(AUDIO) It's Time to Improve Your Meetings
Do you feel like you're having sales meetings just because someone says you have to have sales meetings? Do you worry when your salespeople leave the room they mumble what a waste of time it was? What about staff meetings? How productive are they? Now more than ever it's important to have your team - which is probably much smaller - understand your vision and follow you into the fire. Al Pittampalli is the author of "Read This Before Your Next Meeting." Our Buzz Knight spoke to Pittampalli about his book. What you hear will improve how you run your organization.
Listen to Buzz's interview with Al Pittampalli HERE or read the entire transcript from the interview below.
Al Pittampalli: Great to be here Buzz.
BK: Al, tell us about your background and tell us what the defining moment was that pushed you over the edge about meetings and their ineffectiveness.
AP: Well, I started off with a company call Ernst and Young, which is one of the big accounting firms and I was at fortune 500 big organizations every day interviewing people sitting in on their meetings and what I found, much to my chagrin, was that nobody was doing it right. In fact these meetings were torturous to sit through and what was funny is, I was at a lot of different companies and different organizations and it seems like every single one had the same exact problem. So I asked the people around me and they said “well, this is just how business is done” and I refused to except that. So I kind of went on this crusade to understand why is it that every single organization seems to have this problem and what can we do to fix it.
BK: Who were some of the great influences in business that helped shape you and put that perspective as you were sitting in these meetings getting frustrated?
AP: My mentor is a man named Seth Godin who is kind of a pioneer in marketing, but what I found was that when I did try to look at the kind of current thinkers in the field of meeting management, was that people were talking about the obvious stuff. They were talking about “ Okay you should have an agenda, you should be on time, you should make your meetings as short as possible” and what I realized was that people seem to already know that stuff. So maybe we need to look outside of the field a little bit and read a little bit more of some other thinkers. That's when I got introduced to people like Seth Godin and some human behavior type of people. When I looked at those fields I realized that “wait a minute this meeting problem isn't necessarily kind of a business operations thing, it's almost a human behavior problem and a marketing problem.” We need to figure out why we're so afraid to make decisions because I think that is one of the root causes of the meeting problem, and the other is, how do we get that message to spread within an organization because it's one thing to know what the solution is, it's another thing to actually have it implemented in the organization.
BK: You talk about something called “Diffusion Of Responsibility” relating to organizations. What do you think that means to an organization, a radio cluster, in today's world?
AP: I think what that means is radio, just like every industry I'm sure, is going through change. I'm sure there's hyper competition right now. The competitive landscape in radio is changing and it's dynamic and things are happening left and right. Some of these things for the very first time. Whenever you have a period of rapid change, what you're going to have, is you're going to have things that you need to deal with that aren't necessarily on the org chart. An issue may arise, that you may not realize and say “wait a minute, whose responsibility is it? Whose supposed to make the decision here?” and the problem is our solution to that, has always been the meeting. When we don't know who's supposed to make a decision on something, we just get everybody into a room together. The problem is, although that seems like the logical thing to do, what happens is what scientists call the bystander effect. It's the same conundrum that happens when fifty people are on a street corner and they're watching a building burning and no one picks up the phone and calls the fire department. Why is that? It's because this social phenomena takes effect where the responsibility kind of defuses across the entire group, so no one wants to stand up and say “you know what, we should do this and let's go in that direction” and that becomes a problem. Especially in a competitive environment where your competitor, it's a game of who can have the best programing, how can quickly can we get it on the air, how quickly can we break news.
BK: You tell an interesting story that I think has a radio correlation I was hoping we could talk about, that's the Ragu dad's story that related to social media. Can you talk about that story and maybe as you see radio, how radio can learn from what Ragu maybe misplayed?
