TIL: the agenda is a suggestion

Today I Learned

Meetings are a request for scarce resources, made days (or weeks) before the event. In the time between the meeting request and the event, new information appears and relationships evolve.

What this means to me

Any discussion should include the most important topics that the attendees need to address at the time of the meeting, not only those proposed in the agenda when the meeting was scheduled. If we don’t, we are wasting scarce resources, denying ourselves the current truth, and ultimately weakening our relationships.

Putting this knowledge to work

After reviewing the proposed agenda for a scheduled meeting, raise what I believe to be the most important topics to the discuss with the other attendees, and allow the group to decide how to devote the remaining time. Follow up 1:1 afterwards as needed to discuss the most important topics.

Two quick examples

  • Arriving at a standing monthly meeting, we review the pre-defined agenda and standard “status deck.” There are critical resourcing issues that emerged since the last meeting that aren’t on the agenda but are impacting the team’s rate of progress, so I ask the team is we can spend 10 minutes during the current meeting discussing that issue or to find another time before the end of the day that’s more convenient .
  • When I get a vague or empty meeting request from a person I don’t work closely with, I decline the meeting request and politely request clarification on what they want to achieve with the discussion. Sometimes a quick phone call can help soften this reply as it’s somewhat unusual in corporate culture.


If you have questions or feedback about this idea, or about my new short-form post type “TIL,” please leave a comment below.


Is The Executive Maybe part of your working vocabulary?

Effective leadership requires both decisive action and compelling communication, with integrity throughout. In an economy shifting towards knowledge and service roles, most employees will have more observations of a leader’s communications–both written and in person–than the leader’s direct actions. Think for a moment about the best communicating leader you’ve encountered: he or she certainly has an expansive vocabulary and evocative style. But there’s one little word, when used precisely, that can upgrade any leader’s communications: maybe.


The Executive Maybe is both stealthy and powerful; like the Jedi mind trick, but without the condescension. After observing the Executive Maybe in its natural environment, I’ve observed two key uses:


  1. To redirect a proposal. When an employee proposes a new idea or next step, this flavor of the Executive Maybe applies a very soft rejection and redirects the conversation to another idea. As the pace of the conversation continues, the person who provided the idea likely won’t recall that their suggestion was ignored. Note: this technique is less effective on people familiar with Jack Johnson’s early work.
  2. To set a stretch goal. By invoking a hypothetical future state, this flavor of the Executive Maybe reduces apprehension that often accompanies the challenge of reaching new performance levels. By suggesting “maybe we could…” the leader instills the belief in her team that they can achieve it.

Now that your awareness of the Executive Maybe is heightened, listen for it in your organization and observe its effectiveness. Try it out with your team and see how they respond. It certainly won’t be the most exotic word in your leadership vocabulary, but will it be the most powerful? Maybe.

image credit: arresteddevelopment.wikia.com

Operational Excellence? Not before you follow the 6 rules of Meeting Etiquette

genimageLet’s face it, getting the basics right in an organization isn’t inspiring. I can’t imagine anyone leading off a resume with accomplishments like “Coordinate weekly staff meeting to start on time 95%” or “Always include agendas in my meeting requests.”

Most of the business articles that come across my screen have more to do with crowdsourced innovation and corporate governance than basic organizational effectiveness, so is this post 60 years too late? If you’re tempted to dismiss my insistence on fundamentals as naive in search of more lofty pursuits like a handwringing debate on whether culture or strategy is more important, feel free – but don’t do so without taking stock of how consistently you live by these rules. Too busy? Other people will take care of it for you? Get paid too much to take notes? Whatever your justification, try sticking to the basics I’ve listed below for three days in a row and see what you notice in your team’s productivity and morale.

Essential Meeting Etiquette

  1. Include a location (room/conference line/web meeting) and agenda in every meeting request you send
    1. Corollary: respond in some way to every meeting request you receive
  2. Invite only the essential personnel to the meeting, and look at their availability before selecting a time.
    1. Corollary: reschedule the meeting if essential personnel can’t attend.
  3. Start your meeting on time, with a copy of the agenda (see #1) visible to the group. Ask for additions/edits to the agenda and then proceed.
    1. Corollary: don’t show up late to meetings.
  4. Communication in meetings should be in the form of either requests or promises. Everything else is self-serving and wasteful of the group’s time.
    1. Corollary: find other means (like an internal blog, email distribution list, corkboard at the coffee machine, or daily voicemail to your team) of sharing information so that it doesn’t need to be done during a meeting.
  5. End your meetings early so that attendees can arrive on time to their next commitment (or just get back to doing their real jobs).
    1. Corollary: if you are speaking near the end of a meeting’s agreed time slot, check with the organizer to see if he or she wants to cover any additional topics before you continue speaking (see #4).
  6. Send a follow-up email to everyone you invited to your meeting–including anyone who did not attend–thanking them for the time and recapping agreed actions (see #4).
    1. Corollary: Recurring meetings should have a known repository for agendas (see #1) and minutes to reduce easily ignored email traffic.