

J. Elise Keith
Yeah. Well, it’s a huge deal. Like, I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the research that Amy Edmondson has done into psychological safety. It’s this bit where we feel like we’re in a group that cares enough about us that it’s safe to take risks. We can tell them things that may or may not fit the dominant narrative, right?

And one of the things that she points out when she explains this to people is that, you know, half of the time, people are afraid to speak out not because they have evidence that something bad would happen, right? There are people who are afraid to speak out in environments where “nobody ever gets fired,” right? So, nothing bad would happen to them, but just nobody does it, they’re not really sure.

So, one of the really important things we can do in our meetings is ask, just make time and space to ask the questions about what people are seeing and what ideas they have so that they know that those are welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, so I’m digging this. So, we said, hey, once you’re actually in the meeting, first step, transition into the room, could be some silent reading, could be some clearing, asking about the vibrations, what’s going on.
J. Elise Keith
Could be an icebreaker, all the things, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a second step?

J. Elise Keith
So, then you need to connect with the goals and the purpose of the meeting, So, purpose is a verb, “We’re here to do this, to make a decision, to have a podcast interview,” whatever our purpose is. And then, at the end, “We’re about to achieve this.” So, those are your desired outcomes, “We’re going to have a decision, a list of next steps, and extra pizza,” whatever those outcomes are.

So, you kind of affirm that upfront and then confirm what your plan is for getting from, “Okay, we’ve gathered for this reason, for this purpose. We’re trying to get out with those outcomes. Here’s the plan for getting between point A to point B.” And most times people express that as an agenda. You don’t necessarily need an agenda but you do need a plan.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And you’re saying earlier that it’s best to perhaps not be the sole person who has that all figured out.

J. Elise Keith
Right. So, as the person in charge, there are multiple roles that you can bring to bear in a meeting. There’s the titular head of whatever that piece of work is, the leader, but you can have other people facilitate. And a facilitator’s job is to design that process part and then be the guardians of that process. You can have people assigned to take notes, you can have people assigned to be the vibes watchers, or the norms enforcers where they’re keeping track of everybody else, all kinds of different ways in which you can get other people involved in making that successful.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that’s handy. And then what’s the third step?

J. Elise Keith
So, then the final thing you have to do for any meeting to be effective is you have to wrap it up, and that’s five minutes, maybe more, maybe less. At the end of every meeting where you stop and explicitly say, “Okay, let’s make sure we actually know what we did here, what decisions did we make, and what are our actions that we’re going to take away,” Like, who, what, when. “Specifically, this is going to be done by this date by this person.”

And, ideally, you want to do those in writing where everybody can be looking at them and committing that that is, in fact, what they thought the decision was because, way too often, people walk out the room all thinking they made the same decision but five minutes later you’re in another meeting, you’ve completely forgotten, it gets fuzzy. So, you want that in writing and you want to confirm it before you leave.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we’re talking about some form of like projection is present, or we’re visually looking at this wrap-up piece.

J. Elise Keith
Absolutely, yeah. And there are a bunch of ways to do that, there’s a lot of different software platforms you can use that are about taking collaborative notes on meetings in real time. You can do it on a whiteboard. There are a lot of different ways you can do it but you want people to be able to explicitly see that. And by having it be written, not only are you making it easier to get the notes out afterwards, which is a bonus, you’re engaging multiple parts of the brain, right?

We process information differently when we read it versus when we hear it versus when we speak it. So, you put all these things together and, from a geeky perspective, you’re encoding these promises deeper into your team, and that’s critical. And then, the last, last thing I think you should always do before you leave any meeting is to say thank you. Take a moment and express some appreciation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, just say it like with their time for investing themselves, for thinking, for contributing, for not blowing it off. I guess there’s a lot of things in there.

J. Elise Keith
For something fabulous someone did. You can have people thank each other, “I really appreciate Sandy because she brought up that point and I wouldn’t have known about that Kickstarter yoga pants. She has saved our bacon,” right? The appreciation not only show people that you care and respect their time. It’s also a fabulous way to help everybody learn what the group values by being very explicit about what you’re acknowledging.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so in between the second step of connecting with purpose and the third step of the wrap-up, are there some particular practices that ensure that the actual conversations we’re having are effective, that they’re bringing us to where we want to go during the course of the meeting?

