Communication is easy in a company of two. All you do is lean over and tap your partner on the shoulder. But the bigger your company gets, the more difficult it becomes to stay on top of who is doing what, which priority items are delegated to which divisions, who’s in control of which meeting, or who sent that pesky email. Ultimately if you don’t pay attention someone will end up in tears – and nobody likes a crying CEO. The communication spiral is tough to break out of, but there are some very simple tricks you can use to make your inbound communication simpler to deal with, and meetings less stressful.
By MH Staff - Posted on 15th October 2013
Nic Haralambous wants you to rethink the way you use email and how you run your business meetings
In fact, stop checking your email altogether. Email has become an always-on time hog, and that has to stop. Set two periods of your day to check and deal with email. I like to check my email immediately after breakfast and about an hour before I end my day. A good way to assist yourself with this is to remove push email from your mobile device. In other words, stop letting your phone receive emails. Instead just have your email app available in case something very urgent comes in. If it’s that urgent, trust me: someone will phone you.
Sure, you can multitask, but that doesn’t mean you should. Multitasking can make you less productive. Set yourself a time limit to work on your most important emails. In the beginning give yourself one hour. Wind up the Internet, open that mail program, turn off the noise (browser, Twitter, Facebook, BBM, Whatsapp, telephone, etc) and stick to your time limit. I’ll bet you won’t even have a full hour’s worth of email to get through. If you can’t get it all done in an hour, come back to it in your afternoon session.
Reading long-winded email is honestly the worst part of my day. I can’t face emails that are longer than a single paragraph. After battling with this for years, I did a bit of research and stumbled onto a movement called Five Sentence (http://five.sentenc.es). The premise is simple: all email responses, regardless of recipient or subject, must be five sentences or less. No more, no less. If you want to send a mail that’s longer than five sentences, suck it up and give the person a phone call. Trust me, your inbox will thank you for it.
A quick, action-orientated phone call can save you hours of waiting and back and forth emails. If you phone the person and they can’t take your call, then perhaps the email they sent marked “Urgent” wasn’t actually that urgent. Make sure that when you do phone, you have a very clear question you want to ask, or piece of information you want to give. Do not make the phone call longer than the email you were planning to write. And make sure there’s action attached to the discussion.
Before the Internet really came into its own, we had to rely on emails as well as various documents, files and graphics to do co-operative work. Those days are gone. No longer do you need to write a line-by-line breakdown of which paragraph on which page of which PDF or Word document is incorrect. Simply open a Google Doc (docs.google.com) and share it with your client or staff. These documents allow for co-operative work, letting you leave remarks on paragraphs, insert images and graphics, and comment on each other’s work in real time. You can even open up an in-document chat window to talk to one another.
When I say stand-up, I literally mean a meeting where the participants are standing. I used to buy uncomfortable seats for boardrooms so that people wouldn’t want to sit for too long but that turned ugly if we had to have a long meeting. So instead I decided to have daily meetings with various members of my team. Every morning we’d gather in the Rad Room (that’s what I named our boardroom, in an attempt to get team excited about meetings!), and quickly tell one another what we were doing that day, what issues we were having with clients, work or each other. If someone was unclear, didn’t have anything to talk about or was a bit vague, I would quickly pick it up and talk with them outside of the stand-up. Keep your stand-up meetings to 15 minutes or less.
There is no way that every executive, vice-president and product owner/manager needs to be in every meeting about a product. It’s just not feasible or reasonable. So make sure that the people invited and attending your meeting all absolutely have to be there for the job to continue on that day. If they’re just there to observe and they have no direct input to your agenda, ask them to leave
This is by no means new advice – but it’s something we seem to have forgotten in the age of emails and coffee shop meetings. If there’s no specific agenda for any given meeting (even if it’s just single bullet point or question), then that meeting probably doesn’t need to happen. If you’re thinking about who should be included in the meeting, and what the agenda points are, then you’re starting to move towards a meeting that needs to happen. More often than not, you’ll come to the conclusion that an official meeting isn’t necessary and a conversation with one person will do the job.
One of the best things I ever did was to allocate a single day in my week to meetings. Tuesday is my meeting day. If I can’t fit a person in and the meeting isn’t urgent, I’ll bump it to the following Tuesday. If it is urgent, I’ll bump out something that’s a lower priority. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, and if you absolutely have to meet someone on Monday, then go ahead. But if you’re in the office, doing work, interacting with your team and colleagues four days out of five, you’ll have a much better grasp on your workload and on everything else.
For some reason, one hour has become the standard meeting length. I’m don’t know when this happened, or why, but I won’t do it any more. I set 30-minute meetings over a cup of coffee. I only do lunch meetings with people I know and want to spend 90 minutes with. If the person you are meeting genuinely feels they need more time, they’ll ask for it – and they’ll have to justify it with an agenda.
I value my time. Sometimes people think I value it too much – but it’s really all I have in my day that is mine. So I have a 15-minute window. If the person I’m meeting with is 15 minutes late without any warning or communication, I’ll leave. If they arrive as I’m leaving, I’ll let them know and leave anyway. My email signature includes my cellphone number, email address, Twitter handle and office number. If you don’t bother to notify me on one of those four options, that you’re stuck in traffic or you’re battling with a flat tyre, then you clearly don’t care about my time. So don’t expect me to wait for you.