“be stubborn about your goals but flexible about your methods.” the best advice I’ve ever received.
The way things are done.
Bla bla bla bla.
Business is challenging enough without having to stick with ‘methods of what is right & wrong’ most of which are actually just simply things you ‘like or dislike.’ I say that because having the luxury of interacting with dozens of different businesses I sometimes have the opportunity to see something somewhere which reminds me that … well … I should remind someone else of something. And I just spoke with 3 young business owners yesterday about their new business.
This one has to do with meetings and managing the interaction between team members in a meeting. There are some basic business meeting truths everyone learns to accept <whether business people like the truth or not>. Suffice it to say that any time there are a bunch of people, and senior experienced people, in a business meeting you can count on it always being a maze of challenges and objectives interspersed with a nice dose of conflict of thinking & ideas. Knowing that … most of us invest gobs of energy developing an agenda and pounding it into everyone’s head that we need to follow the agenda and say what we all agreed to say.
Generally speaking? … what a waste of good energy.
Suffice it to say the agenda, the plan, rarely survives after the initial engagement and, while the construct of the original plan of attack may remain, what happens within that construct becomes an ongoing series of mini battles of ideas, words and facts. That means, in the reality of meetings, that sometimes a lot of things said or done in a meeting are a means to an end. And while the ‘means’ feel painful in the moment, well, in the end it was the right call.
The right decision or the right action. This is a surprisingly difficult lesson for a shitload of business people <uhm … it took me far too long to grasp it>.
Well. It is actually more difficult for older business people than younger business people. Younger business people inevitably have less rules and more worries about being & looking smart. On the other hand … older business people have more rules and, sometimes oddly, use them at the sacrifice of looking as smart as they could be.
This isn’t about older more experienced business people versus younger business people … this is about business meetings and management of moments and what I talked about with some business owners who didn’t really have any rules other than doing their best. And that is where talking with younger businesses is truly a joy for me. They rarely discuss status quo and rules and almost always ask me to talk about “in a meeting I want to do the right thing so how is the best way to do it.”
There are so many things that it would most likely take a Michener length book to discuss them all but I just discussed two yesterday so those are the ones I am highlighting:
- Leveraging the pronoun
You learn really early on in new business that different people see different things in meetings and most senior experienced people are smart. You also learn that younger less experienced people usually know some nuance or thought that can contribute to the discussion. This means you have a shitload of people who can contribute. This also means that inevitably in any good meeting discussions will create moments where someone wants to interject a thought. And, uh oh, they are not sure it’s a ’we’ thought or an “I” thought <we all agree versus just an interesting thought that may not align exactly with what the ‘we’ believes or wants>.
I always tell young business people … the worst thing is actually to say nothing.
The worst thing is to say something stupid. But let’s assume it is not something stupid and it is simply a “not sure it is an I or a we thought.”
Regardless. Any good business wants someone to speak up even if they aren’t sure it fits into the “we” façade.
So you go out of your way to teach what most people call ‘leveraging the pronoun.’ You teach people to use their pronoun selectively. And experienced business people pay attention to the pronoun. The “we believes” are obvious. They are the things you have discussed beforehand or they are some basic company principles which underpin what you do and what you believe. The “I’s” are a little more difficult. Ok. A LOT more difficult.
Shit is happening in a meeting and you have something to say. You rack your brain … ‘does everyone believe this … does everyone agree … is this just my opinion … ???? <a bunch of yack, yack, yacking going on in your head>.’
I always tell young business people, in this situation, open your thought with an I. Just use “I” and share the thought. And, most importantly, don’t worry about whether the rest of your team agrees or not ... just focus on making the point as smartly and articulate as you can.
The onus is on your other team members to box it in as an “I” or convert it to a “we.”
“Well, I partially agree with Bruce and that thought … it suggests something we have discussed … “
“He is correct … and …”
Or whatever you want to do and say. But as I just sat with three young business owners who think exponentially differently with several incredibly sharp employees … I was unequivocal that in their meetings situations will inevitably arise in which someone can accelerate progress or block downward turns and in either case you don’t want someone sitting on their hands trying to figure out whether everyone agrees or not.
Shift the onus onto the other members in the meeting. The other employees shouldn’t get pissed when someone does it … or scratch their head in confusion … they need to focus on leveraging the pronoun in the direction you want.
I think I just shared something kind of basic but sometimes I believe we forget to remind people of that type of shit. But when you do remind your team it frees up thinking in meetings and showcases how freely a business can navigate the strength of any business – the “I/we” dynamic. People like to know your business permits “I” to stand up and speak their mind just as much as they like, typically as a conclusion, that “we” can agree on a next step/recommendation/ POV.
