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Remember The Follow-Up: X by Y

Ever leave a meeting wondering what, if anything, will happen as a result? Ever been surprised when people come to a meeting and report that they did not complete the actions they agreed upon in the last meeting?

Of course, we all have. And we’ve experienced the same issues in other ways:

  • -Ever commit to do something and then, as the date gets closer, wish you could be let off the hook for delivery?
  • -Ever wish that you could call and check on something but worry about being seen as micromanaging?
  • -Ever assign a task to someone simply because they are the one team member you can rely upon when something must get done?


Giving and keeping your word is important, but in our hectic, overwhelmed, excuse-filled world, it’s often missing. That’s why if you establish a reputation of reliably fulfilling your commitments, you’ll stand out. People will love to have you as a colleague.

What does it mean to give and keep your word? People who are known for their reliability do the following:

  • -are specific in what they say they will do
  • -include a completion date
  • -call and renegotiate when required
  • -provide updates on progress if appropriate
  • -keep a list of everything they have promised
  • -don’t offer excuses for nonperformance


None of the following are commitments: I’ll look into it; sounds like a good idea; I’ll give it my best; let me check with my team; let me see what I can do.

These are expressions that well-intended people use when they agree with what is being asked of them. The intent is good, but execution is at risk because completion dates are missing. And only when a completion date is included do people become clear about their responsibility to take action.


Sometimes, life gets in the way…

People who keep their word occasionally find that completing a task is either not going to happen as planned or a shift in priority has occurred. When that happens, they call immediately and discuss the situation with the person to whom they committed. Together, they decide what is best:

  • -stick with the original date
  • -change the date
  • -revoke the commitment
  • -find an alternative way to get the task completed as originally determined


The point is that the exchange and delivery of commitments is dynamic because circumstances often change. As soon as the due date is in jeopardy, effective people talk and come up with a new commitment that makes sense to both parties. What’s important is that there are no surprises.


Keep a record of your promises

Often commitments are not kept because we lose track of what we have promised. Take a moment and write down everything that you have promised to your boss, team, colleagues, kids, partner, and friends. Include those actions where you didn’t actually promise, but someone expects or wants you to do it.

Not many people in life will ask you to do X by Y, so it’s up to you to hear every hint as a possible direct request and make the expectations clear for both parties.


The palest ink is better than the strongest memory.
—Chinese proverb

I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.
—Robert Frost

Paul Axtell, author of Make Meetings Matter


For more on ways to transform meetings, check out Make Meetings Matter>>


February 17, 2020

The Hidden Costs of Not Ending Your Meetings on Time

One of the most common complaints about meetings is that they consistently run over and delay people getting to their next meeting or activity. That is an obvious cost, but the hidden costs are more impactful.

If you establish a pattern of not ending your meetings on time, you and the organization will pay a price. First of all, people expect that whoever calls a meeting will respect their time and talent by designing and leading that meeting effectively. They will leave frustrated when you do not, and your reputation as a competent manager will be diminished.

Second, if people begin to anticipate that a meeting will not end on time, they will pull back. They’ll stop asking questions for clarity. They’ll stop offering differing perspectives or approaches. They will begin to lessen their attention and engagement. Eventually they will simply disconnect and wait for the meeting to be over.

Third, people want to be engaged and aligned with the organization, but if they become frustrated with how meetings are prepared and led, they will pull back their comments, questions, and support.

4 Tips for consistently ending on time

Tip 1: Schedule fewer agenda items. Keep the number of items on the agenda as small as possible. There will be less pressure to rush through the agenda if you have fewer items, and participants will be able to focus on each conversation if there are not ten topics to divide their attention. A good guideline is two meaningful topics per hour. You must have enough time to discuss the topic, reach alignment, and agree on next steps. The criteria remain the same regardless of the meeting topic: Are you doing complete work on each topic? Does each conversation lead to clarity and alignment about what happens next?

Tip 2: Keep group size to eight or fewer. Who should be part of the conversation in order to accomplish the outcomes defined in the agenda? Whose presence is necessary for the topics to be discussed and handled? Who must be there to get the work done? Who, if they can’t attend, means you might as well reschedule? Five to eight is the best size for most working groups—small enough to sit in intimate physical proximity, easy to get everyone’s views considered, enough differing views and experience to ensure a robust discussion, and small enough to assure a candid and authentic conversation. One caveat: less is more.

