3 Things you Must do before Every Meeting

Brandon Smith

Brandon Smith: The Workplace Therapist is In!

This week’s guest post is from Brandon Smith, aka The Workplace Therapist! His unique take on the workplace is not to be missed.

Today’s Topic: Three Things You Must do Before Every Meeting:

It is sad, really.  Every working day, the majority of us suffer from worthless and painful meetings that should have been avoided.  These are those meetings that, with a little bit of intentionality, could have been scrubbed dysfunction-free.  So what kinds of meetings am I talking about?  Consider these particularly “dirty” gatherings that could have been made clean with a little pre-meeting hygiene:

“The ‘what’s the point’ meeting” – While you sit quietly in attendance, the question “what is the point of this meeting?” plays continuously in your head like a bad Pink song.  No matter how hard you try, you can’t shake it.  The more you resist, the louder it gets.  As a result, you find concentrating nearly impossible.  When it’s all over, you leave the meeting confused and angry.  Another hour of your life gone forever.

“The birthday party” – The birthday party is a common meeting trap.  The meeting organizer starts with a small list of attendees and quickly the list grows to include everyone he or she knows.  There is little thought put into who needs to be in attendance.  Rather the thinking is something more akin to planning a festive gala.  The organizer thinks to him or herself, “The more people who come, the better.  And who knows?  They might bring food.”  You know you are in one of these meetings when you look around the room and after trying to find the commonality with you and the other fifteen attendees, you say to yourself, “why am I here?”  Pass another piece of cake.

“The ‘I’m gonna be fired’ meeting” – We all know the type.  The person who leaves you a voicemail that simply says, “Call me back.  We need to talk.”  Vague and mysterious, these individuals refuse to tell you what they want to talk about, ever.  As a result, your mind spins every time they make a request to connect.  “What did I forget to do?  Did I say something I shouldn’t have?  What could they possibly be angry with me about?”  They create an anxiety whirlwind in our minds as we begin to plot out worst-case scenarios.  When these people schedule meetings, they do the same thing.  No agenda.  No objective.  Nothing other than a meeting request.  And if the person is your boss, in the back of your mind you wonder, “Am I going to be fired?”  Wasted anxiety and worry that accomplishes nothing other than elevating your blood pressure and shortening your life expectancy.

So how do you avoid these messy meetings?  Simple.  Consider the following prescription on proper pre-meeting hygiene.  Rub-a-dub-dub.

  1. Decide the purpose or objective.  Before calling any meeting, ask yourself “what do I want to get out of the meeting?”  Most meetings are either informational (you’re just wanting to keep all attendees informed with what’s going on) or decision-making (you need folks in the meeting to reach a decision) or both.  Write down your objective in one line.  If you can do that, you are ready for the next step.  If you can’t, do you really need to have a meeting?
  2. Identify who should attend.  Less is always more when it comes to meetings.  Steelcase, a company known for office furniture, has been in the business of studying and providing solutions to make workspaces better for over 100 years.  In their workplace research, they found that the most productive meetings are with three people.  Not five.  Not eight.  Three people.  When was the last time you were in a three person meeting?  There is a natural temptation to expand meeting attendee lists.  This person may need to hear what is said.  That person could have something to contribute.  He’ll be offended if I don’t invite him.  So, before you end up with a party on your hands, seriously consider who is in attendance.  If you are struggling to narrow your list, consider the hourly rates represented in the room.  When I walk into a meeting of ten people, I don’t see productivity.  All I see is thousands of dollars being wasted.  Maybe that’s the contractor coming out in me.  Time is money.  You’ll know you have a good final list when you can say, “This is a good use of the resources I have at my disposal.”  In other words, if it was your cash, you wouldn’t hesitate to pay to have those people in the room.
  3. Send out a meeting agenda at least 24 hrs prior.  No one likes mysterious meetings.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve read one of my many mantras: “In absence of communication, people always assume the worst.”  In absence of meeting agendas and objectives, people will naturally assume the worst.  As a result, the worrying begins resulting in a total waste of mental and emotional energy.  Avoid this by sending out any meeting agenda complete with meeting objective at least 24hours in advance.  This also allows you to clearly spell out what preparation you expect attendees to have made prior to the meeting (Ex: “Come prepared to discuss the attached budget,” “Come prepared to review your department’s accomplishments last week,” etc…).

