It is tempting in our virtual world to convince ourselves that the best way to make progress on our work is by communicating almost exclusively via email or other electronic means. However, even with – especially with – all the enabling technologies at our fingertips, it is critically important to maintain regular, personal contact with those you lead and those who lead you. I am going to describe my process for facilitating efficient and effective progress at work while continuously strengthening relationships.
- Schedule regular meetings with your boss, each person you directly supervise, and anyone else you need to connect with routinely. At Epilepsy-Pralid, Inc., I meet with my boss and direct reports weekly, and my vice president peers monthly. I meet with my peers one-on-one less frequently because we all meet with our boss as a team every week. These meetings should be established as calendar invitations and protected, by which I mean do not postpone or cancel them unless absolutely necessary.
- Get a notebook. I prefer a very basic, perforated wide-ruled notebook like the ones my daughters use in school.
- Take that notebook everywhere you go. I bring it to every meeting and keep it right next to me when I’m in my office.
- Capture your thoughts as they come. Whenever I think of something I need to discuss with someone identified in step #1, I decide whether it must be addressed before my next meeting with that person. If so, I contact him/her ASAP. If not, I write down my thought on their page in my notebook. I simply write their name on the top of the page on the left-hand side, and the date of our next meeting on the right-hand side. If I already have a listed started for that person, I just add to the list. I write down the topic with enough detail that I will remember the context of my thought when we next meet. This applies to my one-on-one meetings and group meetings as well.
- Cover the list during the meetings. With my direct reports, we start with the Top 3 (more on that below) and move on to the other items that we have collected in our notebooks throughout the week. In the weekly team meeting with my boss and peers, we exclusively utilize the Top 3 approach (no time for more than that).
- Note actions determined in the meetings. Next to the items that require action by me, I put a star in the left-hand margin, along with a description of the action needed.
- Complete actions as soon as possible after the meetings. I scan my list and note the stars. I put a checkmark by each star as I complete the action.
- File the document. Once all the actions have been addressed, I tear out the page and file it in the folder I have for each person listed in step #1. I am motivated to keep my notebook manageable, and it is oddly satisfying to tear out the page triumphantly! It helps hold me accountable to moving actions along promptly.
- Refer to past conversations as needed. Taking good notes is helpful so they can be referenced when there is a question about a past discussion or decision.
- Select content for performance appraisals. For my self-appraisal and for the performance appraisals I draft for my direct reports, I go back through each page in the folder and look for notable items I want to include in the appraisal. I find that nearly all of the content of the appraisal comes from these documents and other supporting information (such as emailed feedback from others, a notable written document that was produced, etc.) I place in the file throughout the year.
- Purge documents at regular intervals. After I write the performance reviews, I destroy the papers from that performance period. I purge my peers’ folders annually as well. It feels good to have thinner folders!
The Top 3
I embraced this concept when I first learned it in an audio presentation by Chris McChesney of The 4 Disciplines of Execution. I greatly respect the work of Stephen Covey and the FranklinCovey company, and this gem is no exception. You can learn more about the disciplines on the FranklinCovey website devoted to this topic. The Top 3 approach is embedded in the fourth discipline: Create a Cadence of Accountability. Of course, as the Accountability Evangelist, I am a big fan of that! Here’s how I apply it:
- In my supervision meetings with direct reports, we start each meeting with the Top 3 identified in the last meeting.
- We cover those 3 items and if they were not accomplished, have a brief discussion about what happened and how to prevent the “whirlwind” (McChesney’s term for the day-to-day demands that interrupt goal progress) from impeding completion of the top 3.
- We move on to the rest of the items on our lists.
- We close the meeting by jointly agreeing to the Top 3 due by the next meeting. I have routinely stated: “I know you have 500 things to do. Once you complete these 3 top priority tasks, you are welcome to move on to the other 497.”
- Of note, there can be less than 3 but no more than 3. This is because McChesney convinced me that working on more than 3 tasks/goals/initiatives at once pretty much guarantees none will get accomplished. If we select 2 that are particularly challenging to accomplish in a week’s time, that’s plenty.
- The Top 3 is supposed to be anchored by the goal-setting process, which is covered in the other three disciplines. Therefore, as often as possible, the top 3 tasks chosen should be directly related to – and facilitate progress on – one or more of the top 3 established [typically annual] goals.
I have included a fictitious example of what a notebook page might look like following a meeting with a direct report.
I will close this topic by reinforcing the key benefits of the approach I have described:
- Get more work done faster. Diligently conducting regular, focused meetings is the key to aggressive progress on goals.
- Reduce interruptions. By having regular meetings and capturing thoughts in between, you are giving the gift of discretionary time to yourself and others. Everyone can comfortably work on their priorities knowing that the non-urgent items are out of heads and onto paper and will be handled at the next meeting.
- Context! Emails are easily misinterpreted especially when people are hurried or stressed. Having conversations in person (or at least via phone or video) allow for consideration of body language and tone, two major methods of communication that indicate satisfaction or a need to address potential concerns. Email messages in between meetings are more benign (as written by the sender and interpreted by the receiver) because email is being used for its intended purpose (i.e. information exchange) and not as a substitute for real communication.
- Relationships blossom. #1-3 in this list contribute to trust. In addition, the informal chit-chat that occurs during regular conversations adds up over time and you get to know each other better. Isn’t that the best way to appreciate another person – by getting to know them as they are?
Feel free to use the Contact Us feature to ask questions about this process or share your own.