Improve execution and accountability with a Daily Huddle

I’m in a terrific new program that networking guru Keith Ferrazzi (Never Eat Alone, Who’s Got Your Back) is running and a recent exercise asked participants to describe ways they’ve kept their teams (and themselves) accountable.  My submission got some positive feedback and it’s pretty simple, so I thought I’d share it.

I had a team of account executives in remote offices, each of whom managed a number of alumni-association partners. We weren’t always their highest priority so executing on a long list of initiatives wasn’t always easy. I started a 20-minute Daily Huddle (first thing in the AM-if you couldn’t make it, no problem) and gave each person two minutes to list their biggest accomplishment of the previous day, what they wanted to accomplish that day, and what they needed from me or someone else on the call.   I kept track of what each person wanted to accomplish and asked the next day (and for a number of days after, if need be) what was getting in the way of completing that task.  One benefit of the daily call was that other team members often  offered advice based on having dealt with a similar problem with another school and very often someone would volunteer to role-play or help in some way to get the goal accomplished.   In addition, having to outline your goals in front of others led to more tangible goals that would have a real impact on the team’s results.

As a result of this and some other execution-focused  initiatives, we renewed 100+ relationships (with no losses), protecting $250 million in revenues and significantly reducing the sponsorship fees we were paying, while increasing group-satisfaction scores by 20%.  We also surpassed our goals for launching our Affinity Checking product by 200% (endorsements and accounts).  All because we spent a little bit of time every day focusing on initiatives that would move the needle.

Interestingly, someone in the class responded to my submission with the observation that people probably worked that much harder to complete tasks and come up with good objectives for the day because they didn’t want theirs to pale by comparison to other team members.  I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it’s probably true

To be effective: Keep it short. Keep it focused. And try to have it at the same time every day — first thing in the AM.

How do you help your teams — or yourself — be more accountable and execute more effectively.  Please share!

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How I’d spend my first few months in a new job

Can you demonstrate your ability to meet the challenges of your new job and hit the ground running?

I was recently asked to write a plan outlining how I’d approach my first few months in the job I’m interviewing for.  A few people (a couple of recruiters among them) commented on how unusual the request was, but I think it makes a lot of sense.

The interview process can be a beauty contest, with its emphasis on scripted answers and connecting with the interviewer.  This task requires the writer to demonstrate an understanding of the role (which probably requires that he or she did a good job asking questions during interviews) and of organizational needs and priorities.  It also tests your writing and organizational skills and also provides some insight into your leadership and management style that may not come out through your scripted responses.  I kept mine to two pages, so I was forced to balance the creation of a simple, easy-to-understand strategy with the desire to give the hiring manager a sense that I understand the scope of the challenge and will hit the ground running.

The process will also help me in future interviews with this employer — assuming I get one — because I now have additional questions that I will bring to the table, because I’ve thought through ways I’d approach different problems the organization faces, and because I will have better examples of ways I’ve resolved similar challenges that I might not have come up with in a conference-room setting.

One tip:  There aren’t many good templates for this task, but Harvard professor Michael Watkins has written a great book on this subject called The First 90 Days, which provided me with a great starting point. 

All in all, I will use this in the future when I’m trying to choose between qualified job applicants who want to demonstrate their ability to help us achieve our goals.

Readers, how about you?  Have you been asked to do a 90- or 100-day plan?  How did you approach it and what impact did it have on your candidacy?

Generals miss the point on PowerPoint

Death by PowerPoint is no joke in the military

If your new tires fell off after installation, whose fault would it be — the mechanic or his tools?

If you’re a U.S. general, you blame the tool.  At least that’s what they’re doing in an article in today’s New York Times about the military’s use of PowerPoint.  Lost amid all the jokes and criticism of a “tool that has spun out of control” is a simple fact: PowerPoint done right enhances rather than undermines the quality of communication.

Great PowerPoint presentations seek to persuade rather than dump information.  Great presenters crystallize their message long before they sit down to design slides.  I was a multi-bullet, heavy-copy PowerPoint people in my previous life, but I now find myself spending more time thinking through the message and the appropriate visuals.  I think about the story, the audience, the decision-making journey, and how to make my points as simply as possible.

It’s a joke to see these senior officers moan about the quality of presentations and the time wasted delivering them.  As you read the quotes from the “PowerPoint Rangers” about the time spent preparing slides, ask yourself whether the generals delivering them had anything to do with crafting the message…or whether they even looked at their decks before delivering the presentation.

Hey, generals!  Fixing this problem is simple:

  • Limit the number of slides you can use in a given period of time.  General McCrystal, you’re the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, for God’s sake.  Tell your people that their slide limit for a 30-minute briefing is five.  Period.
  •  Teach junior officers the right way to present.  Start them at West Point, in ROTC classes, and at Officer Candidate School.  Highlight the people who do it right; re-educate those who don’t.  Reinforce the message at the senior-officer schools.
  • At the beginning of a presentation, ask presenters to explain their objective.  If they can’t communicate it quickly and briefly, send them back to the drawing board.
  • Teach junior officers — and their bosses — how to WRITE clearly and persuasively.  There are times you use PowerPoint and times you use memos.  My high-school English teacher prevented us from graduating until we could put together a well-reasoned essay (thank you, Mrs. Banikowski).  Our children hit college (and eventually the work world) with expertise in Twitter (how persuasive can you get in 140 characters?) and IM’ing.  Ugh.
  • Know your audience.  I’ve spent time with Tyler on his college essays over the past few months and if he’s learned nothing else from our calm, collaborative sessions (he would characterize those conversations differently), it’s that you have to consider who is reading your paper (or listening to your presentation).  I hope he brings the memory of our time together to college with him this fall.