AP: Sure. Ragu, who everybody knows is famous for their tomato sauce, maybe six months ago, they started ad-messaging random dad bloggers on Twitter. Basically they were just spamming them. They were spamming them with a link to a video, which was supposed to make fun a dad's inability to cook. Well, CC Chapman was one of those dad's who got spammed and he didn't find it very funny. In fact he found it a little offensive because he's a dad blogger. So he decided to take matters into his own hands and he wrote a blog post on-line, because he's a pretty popular blogger, titled “Ragu Hates Dads”. Now just from that title you can probably imagine what happened next, I mean the post and by law. Thousands of people came to this blog post and commented , shared it, tweeted it, Facebooked it, and you know, it went all over the internet. I mean Ragu was kind of front and center and that's what you want. I think what happened was, it took Ragu three days to respond to this thing. Three days, and you have to think to yourself why would it take a company who was getting bashed on-line, you know hour by hour, minute by minute, tweet by tweet, take three days. The answer is nobody knew who's job it was. They were sitting inside of meetings all day trying to figure out what the best response is and that's the diffusion responsibility we're talking about. What the meeting does is it creates an environment where we can hide and we can kind of get in this room together and say “okay we're all in this together, what should we do?” and the problem is in times of uncertainty, when you need a quick response, the idea of filing into a room and kind of getting together to problem solve, it doesn't work so well. I think for example the Dom Imus controversy that happened, I don't know specifically how they responded to them but clearly we're at an age where response time is really quick. Not just in PR but in any type if mishaps that can happen in a media environment. So we need to start figuring out how can we response to these quicker than our competitors. How can we get in front of the stories? I'm not sure the meeting is the solution. 7:30
BK: So there's a varied group that checks out Radio Ink. It's owners, it's CEO's, heads of programing, single station programers, sales managers, general managers, all with different goal but do all of them need to conduct meetings?
AP: I think the problem with the meeting fundamentally is that we don't know why we need to meet. So I think we need to start with the purpose. The problem is meetings have become this habit where it's our go to reflex. It's like okay, there's some type of issue, there's something that needs to be done, I can't do it by myself so let me just call a meeting and get everybody into a room together and that's how it goes. Maybe you need to hold a meeting and maybe you don't. Maybe your colleague needs to call a meeting, I don't know but the first thing we need to do is disconnect this automatic reflex to think that the meeting is always the answer because it feels like the right thing to do. We have this innate biological need that's ingrained in us that in times of uncertainty we want to gather. It feels like the right thing to do. Even our own weddings which is a positive one, we always just feel that in times of uncertainty or times of celebration, we want to get together and root together. That is a very dangerous thing especially when we're talking about speed because one, it takes time to get into a room together and two, when we get into a room together, it takes even longer to agree on something. As to who needs to call the meetings , I'm not sure but I think that it stems from what is the particular issue and who is the right person to be able to solve it and does the meeting support what they need to do or is it a waste of time?
BK: Whats your view on presentations in 2012 and how much at fault are presentations in terms of the bad habits of meetings?
AP: Well, presentations are interesting especially in the business that you guys are in because everything can be recorded these days and the question is what is live for? Why do we do things live? I think the answer is there is a lot of reasons we do things live. There's a real incredible reason why people would turn on the radio station and listen to somebody live because there's this psychic camaraderie that occurs among listeners. Even if I'm in my car, I still feel like other people are listening at the same time and that's valuable to me. It also seems fresh. There's something about DVRing something or taping something and watching it three hours later which takes out the element of freshness but, pod casts still exist. There is a demand for people who want to record something and watch it later because it's much more convenient for them and it's less interruptive. They can watch it on their own time. So I think we need to take that type of shift that's happening in media and entertainment and think about how it that effects presentations. Almost anytime someone gives a presentation, there's an option to have recorded that and sent it to somebody and let them do it on their own. I can't tell you how many boring presentations I've sat through in meetings and thought to myself why in the world am I listening to this live in person? Why didn't this person just hold up a web-cam or take a tape recorder, record themselves giving the presentation and just send it to me before or write it in a memo. That way I can consume this on my own time and then maybe, lets have the meeting be half as long only to address the questions from that presentation or the interesting stuff or the complex stuff. I think we need to start really thinking about what exactly a presentation is? I think a presentation fundamentally in a modern era, a live presentation should be about everything that couldn't have been communicated before hand, you know the non emotional information, the data, the stuff that we could have easily recorded and save the real special event for the real stuff.
BK: Radio people are really no different then others in today's over connected world, we're drowning in emails. Any tips on how it relates to that in terms of improvement opportunities for people to really harness that?