J. Elise Keith
Absolutely. There absolutely are. And the challenge is that they’re different depending on the type of meeting you’re in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Gotcha.

J. Elise Keith
Yeah, which is why when you get into an organization that’s got really, really high meeting performance maturity. Basically, in our research, when we look out across the board, we found a number of practices that organizations establish as they’re putting their system in place from very basic, “We don’t have a system,” to, “We have this system that’s really locked and solid and really helping us drive our business forward.”

And one of those, as you get in there, is that as we’re talking about this, right, there’s the purpose and the outcomes and the different types of meetings and special ways you have to run each one. Well, that’s an awful lot of stuff to learn and have to try and apply in around the rest of what you’re doing. So, what these organizations do is they have standardized ways they do each of the different types of meetings that matter to their business that people are expected to learn, and then iterate and adopt and work with, but they’re not starting from scratch.

So, when you go to Amazon, you don’t just get to just guess how you’re going to start your meeting, right? They have their 10-minute thing. And when you go to an organization that’s practicing open-book management, you don’t guess how you’re going to run your weekly leadership meeting, “It works like this,” and you review the books. So, they have codified practices that shortcut the learning for all of those different things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you maybe give us an example of a meeting type and some practices that are overlooked but make all the difference in the world when you’re having that meeting type?

J. Elise Keith
I think there are a whole series of meetings, we call that the cadence meetings. They’re the meetings about keeping momentum going on a project or keeping the team together where they can build trust, right? And a lot of the practices that are key in those meetings has to do with who speaks, who’s setting the tone, and how rapidly, how frequently you’re doing it.

So, let’s take a look at one-on-ones for example. So, the traditional approach in many companies is that managers know they better have one-on-ones so they schedule them once a month, maybe once every 90 days, something, because they know they have to, and they have the employees come in, and they say, “Okay, let’s look at your  30-, 60-, 90-day goals,” and the employee sort of reports on what they’re doing and they all check the boxes and off they go.

Well, Cisco just did a big study with 15,000 teams on how to run effective one-on-ones. And what they found was very, very specific and it was this. First of all, you’ve got to flip it. So, the manager doesn’t go in and ask the employee to report to them. Instead, the employee says, “Hey, here are my priorities and here’s where I need your help.” So, the employee is driving the agenda, and they used those two questions, that’s the way they start it.

And the second key thing they found is that it has to be at least every week because, otherwise, they’re talking about work that isn’t related to what they’re actually doing on a detailed basis. And the idea that the manager could possibly care about what you’re working on when they only check in on how they can help every 90 days, nobody buys it. So, once a week, employee-driven, and engagement on those teams goes up pretty dramatically.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. So, that’s striking. So, that’s what Cisco does, and then one-on-ones every week with every direct report, that could really add up.

J. Elise Keith
Well, so that’s where they’re looking at team sizes. So, one of the questions people get asked all the time is, “How big can your team be?” And the boundary of the size of a team that you can lead is your capacity for those touchpoints, like, “How many people can you dedicate time to showing them that you care and helping them out every week?” That’s the number of people that you can lead.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. Well, so I guess I’d love to hear then, you talked about norms at one point. What are some of the norms that tend to be helpful across all meeting types?

J. Elise Keith
I think it’s really awesome when a company or an organization finds norms that are meaningful to them and their values, right? So, in some organizations that’s going to be things like every voice is heard, everyone speaks before you speak twice because diversity inclusion and voice is really important to them.

In other organizations, it’s going to be things like, “We start and end on time and the agenda sent out two days in advance,” because efficiency is really their thing. In some groups, something like Chatham House Rules, or Vegas Rules matters a lot, right? Like, what happens in the room stays in the room. My favorite that applies to all meeting types and that I think applies in every organization is a norm around having every meeting be optional.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so nice.