Of course, I am sure I don’t need to say this <but I will anyway>, there must be balance in a meeting. It cannot be a constant “I/we” conflict, but, just for the sake of statistics let’s say that the 80/20 rule works well — 80% we and 20% I is probably the most extreme mix you want to have. Keep the “I’s” below 20 and you should be good.
Next thing you learn very early in business <and should go out of your way to teach young business people>.
- Managing the pivot
Every business meeting will demand a pivot or two. It happens. The flow of the meeting has simply gone off course, or worse, it is going in a direction which will inevitably put you in a bad spot.
So you pivot.
Oh. Unfortunately … pivots are difficult. Depending on the situation they can be impossibly difficult.
I tell people to just assume 80% of all pivots will be clumsy & awkward. The 20% elegant pivots are beautiful to watch and often so stylish they appear easy <and everyone should be able to do them> … but they are not. They are hard.
I tell all young business people to not worry about the pivot. Yeah. Of course think about it before you do it … but … getting stuck not pivoting because you aren’t sure how to do it just, more often than not, prolongs the pain in the meeting. The more important thing is managing the pivot.
I tell people to just clean it up if they want … just don’t point out how messy it was. But … what is even better? Just move on. Just like a running back in football if they make a sharp pivot they plant and accelerate. Suffice it to say the faster you accelerate out of a pivot the better off you are when it is all said & done.
By the way. That is a hard business lesson to learn. The natural instinct is to linger on the pivot and clean it up … make it look and feel less clumsy or awkward. The difficulty is that in doing so the focus remains on the wrong thing … that the pivot was clunky. Instead … if you accelerate out of the pivot 99% of the time no one invests any energy thinking back on the pivot itself … they focus on the ‘why the pivot got everyone to a good place.’
Once again … this is much more difficult than many people think.
The whole ‘awkward pivot’ thing. As I told these young business owners, when they do their post-meeting analysis they should reflect on pivots with the intent to see if there was a less awkward way <always seeking the elegant of course> but not to invest a shitload of energy reflecting. Hind sight is always 20/20 but you learn pretty quickly replicating that exact situation & context is minuscule therefore you will most likely never run into that exact same situation again.
Sure. Reflect a little.
Sure. Get bummed out it looked clumsy & awkward.
Sure. Let some people bitch & moan about how awkward & clumsy it was.
But, in the end, spend more time discussing how the pivot was managed … because, as I stated earlier, the only thing you really know for sure is that 80% of future pivots will be clumsy & awkward so rather than try and make them less clumsy & awkward it is probably a more effective use of your time to discuss how to manage it.
Business meetings are tough. They are tough for anyone at any experience level. I will admit that working with younger business owners and entrepreneurs when discussing new business and business meetings is fun. They are less likely to worry about rules and how things are done and all the crap that most of us older folk worry about with regard to meeting protocols. More often than not their mantra is respect for the idea & thinking & thoughts as more important than respect for a title & experience & business. Maybe it is because at that age they feel bulletproof <and we older folk forget that after being shot so many times>. But it actually seems like they have an innate understanding that the tide rises higher on the latter if they deliver on the former.
They also seem to have an innate understanding that in today’s world there is a higher value on collaboration & collaborative team thinking <even if it happens in a meeting and even if it contains some disagreement or back & forth in a meeting within team members> because it permits people to not only gain a glimpse of culture and teamwork but showcases thinking <assuming the back & forth leads to some value>. And, maybe most importantly, they seem to have a sense of fearlessness in meetings. Just in talking with these business owners as they discussed what I was telling them you could feel how it created a sense of fearlessness and freedom that no matter what mistakes they made within a meeting they could manage it.
I have always balked at ‘meeting rules’ and gravitated toward ‘meeting principles’ or ‘effective meeting tactics.’ Rules, to me, in a business meeting inherently constrict a lot of the freedom which inevitably makes for a good adaptable meeting.
Rules constrict the methods <which can vary depending on the context and the situation> which inevitably you need to attain your objective.
I firmly believe if a business is going to demand any meeting protocol it should be built around ‘thoughtful freedom.’ By the way, none of this comes at the expense of respect for anyone in the room. Whatever is said and done should always remain respectful.
Regardless. I maybe think this way because I never ever cared if anyone in any meeting disagreed with me … at any level or title and on my team or from the ‘other side’ … if they had a good idea or a fresh view on what was being discussed … or I was wrong.
I have been wrong so many times I am impervious to my wrongness. But, as a quasi successful business person, what I have come to realize is that as long as my rightness outweighs my wrongness I can keep my title, keep my responsibility and keep the respect of the teams around me as well as any business people I interact with.
And you know what? Young business people & owners get that. These guys did I just spoke with. And when they embrace it and do it well? Wow. Man. I would pay for a ticket to that show. That is good stuff.