AP: Yeah, I think that we're so busy downing in email that we forget how much of a miracle it is. The fact that I can email someone and they don't have to respond till the next day is incredible. You can't do that with the phone. I mean, one of my colleagues answers like five hundred email a day, he could have never done that with just the telephone. You can't answer five hundred phone calls or take five hundred phone calls a day. So I think there's a couple things that we need to do. One is we need to, my solution as a meeting culture guy, is that if we free up time, if we attend less meetings then we're going to have more time to answer email and we just need to switch modes a little bit. Our brains are so, because we've been doing this forever, our brains are so wired to real time communication with picking up the phone and calling people, with attending meetings. I think where our culture is going, the most productive organizations and productive people, are getting really comfortable and really good at asynchronous communication like email and being able to respond to something someone sent me three hours ago. The other thing we need to do, and this is really important, is we need to start prioritizing our email better. With so many emails floating around, it's hard to blame the receiver. I think you have to look to the sender and say “what can the sender do?” cause it's not possible to answer as many emails as people are getting. One of the things that the sender can do, is do a really good job of making it clear when something is really important and when it is not because we want everybody to read everything we send but the reality is they're probably not. So lets just let go of that and lets actually try to make it clear what is the high priority stuff. I say lets reintroduce this idea of a memo. If you can create a well crafted document, maybe it's a PDF attachment to the email, and in the subject line says memo and it looks like you have taken some time to create it because you have taken some time, well you can be pretty sure when someone receives that, they're like “Wow, this must be important. I should probably read this.” and what you're doing is conditioning people.Once in a while when you send out these memos, when you really have something that needs to be read, you're conditioning people to actually read them and you're giving people kind of an excuse to not pay as much attention to some of the non important stuff.
BK: It's really about conditioning a culture.
AP: Yeah, I think this is all about culture. I think culture is just habitual belief and behaviors and I think the world has changed and we need to change those habits.
BK: How do you think radio organizations and the industry at large can better innovate?
AP: When I look at innovation, I think about how do we create a culture where people are interested in coming up with new ideas and they have the freedom and the autonomy to run with them. What I mean by that specifically is, if you look for example what Google does. You know Google famously has engineered this twenty percent time, which is twenty percent of the time we're not gonna really watch you that much, you can work on anything you want and we're gonna kind of give you the autonomy to be able to do that. They're not having meeting every day checking up on these people. They're not having email exchanges with their engineers, trying to get on them for what their doing. Innovation is really about letting go of control. I think in the tech sector, people have understood this and they realize that the more we can kind of distance ourselves a little bit, the more we can trust our employees to come up with something and not be so concerned with the ROI or of deserving and verifying what they're doing, the more these people are going to come up with some crazy idea that might just change everything. All you need is one, or maybe two, to change everything. So I think managers and owners need to really think about that, seriously. I mean they really need to think about creating a culture where people feel encouraged and rewarded for going off the script and trying something and coming to you with a proposal that you never even expected but you've got to give them the time and the encouragement and the permission to be able to do that.
BK: So Al, the last point, and I'll relate it personally, the names will be changed to protect the innocent of course. So one of my programmers I work with said to me today, “You know what, I'm going to be busy today. I'm in a meeting from nine to eleven and one to three today”, so if you're someone who is in a position as I am, what do I tell them Al?
AP: I think you tell them that, everyone including you now, controls their own agenda and the only thing we have in this world, in this economy, is our time and our focus, and if those meetings don't serve your time and agenda, I think you have the right to either reject them or negotiate them. You know, we're not working in a 1960's factory environment where someone sets your agenda and then your done. If you're still living in that world, your not in good shape for this economy. I think its time where everyone politely but assertively starts to think about how they're using their time even when their boss has a big influence over it. So I would say that, if it's not worth the time, don't go.
BK: Well Al, I love the quote that you site in closing from Peter Drucker, “ We either meet or work.” I think that says it all Al, I really do.
AP: Yeah, I mean it's about real work. All of this is about getting to the process of creation, the stuff that actually benefits the listeners and the consumers and meeting don't do that. Only people that care about creating actually do that.
BK: Al Pittampalli, I really thank you. “Please read this before our next meeting” read the book it will really influence you and Al, I really appreciate your time today.
AP: Thanks Buzz.
You can order Al Pittampalli's book below
Read This Before Our Next Meeting
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