Tip 3: Keep the conversation on track. The main reason for meetings running over time is that conversations are allowed to drift off track. There are four reasons conversations go off track: lack of clarity about the process to be followed in working through the conversation (process steps); people with a pattern of talking too long or too often and neglect to make sure their comments add value; problem solving when that’s not the purpose of the discussion; no one is willing to bring the group back on task once the conversation has strayed. Ideally this is the responsibility of the meeting leader, but any participant will be doing everyone a favor by pointing out that the focus has shifted.

Tip 4: Make ending on time one of the meeting outcomes. If you establish a new pattern of designing and leading well-run meetings that add value, move projects forward, and respect people’s time, you will also add another layer of credibility to your leadership of the group. You want people to look forward to being in your meeting, and they want your meeting to be one that enhances their workday.

Start on time, stay on track, end early.

“The best things arrive on time.”

—Dorothy Gilman, American writer

Paul Axtell, author of Make Meetings Matter


For more on ways to transform meetings, check out Make Meetings Matter>>


February 10, 2020

What is Your Game Within the Game?

Want to be really good? It takes patience, persistence, and practice!

“Game within the game” is an expression that comes from sports. Athletes are committed to improving as they play. This is different from practicing before a game. This is about choosing to focus on one aspect of their performance as they play their game.

You have probably used the same principle with your kids in soccer. In each game, you or their coach give them something to work on during the game:

-getting back faster on defense

-passing the ball quicker after receiving it

-maintaining the proper distance from team mates

The key to improving performance in any sphere is choosing a critical variable to work on, then working on it for two weeks until it becomes natural, intuitive, and available to you at all times.


Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.

In sports, you can practice between games. But in most areas of life—meetings, parenting, relationships, conversations—we aren’t given time to practice. We are just expected to go out there and be good every day.

Still, getting better at something takes deliberate practice. It requires choosing something to focus on and then working on that behavior until it becomes instinctive. Two weeks is a workable time frame. If you remind yourself as you begin each day, then reflect back on how you did at the end of the day, you’ll quickly create a new awareness.

Here are ten ideas you can practice to improve your meetings. Most of these ideas have broad application in life. Work on each for two weeks and you’ll begin to notice the idea as either present or missing; and with this awareness you’ll have a choice to change your normal response.

  1. Look for who is not yet participating in the conversation. Who is on the outside?
  2. Who interrupts whom? What happens to the interrupted person and the conversation that is interrupted?
  3. Note each time the conversation changes. Do not change a conversation without permission.
  4. Note every time someone promises to do something and no deadline is expressed.
  5. Look for the four key elements of effective conversation: clarity, candor, commitment and completion (clarity: clear, shared understanding of what was said; candor: being self-expressed; commitment: do X by Y; completion: we are not going to leave this topic until we are all ready to leave it).
  6. Set aside technology and be fully present. Notice when others are focused on their screens and their attention would make a difference.
  7. Practice focused speaking: Be clear, concise, and relevant.
  8. Each time humor is used in a conversation, ask yourself whether it added value to the conversation. Watch out for teasing and sarcasm.
  9. Watch your speaking: if you’re usually too fast, slow down; if you’re usually rambling, work on being more concise; if you’re too quiet, work on speaking up.
  10. Whenever you notice yourself wondering what someone means, ask for clarity. Stop guessing at what people mean.

Paul Axtell, author of Make Meetings Matter

For more on ways to transform meetings, check out Make Meetings Matter>>


February 3, 2020

What is the REAL Cost of Turnover?

For most businesses, and people for that matter, they will continue to do the same things each day until there is some reason to change. The basis for psychology is that “people move towards pleasure and away from pain.” This explains why very little changes in an organization until the pain of doing nothing is greater that the pain of doing something. It is with this as the backdrop that we discuss the cost of an open position in an organization verses the cost of changing the way that you recruit, engage and develop talent in your organization.