The steps above are simple and obvious and yet very few meetings qualify as “clean” based on the above criteria.  So, do you and your team members a favor and show up all cleaned up and ready to go.  And spread the word.  All it takes is one badly planned meeting to stink up the place.  Yuck.


Brandon Smith is a therapist, professor, consultant and radio host, Brandon Smith brings an upbeat, witty approach to the challenges of workplace health and dysfunction. He blogs at www.theworkplacetherapist.com and is a regular guest on public radio.

Lean Intrapreneurship-Carl Danneels, Brussels Feb 5 2014

Carl Danneels is a PMP and ScrumMaster and a fantastic champion of great planning. His presentation on Lean Intrapreneurship truly talks to the tools you’ll need to successfully execute an intrapreneurial activity in a corporate setting. The link below takes you to his slides, which really do a deep dive into what works!

Lean Intrapeneurship Key Slides – Feb 5th 2014 – Plethon

Tara Hunt’s 5 Things Customers Don’t Want to Hear

unhappy customers

Your Customers DON’T want to hear it.

A fantastic article by Tara Hunt, on customers frustrations with some new aspects of modern business as well as some long standing issues. As you create change in your organization, whether internal or external, examine each change from an end user’s perspective. Better yet, have them try them out before you finalize the launch.

Read Tara’s article here!

Follow Tara on twitter at @MissRogue

Why do Employees Resist Change, a simple graphic from Torben Rick

Courtesy of the always insightful Torben Rick, read more of his great stuff here!

Resistance to change in organizations - Torbenrick

Need more info on why Organizations resist change? Read What Dieters can Teach us about Creating Organizational Change!

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

Five For Friday: Creating a New Brand, with Corey-Jan Albert of Relish Marketing

Corey-Jan Albert relishmarketing.com

Corey-Jan Albert

Today’s “Five for Friday” features Corey-Jan Albert, an innovative marketer who always gets to the heart of an audience’s needs, making her insanely effective for her clients. We recently had a discussion on  the “how and whys” of brand change for businesses and she was kind enough to share her thoughts with us here at 52weekturnaround.com. Having known Corey-Jan for many years, and knowing the excitement and brilliance she brings to her work, I’m thrilled to be able to share her insights!

A Conversation with Corey-Jan Albert:

Before we even get into any of these excellent questions about change management and branding, we should be sure to be on the same page with what we mean by “Brand.” It’s much more than the company logo and tagline. When you think about a company’s brand, you’re talking about the visceral, emotional response we have as part of a total experience at every point of contact with the organization, its people, products and/or services. That experience is created in two parts: (1) The part created by the organization, its products and/or services and (2) The part that takes place in the mind of the person experiencing/interacting with the organization, its products and/or services. Obviously, the goal is to control the first part with logo, a well-defined messaging platform, an overall look/feel for materials, and appropriate communications – be they advertising, sales collateral, PR efforts, etc. If you do it right, you will influence the perceptions of key audiences.  

 Right, then – on to the five questions: 

1.  When should an organization consider making a brand change?

A rebranding effort can be successful under a lot of different circumstances. The most common time to rebrand is when an organization’s existing identity feels outdated, too generic or otherwise out of step with the reality of the business. For instance, the company’s brand feels like a small, “mom and pop” company – but they’ve actually transformed into a sizable business. The company may have started out as a brick-and-mortar business, but now, the bulk of its business takes place online – or vice versa. Maybe the company is entering a new market – and they want to look like they belong there. Or perhaps the original logo was developed a long time ago by the owner’s nephew and it feels outdated and/or amateurish.

Mergers and acquisitions also provide opportunities for rebranding. When a large company acquires a smaller one, the smaller company almost always adopts the larger organization’s brand. When two competitors merge, however, they may want to create a new company name and brand to reflect the new, united entity. Likewise, when a company acquires a business with a significant amount of brand recognition, it might not be wise to completely force an entirely new brand that would squander that equity.

An organization shouldn’t seriously consider rebranding if team members are not ready to embrace and reflect the new corporate identity, or if the company is experiencing dysfunctional, divisive behavior. Rebranding won’t fix any of that. On the contrary, serious issues like these are likely to undercut any new branding efforts.

