Motivation

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

Insights on Focus from the Female Jerry Maguire

Molly Fletcher, the author of The Energy Clock, started her career answering phones in the SuperBowl office and went on to become “the female Jerry Maguire” (CNN). Check out this video from Fletcher, who discusses how top-performing athletes manage their energy to achieve world-class performance and how you can apply that to your own energy and goals.


Learn more about sustaining your energy with The Energy Clock>>


January 13, 2020
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