J. Elise Keith
Well, if you think about it, they already are, right? You’re a grownup, you don’t have to go to any meeting. But when you make it explicit, you’re saying that opting out of meetings won’t have “Hey, you’re fired” consequences.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I actually want to talk about opting out of meetings. I think that it’s a common occurrence that folks, when they are inviting people to a meeting, they don’t want to be rude, and so they want to include folks, and so there’s a miscommunication that happens often. So, someone invites someone to a meeting, and the recipient thinks, “Oh, they expect me there so I’m going to show up,” and then they think, “Why did I even come here?” So, do you have any preferred scripts or verbiage or master ways to diplomatically decline the meeting?

J. Elise Keith
Well, first of all, you need to know that you deserve to have your time respected. So, it is both respectful for you and for the people doing the inviting to speak up when you think that you can’t contribute well to that room because every person sitting in a meeting that isn’t contributing is dragging down the energy and the potential for everyone else there. So, you are doing a service if you opt out of a meeting that you shouldn’t be in.

And the way that we approach that is we just say, “Hey, I actually am working on some other things that day. I don’t have much to contribute here. I’d be happy to send in any information you need in advance and will look forward to seeing the notes afterwards.” And you just opt out.

Pete Mockaitis
There you have it. I’d also want to get your take on what are some of the best means of accomplishing some meeting goals that are not meetings?

J. Elise Keith
Oh. Well, let’s take brainstorming. Brainstorming is something that we often pull a lot of people into a room for, and we say, “Hey, we’re going to come up with a whole bunch of new ideas for next week’s marketing campaign,” or whatever it’s going to be, tends not to be the most effective way to do it. That’s something that is really well-handled asynchronously, which means you post up the question and you ask everybody to contribute their ideas in advance.

And there are a lot of technologies you can use to do that. And, frankly, you can also have a box in the office where people throw in sticky notes. So, brainstorming, getting that first blush of original ideas out, much better handled outside of the meeting most of the time than it is in. Same thing for anything where they’re digesting large pieces of information, so reading reports, coming up with strategies.

One of the tactics we recommend and that we use ourselves quite a lot is we’ll have a meeting to make sure we all understand a problem. We’ll get together and we’ll say, “Okay. Well, what’s going on here? And what are our options?” and start to get our heads around it. And then we’ll schedule a follow-up meeting within a week to talk about what to do about it so that that time in between where we’re processing it has some bake time.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Well, Elise, I’m curious, are there any sort of final thoughts you have with regard to meetings or overlooked master strategies or tactics that could make a world of difference?

J. Elise Keith
You know, I think the real key is to understand that every meeting that you walk into is an opportunity. That’s the place where your culture becomes real, where the team understands what everyone cares about, and the value that you can bring. It’s the place where you get an opportunity to provide and show care for the people around you, and where you get to be a part of making the decisions that make your business or your organization really successful.

So, once you shift to that mindset and you look at meetings as the opportunity that they are, then you can start to be in a place where you can learn about the different types and the skills that make it so that you can take advantage of that opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

J. Elise Keith
So, I have two. I’m not a huge fan of favorites and to key to just one thing because there are so many wonderful things out there. But there are a couple that I put together that work for me, and one is, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” which is from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day.” I love that.

Like, what is your plan for your one wild and precious life? And then when I look at it from a business perspective and from a personal performance perspective, I pair it with another quote, which is, “Discipline is simply remembering what you really want.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

J. Elise Keith
My favorite book, holy moly. How about “Time and the Art of Living” by Robert Grudin?

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a favorite tool?

J. Elise Keith
You know, time blocking and scratch paper.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

J. Elise Keith
A favorite habit, hmm. You know, listening to audiobooks while cooking large batches of food.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known, people quote it back to you and re-tweet it often?

J. Elise Keith
The one that gets re-tweeted the most, beyond the basic stats and things, is that, “You can’t have a meeting of the minds if the minds aren’t in the meeting.”

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

J. Elise Keith
They can visit us on my company’s website which is LucidMeetings.com and on my personal website which is JEliseKeith.com depending on what you’re looking for.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

J. Elise Keith
You know, we’ve kind of covered it but my challenge to you is this. Every meeting is an opportunity. Seize it. Your challenge is to shed any negative beliefs you’ve got about your meetings and step into those opportunities.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Elise, thank you for this meeting, and I wish you all the best with all you’re doing in meetings.

J. Elise Keith
Hey, thank you so much.