Business leaders also should beware of the impulse to rebrand out of boredom. Yes, that sounds a bit crazy – who would do such a thing? – but here’s how I’ve seen it happen: A company develops a new brand identity, everyone embraces it. It’s a time of excitement and energy – and that’s great. Then, living and breathing the brand every day, it becomes ordinary. And shortly after that, it feels boring. Missing the thrill that came when the brand identity was new, executives may lament that the identity feels old and needs, “refreshing,” even if it’s only actually six months old.

I cannot emphasize this enough: It is critical for business leaders to make sure that they and their employees remember: Your audiences aren’t living and breathing the brand identity every day, 24 x 7, the way you are. About the time that internal team members become bored by the “new” brand, external audiences are probably just starting to get used to it. Indeed, it usually takes a year or more for a new brand identity to become firmly established in the minds of customers, investors, the media, etc. That’s the time when you can really start to build brand equity. It is not the time to change to something new.

2.  What are three key things to keep in mind while creating a brand identity?

  1. Be simple, clear and consistent. Don’t try to make your brand express too much. If you try to build too many different brand attributes and messaging components into your brand identity platform, it will be difficult for your audience to understand and it won’t sink in.
  2. Be realistic. There is value in establishing an aspirational brand, just as there is value in dressing for the job you want to have. But whether you’re dressing your business or yourself, the distance between where you are and where you want to be can’t be unattainably far. If your audiences feel like they’re being asked to believe something that simply isn’t part of their experience with the company, they won’t buy in. A successful brand reflects and reinforces your audience’s actual experience with the company and/or its products.
  3. Your people may be your most important brand element. If you create a brand identity that your team members can’t reflect in their demeanor, work and communications, they will accidentally – or, in some cases, deliberately – undercut your efforts.

3.  How do you prepare internally for a brand change? What do you need to have your team do?

One of the most important things to do internally is determine who has a stake in the new brand. Whose day to day business existence will the brand affect? Who are the “external-facing” members of the organization, who have their fingers on the pulse of each of your external audiences? Include these people in your process.

Equally significant, consider who else within the organization is positioned to influence internal adoption of the new identity – either positively or negatively. They may be executives. Often, however, they are admins, long-term employees and others who are looked up to and respected by other employees. You should incorporate these people at various levels of your process for two reasons. First, they are likely to be able to share perceptions, ideas and opinions that may not be part of your C-level leaders’ world view. Second, if these internal influencers feel like they are part of the building effort, they are more likely to become your champions, rather than your saboteurs.

Get perspective from someone who isn’t “drinking the Kool-Aid.” An outside consultant with relevant design and writing expertise, as well as brand strategy and development experience, can help you guide the process forward while rapidly and objectively identifying potential issues and opportunities. Full disclosure – Relish Marketing is an excellent brand strategy and creative consulting practice. That said, I advocated for this approach even when I was “in-house” talent for a large technology company. It’s simply smart business.

Finally, be open to unexpected input and ideas. You may think that everyone on your team is in agreement about how the company’s is perceived, both internally and externally. And your assumption is probably wrong. The question is: What do you do when you discover a disconnect between how you and your team see the company? I’ve seen some leaders take it as a cue to “correct” the perceptions of others on their team. And I’ve seen leaders use that same disconnect as an opportunity to broaden their own perceptions – of the company, of their team members, and of their customers. No question – leaders who respond in the latter way achieve better branding results.

4.  What works best in communicating a brand change to your external clients?

Clearly, there is no “magic wand” that will instantly grant identity adoption across all of your external audiences. Some members of your audience will “get it” right away – and say that this is what your company always should have been. Others may take longer. That said, I would say that there are three major keys to encouraging adoption:

  1. Demonstrate internal acceptance. Take the time to help team members learn how they are an essential element of the brand, and help them learn to incorporate the new brand at every point of contact – including not only the website, print materials and packaging, but also emails, social media, and day-to-day interactions.
  2. Test and listen – to others and to yourself. Before “going live” with a new brand, test it with trusted audience members – and listen carefully to their responses before finalizing the platform. At the same time, maintain the courage of your convictions to avoid letting an overly enthusiastic or ambitious customer or shareholder derail your process.
  3. Stay the course. Once you do go live, it may be tempting to try to “evolve” the brand – making changes to messaging, logo, look/feel, etc. as its newness wears off (see above under question 1 “…beware the impulse to rebrand out of boredom.”) But little shifts – either back toward an old comfort zone or forward toward untested positioning can undercut the results you want to achieve in the long term.