Of course, these tips don’t apply only to our soldiers in Afghanistan.  You can use them on your own personal and corporate battlefields.  Click here for other posts I’ve written about bringing brevity, clarity, and simplicity to your communciations.

What advice would you give the generals?

How shoveling in a blizzard can be used as a business metaphor

You may have heard that we’re getting a lot of snow here in the Northeast.

I don’t have a snow blower or a plow attached to my SUV, but I have a 17-year-old (although the concept of shoveling is more alien to teenagers today than it was when I was growing up in Buffalo).

Shoveling last week wasn’t much fun.  My neighbor offered me the use of his snow blower, but he got nervous about the sound of his motor in the face of so much heavy, wet snow that he asked if it was OK that I didn’t use it (metaphor for this post: dealing with a reduction in resources).  So I go inside and get the teenager (after the wife expresses reluctance to pay for a guy to plow).  The wife — for the purposes of this post — is the manager who has lost his or her mind, but that’s another story.

So this week, I decide to re-engineer the process. Recognizing that we’re looking at another 24 inches of snow — and the wife doesn’t seem to be budging on her “no paying for plowing” edict — I change my approach as the snowstorm kicked off Tuesday night around 6.

  • 9:45  p.m., Tuesday:  Went outside and got rid of the first 3-4 inches.  Went pretty quickly.  Used my Snowovel (a great invention combining wheels and a shovel) and the snow was light and fluffy.
  • 8:30 a.m., Wednesday:  Went outside with the 12-year-old to get the overnight snow (with the prospect of the big blizzard coming after 11 a.m.).  Nobody else outside, except one guy trying to move the wet snow with his undersized snow blower.  He gave up quickly.  Rest of neighborhood sleeps in.  Max needs lots of instruction (not a Buffalo native; he’s from this area where everyone is excited that we’re going to break the season record of 50-something inches, which is a light week of snow in Buffalo).  I just put on the iPod and get rid of another eight inches of wet, heavy snow.  Teenager comes out for last 30 minutes.  Wants to know why I let him sleep.  Told him I woke him up but he must have fallen back asleep.  He saves his life by apologizing in a believable manner.
  • 3 p.m., Wednesday.  Headed outdoors for the 12-14 inches we’ve gotten since 11 a.m.  Neighbors are working, looking irritated.  My task was easier than everyone else, but still pretty ugly.  My strategy appears to have saved me a heart issue and was a decent alternative to the EFX. 
  • 7 p.m., Wednesday.  Just looked outside.  Lots of blowing and drifting.  More snow.  Some people haven’t touched their driveways yet.  They’re pretty much screwed tomorrow.  Wife just told me she’s impressed with my effort and she’s OK with hiring a plow tomorrow.  Says I better use those negotiating skills I keep bragging about to keep the price down.  My wife doesn’t know it, but her 360-feedback just headed north.

Moral of the story.  When faced with a problem that involves a big hassle over time, Bulldog Simplicity says break it up into smaller pieces.  If the CEO sees that you’re working at it, good things might happen.  If he (or she) sees that you’re working at it and doesn’t much care, you’ve at least made your job easier over the longer term.  Leaving the problem until it’s really built up means you’re either looking at a really big problem or the need to throw a lot more money at the problem.

Manning demonstrates value of preparation; JaMarcus doesn’t

Preparation enables Peyton Manning to make what he does look easy

I’ve long been a proponent of the adage that preparation is the only things over which you have total control.  And I’m always glad to get reminders of that…from the world of sports or wherever.

I was reading Sports Illustrated’s NFL Midseason Report on an airplane the other day and smiled as I read how Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning texted Connecticut running back Donald Brown just hours after he had been drafted by the Colts:  “Meet me at the facility at 8 a.m. tomorrow.  Warmed up.  Ready to go.”

Former Colts coach Tony Dungy talked about Manning’s great season so far — despite a number of challenges — saying, “To understand why he hasn’t struggled, you have to understand the way his mind works.  It drives him every day that the offense will be better, not just as good as it was.  The new guys will fit in.  He’ll make them fit in.”

Juxtapose that with a conversation that Mike and Mike had this morning on ESPN Radio with analyst Tim Hasselbeck about Oakland QB JaMarcus Russell and his challenges.  The discussion centered on whispers around the Raiders camp that the now-benched quarterback is always “last in, first out” of meetings and practices.  He won’t put in the work necessary to prepare for the next week’s game.

There are other reasons Manning is a future hall-of-famer, but preparation can overcome many things — rookie wide receivers and running backs, injuries in many positions.  Lack of preparation just exposes you.

How have you helped yourself through preparation (or hurt yourself because you didn’t take the time)?  If you don’t know where to start to help yourself prepare more effectively, please contact me.