In The Workplace

You wrote some time ago that face-to-face meetings with the workers are the best approach to maintain a proactive two-way communication process. But how do we do it given our busy, crazy work schedule? — Lacks Time.

When we attempt to do too many things at once, we often get rattled and accomplish even less. That’s the story of the young Charles Darwin. One day, when he was eagerly holding one rare beetle in his right fist, another in his left fist, and then suddenly, he caught sight of a third beetle which he simply knew he must have for his collection.

In a flash, he put one of the beetles in his mouth for safe-keeping and reached out for the third beetle with his now free hand. Unfortunately, the mouth-imprisoned beetle squirted acid down young Darwin’s throat so that in a fit of coughing he lost all three beetles.

Darwin’s lesson is clear. Whether you’re supervising two, 10, or 20 employees, the difficult task of managing people can always be done if you could place a premium on their specific needs that are placed in your two hands and not in your mouth. If your hands are full, then it means only one thing, you need to devise an ingenious way to manage everything but not to swallow everything in sight.

As I’ve said before and will say again here, despite the convenience and comfort of disruptive technologies like e-mail, texting, or online video, there’s no better way to communicate than with a personal touch. Eyeball-to-eyeball is still the best communication strategy that managers cannot afford to ignore. Nothing can beat that.

No one is too busy in this world. Everything can be done by setting your priorities like ants and bees, who don’t care about what’s happening around them and are focused on their respective tasks. Therefore, the question is — what are you busy with? For one thing, you as a manager are supposed to delegate things. Of course, that’s assuming that you hired qualified employees.

No matter how busy you are, you need to find time to meet with your team, at least once a day. Yes, you read that right. At least once a day, but not enough for you to be accused of looking over the shoulders of people. Really, having a face-to-face meeting is imperative for better work relationships, clear understanding of the objectives, discovering solutions to problems, and generating the participation of as many workers as possible.

With all of these in mind, it is always worthwhile to make every meeting serve a purpose. Otherwise, a meeting that isn’t planned and executed well can lead to confusion. So, how are you — being a busy manager — going do it? Here are some basic measures that you can explore and improve as time goes by:

One, agree on the schedule of a regular daily meeting. It’s better if you can do it first thing in the morning, when the workers’ attention span is at its highest. If the workers are required to work at 8:30 a.m., ensure that you start your meeting, say at 8:45 a.m. Whatever happens, don’t do it at the end of the day, much more on a Friday afternoon, when everyone is rushing to go home.

Two, keep the meeting short, sweet, and simple. It should be not more than 15 minutes, so that everyone goes back to start working at 9:00 a.m. The Japanese call it their daily “morning market.” The whole idea is to talk and review the current target and issues of the day. And if applicable, showcase a defective product or explain a faulty service that happened the day before and find solutions for it.

Three, start and end the morning meetings on time. Don’t wait for tardy workers to appear. This is in fairness to those who came in early. If you do it that way, sooner than you can imagine, it will become a habit for everyone to come on time and be a regular participant in your daily meetings. Of course, you as the manager must lead by example.

Four, summarize your thoughts in a clearly worded e-mail. Do it as soon as you reach your desk after the meeting. This gives everyone a complete understanding of the issues and avoid any misinterpretation. But then, allow people to ask questions so that they can be clarified and give immediate solutions as well. The summary should help your team or any of your individual workers to avoid dropping the ball.

Five, keep control of the meeting by sticking to your agenda. Don’t let your workers bring out other topics and irrelevant remarks that may not concern other people. Cut them off gently and say something like this: “That’s very interesting. But at the moment, let’s focus on this issue first.” If it’s really important, request the concerned workers to talk to you after the meeting.

Last, find every opportunity to commend certain workers. Most of the time, if things are going on smoothly, and there appear to be no problems to talk about, the best way is to use that morning meeting as a chance to praise the work of concerned people who have done an extra mile to do good for the team or department. If there are none, then it means only one thing — you’re not looking or thinking hard enough.

ELBONOMICS: Managers who like long meetings don’t have better things to do.