5.  What are some of the best brand change strategies you’ve seen (or you’ve worked on, if you’re comfortable sharing that). What made them particularly effective?

 My favorite brand change strategies? You may as well ask who my favorite children are!

I love how the Federal Express delivery company responded when they realized that most of the world shortened their name to Fedex. Many companies would have done a branding campaign to re-ingrain the full Federal Express name. This company embraced their customers’ abbreviation and changed to fit it. Their logo does a nice trick with the space between the E and the X forming a forward moving arrow, too. Essentially, rather than try to lead their audience, they caught up to their audience – to great effect.

When Kimberly-Clark wanted to encourage a corporate culture of innovation, collaboration, and personal responsibility for results among its employees, we helped them update a very corporate, internal employee- and recruit-facing brand to feel more open and creative. It uses sketchy, handwritten fonts and supportive imagery that feel collaborative and welcoming. And it’s coupled with messaging language that reinforces the organization’s People Philosophy and expected employee behaviors. The results have been tremendous, with high acceptance and soaring recruitment and retention numbers.

One of my other favorite rebranding efforts was on a much smaller – yet still highly complex scale. An interior designer was employed by a high-end furniture retailer with an uncertain future. He wanted to establish his own professional brand identity, which he could leverage in the event that his employer’s business did not remain viable. At the same time, he did not want to do anything to undercut his employer’s brand. In fact, was adamant about wanting to enhance it. We created a brand identity for the designer that both highlighted the designer and reinforced the retailer’s existing brand. We took care to design the logo and write the positioning language, however, in a way that would not require dramatic changes if the designer had to open his own business. The designer’s self-branded marketing efforts actually elevated the positioning of his employer, raising sales and visibility. Other issues ultimately forced company to close – but the designer was able to successfully take his interior design work forward independently.

Corey-Jan Albert can be reached at www.relishmarketing.com.  She is also an accomplished author and playwright.

Following some Mighty Bad Footsteps; How to avoid the Landmines!

Choose your actions carefully when you are the replacement for a weak leader

Choose your actions carefully when you are the replacement for a weak leader

Bob Whipple gives some great suggestions for leaders who take on an organization or department after a previously bad leader…great info!

Here’s the link.

Thinking about making a move? Size up your Corporate Landscape or any other company you may be thinking of moving to by using our free guide, Reading the Terrain. Get your copy today by putting your email address in the subscription box. And no, we won’t spam you, you’ll just get our weekly update of articles.

Steve Simpson and his Unwritten Ground Rules on Meetings

If you’re leading an organization through a complex change you don’t have time for ineffective meetings. If you’re like me you’ve sat through any number of meetings where the majority of the participants are “praying to the blackberry gods” (i.e. hands in lap, frantically typing and head bowed to read messages the entire time). How can you tighten up the focus and read the undercurrents of what’s going on in the room at the same time?

Steve Simpson of Australia has provided some great tips in his series of videos on the Unwritten Ground Rules and specifically how they relate to business meetings. He addresses what you can read into a corporate culture just by observing their meetings, and also gives some key pointers on how to make meetings more effective, while taking an organization’s hidden culture into account.

Enjoy! (hey, if you’re reading this in a cube, put the headphones on BEFORE clicking!)

What’s the most effective strategy you’ve seen for holding effective meetings? How do you keep important meetings on track so that you’ve got something accomplished at the end? Please share in the comments box!

book by Jeanne Goldie

Speed Read an Organization with our Easy Guide

If you’d like to learn more about reading YOUR organizations culture, get our free guide “Reading the Terrain” by subscribing in the box at right. This guide will provide you with some great questions to ask yourself about multiple aspects of the organizations structure and may show some key details you’re overlooking.  Also check out our 10 Rules to consider before beginning any turnaround plan.