The cost of an open position is a “hidden cost” for most organizations. In the very short run, an open position costs less money to the direct payroll costs so it can be naively seen as a net positive. It is only when we put a number to the vacant position that we have something to balance that with.

This cost is actually quite easy to come up with. If you look at all of your product and service costing models you will likely have categories of fixed and variable expenses. You will also have the amounts that you charge customers for the services of each employee that they interact with. Your pricing and costing models are the key to coming up with this number.

Say that you are a roofing company and you currently have three open positions for hands on roofing technicians. Each of those technicians you pay $20.00/hour (for easy figuring). Is the cost of an open position then $20.00/hour or roughly $42,000/year? NO. If you look at your pricing model you will note that you CHARGE customers $40.00/hour for each technician’s time. So the cost of this open position is more like $80,000/year. Add to that the fact that in order to get the job done for the customer you need to pay your current employees’ overtime to finish on time. What is the cost of that?

The last hidden cost that you need to consider is the effect on your employee retention that having open positions creates. An open position means that someone else must do the work that is undone because of this open position. People will take on more work or work overtime for a short period of time but eventually if they see no light at the end of the tunnel they will leave and create ANOTHER open position.

So, is it worth your time to change the way that you recruit, engage and develop employees? I’ll just let YOU do the math…

-Chris Czarnik, author of Winning the War for Talent; originally posted on chrisczarnik.com


To read more about recruiting and retaining the best employees, check out Winning the War for Talent>>


January 27, 2020

Three Complaints About Meetings

Last year, I was given an opportunity to review the data from research on meetings conducted by an online scheduling platform, Doodle. The report offered compelling data, and I’ll share (with permission) the findings behind three of the most common complaints about meetings that might lead you to adjust some of your meeting practices.


1. Busy professionals are more concerned about the quality of the meeting attendees than they are the meeting format because they felt that irrelevant attendees slowed progress.

Eight or fewer participants is preferred for meetings. Invite only those people required to accomplish what you have on the agenda. Find other ways to inform and engage people who are not necessary. Of course, people want to be included and often get value out of meetings. The point is to be deliberate about inviting rather than just letting your group size swell without being thoughtful about who needs to attend.

Management consultant Margaret Wheatley talks about small groups of people being able to make a big difference, and she uses the question, “What matters and who cares?” to help groups define their purpose. If you limit your meetings to discussions about what matters, your meetings will have more impact. If you invite only those most concerned, the conversations will be focused and productive. And you will also protect people’s time—making sure the investment value is high for those attending and giving those not needed in the meeting more time for individual work.


2. The following irritating behaviors detract from the efficiency of a meeting:

-taking phone calls or texts

-people who interrupt others

-people who don’t listen to others

-arriving late or leaving early

-people who talk about nothing for long periods of time


You have two primary ways of managing behavior. First, ensure that the top people and most respected members of the group role model the behavior you want. Identify these people, take them to coffee, and ask for their support in improving the experience of the meeting for everyone.

Second, spend a few minutes up front asking the group to be attentive and supportive of everyone who speaks.

Some meetings will benefit from establishing guidelines about technology, interrupting, and side conversations—anything that detracts from the meeting’s efficiency. Don’t have a long list of guidelines, just three or four that the group agrees would help.

You might use the graphic from Doodle below as an opening for your group to express what they would like to be true about meetings that isn’t true now.

The Doodle Meeting Report 2019, created by online scheduling platform Doodle through research with 6,026 professionals in the UK, Germany, and the USA.


3. Poor reception on conference calls and video meetings.

This third point in the report is concerning because the vast majority of respondents experienced poor connections. When people are attending virtually, that leads to multitasking and half-hearted participation—never a plus if you want engagement and alignment. The experience of folks who are not in the immediate meeting room is often far less than for those in the room. Ask your people what support they need in getting the technology required to participate effectively.

With the globalization of business, virtual meetings are becoming the norm for many conversations. Video conferencing technology has made it possible for virtual meetings to include many elements of face-to-face meetings, but not if the technology isn’t functioning for everyone.

-Paul Axtell, author of Make Meetings Matter


For more on ways to transform meetings, check out Make Meetings Matter>>


January 20, 2020
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