Five For Friday! Business Development Expert Julie Fleming

The Building Blocks of Business Development

The Building Blocks of Business Development

Ever landed your dream job and then found you had to raise the funds to get yourself paid? Some of us are natural entrepreneurs; while others may have had business development added their job responsibilities along the way.   Julie Fleming coaches lawyers  (many of whom entered law school never fully understanding the “rainmaking” aspect of attaining partnership level) to new heights of business development. I asked her to share some of her thoughts on business development best practices for this week’s Five for Friday!

1. What are the key activities of a great rainmaker?

To bring in new business, you should focus your time on four key activities:

    • Client or customer service is your top priority, because great service can get you repeat business and referrals… Plus it keeps your customer base happy.
    • Lead generation calls on you to identify the kinds of people you want to meet and where they spend time, and then spend time in those meetings or places regularly.
    • Developing your professional reputation will give you the credibility you need to demonstrate that you can solve your client’s or customer’s problem.
    • Building relationships is the activity that links the other four. No matter what else you’re doing, ask how you can use the opportunity to initiate or deepen a relationship.

2.  What are the most common mistakes?

I see two common mistakes: lack of persistence and mistaking luck for success. It takes time to build relationships, and visiting a networking event once is unlikely to pay dividends. Select your activities strategically, and stick with them long enough to see results—usually three to six months at a minimum. Random actions lead to random results, not repeatable success. Don’t give up too soon, and don’t judge overall success based on one or two lucky breaks.

3. How should someone prioritize their targets?

First, divide your contact list into A, B, and C priorities. Who’s most likely to deliver business to you, either directly or by referral? Those are your A-list contacts, the ones you should be courting most regularly, with contacts every 4-6 weeks at a minimum. Your B list merits contact about once a quarter, and your C list gets contact twice a year, usually through holiday cards and one other touch. (Note that having a content-rich newsletter or blog allows you to stay in front of all of your contacts on a frequent basis by delivering useful information.) As you meet new contacts, categorize them in the same way. Make sure that your A list doesn’t get too large for you to keep those contacts’ specific needs and interests in mind as you craft your follow-up communications. Most people max out around 12-15 “A” list contacts.

4.  Why do people resist taking on the responsibility of business development?

Most of us receive no training on business development. We know what to do, but we don’t really know how to find the clients or customers. Some people worry that great rainmakers are born with some secret skill or attribute. No one wants to fail (and many take any setback as a sign that they’re missing the golden touch), and resistance is natural until you discover that sales and marketing are a personalized combination of a finite group of skills, not a golden touch. There’s also a negative connotation to sales, and no one wants to be perceived as manipulative or unscrupulous. Both of these short-circuit and stop would-be rainmakers in their tracks.

5.   What are some great resources to learn about rainmaking very quickly?

One of my current favorite books is Daniel Pink’s To Sell Is Human. It dispels the myths I mention in point 4 and offers easy-to-implement steps toward making a sales, whether you’re selling products or services. I also like Harry Beckwith’s Selling the Invisible for professional services sales.  Most importantly, find a successful rainmaker (preferably more than one!) and ask how they succeeded, then get a mentor to help you put your unique strengths to work.

Julie Fleming

Julie Fleming

Julie A. Fleming, principal of Lex Innova Consulting, teaches lawyers and other professional services providers to use innovative and effective measures to build a strong book of business and a lucrative practice. A former patent litigator, she is the author of The Reluctant Rainmaker: A Guide for Lawyers Who Hate Selling and Seven Foundations of Time Mastery for Attorneys, as well as numerous articles focusing on topics such as business development, practice management, work/life balance, and leadership development.  Before launching her consulting business, Julie practiced law for over a decade in firms of 3 to more than 2100 attorneys, specializing in patent litigation. A graduate of the Emory University School of Law, Vanderbilt University (B.A.) and Georgia State University (B.S.), Julie is a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and currently serves as Vice Chair of the ABA Section of Science and Technology Law. Her website is at www.lexinnovaconsulting.com

What’s your biggest challenge around business development? Share in the comments box!

If you’d like our free field guide “Reading the Terrain, a Short Field Guide to Understanding the Corporate Landscape” subscribe at right! You’ll never miss a great interview with a change expert!

© Jeanne Goldie 2015