Love, hate and the economics of meetings

‘I wish I did not have to come here next week again’, I murmured as I went through the door. It was the biggest meeting room we had in our office building. Yet, it was filled to the last square inch with attendees, some active and the remaining, fence sitters.

It just dawned on me that this weekly meeting was perhaps like one of those affairs I wish I never had. It inflicted pain, often deep, every time I met her and I walked in through this door.

Meetings, a lot like our relationships, offer themselves in all shapes and sizes. A few are short and sweet while most go on as repeated, cyclic affairs until we give in to their motions. We wish we never had some and we crave for others. We cling on to a few meaningless ones, as we fear losing all that we have already invested in those. Some give us that cherished sense of being “all important” and we love them. Like relationships, we can never get rid of these endless series of getting together, huddling up and often feeling good about being productive.

Yet, there are other times where I am more critical. I look for the value produced in those countless hours of ranting and analyse their cost to the last penny. Being in the business setting of the corporate headquarters, I expect everything to be efficient, rational and result oriented. The truth is, our organizations are inefficient by nature and are far from being rational bodies.

Too many meetings often indicate that we are not organized efficiently. Our resources are in the hands of wrong decision makers and the jobs are sitting in irrelevant departments. We meet for days, months and sometimes years, trying to overcome such impediments instead of consolidating the resources and jobs. Some meetings are held with the sole purpose of sharing information, because we are yet to figure out a tool to share information efficiently and near real-time.

There are still other meetings which are in the pretext of “delegating” work and later tracking how the delegation has worked. In all probabilities, non-performers, in the pretext of these meetings are enjoying their free rides!

These meetings are there to make up for the inefficiencies inherent in an organization. They are like subsidies our governments keep pumping in to keep an inefficient system ticking, a socialist way of doing things. Perhaps we set wrong expectations with ourselves by craving for fair competition and wanting information and resources to flow seamlessly to where it produces the greatest value. After all, organizations, like us, are social entities functioning in the backdrop of human societies – inherently inefficient and irrational.

Inspired by the book “The Efficient Executive” by Peter H. Drucker

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Our society and the culture of ‘Thank You’

You must have read the article already:

HBR| How to give a meaningful Thank You

We have been thinking about it for last couple of months, and every time the logic is boiling down to the following

Behavior
Human Beings [Social Beings [Professionals [White Collar/ Blue Collar: Hierarchy]]]
So if you devise any policy/ rule or create a corporate DNA or do behavioral development etc, keeping the above Ideal logic in mind; this will ensure that things automatically fall in place..
Let me explain the Ideal logic:
First, we are human beings – Humanity needs to be there in behavior/ policy/ law/ action/ etc etc
Second, we are social beings (remember, we are human beings first, and then the social beings) – Social customs/ norms should get the required respect in every event
Third, we are professional (remember, we are social being first, and then the professionals) – Nothing to explain, maintain professionalism
Fourth is self explanatory
Point here is, we/ companies/ institutions etc follow the reverse order –
Generally Observed (and flawed):
People are first treated on the bases of their “Collar” or their “Hierarchical Position” in the organization. Accordingly, the respect is given and behavior is shown. Then, everyone gets the treatment as a professional; social stuff is considered irrelevant for the job…think deeply it is very important to satisfy the social needs. Anyhow, then the social treatment is received by human beings (I would say social constraints are received)…A human being wants to enjoy his favorite food, but it is impressed upon him that he follows the table manner…don’t get me wrong, I am not saying you don’t follow the table manners, but sometimes Desired is given preference over Required….surely, everybody needs to be with in the control points…..
The irony is, apparently the least important thing in the entire generally observed behavioral paradigm, is Human Beings getting treated as human beings!
So… how will you run your organization? Will you, like everyone else, give lip service to respect for co-employees? Remember this though: If you cannot be human to your co-workers, they will only respect your seat / your position, and never you.

Cognitive Biases and Management Decision Making: General readers’ overview

While we are taking you through cognitive biases, it will serve well to go through this article from io9.com from George Dvorsky which gives a basic overview of cognitive biases.

The 12 cognitive biases that prevent you from being rational

An excerpt from the above article to explain the concept:

Before we start, it’s important to distinguish between cognitive biases and logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is an error in logical argumentation (e.g. ad hominem attacks, slippery slopes, circular arguments, appeal to force, etc.). A cognitive bias, on the other hand, is a genuine deficiency or limitation in our thinking — a flaw in judgment that arises from errors of memory, social attribution, and miscalculations.

‘God Syndrome’ and how it affects your organization

One banana skin for the Entrepreneur and Senior Executive is the “God Syndrome” as I call it.

Let me explain. Have you ever played computer games? Amongst many modes in which a user / player can play a game is in the ‘God’ mode. Wikipedia defines this as “In health-based video games, god mode, infinite health or infinite life, is a game mechanic or cheat that prevents a playing character from being harmed, sustaining damage, and ultimately, dying. By contrast, invincibility or invulnerability is a usually temporary instance of this effect, obtainable in games with it as a power-up.” In other words, you are infallible. You cannot make mistakes.

Now converting this to a corporate scenario, the “God Syndrome” is a malaise, mostly from the entrepreneur or a very senior / knowledgeable resource, where (s)he gets stuck in the “I cannot be wrong” vortex. Now you’d say, this can be a good thing; conviction is a positive trait. Right?

Let’s just step back a little. Conviction and the God Syndrome are not the same thing, though an extreme sense of conviction, allied with the power to implement what ‘you’ feel is right, can lead to this sense of infallibility. Especially for an entrepreneur.

You are the visionary, you have the idea, you have got the funding, have built up the organization from scratch… this breeds arrogance. This diminishes, and in time completely erodes the ability to listen. To learn, too. And as we know, the organization that has stopped learning, is the organization that has stopped growing.

Also, this demotivates other innovative people, who one day were attracted to your vision and flocked to work for you…. If you are always right, the only ones in your organization who will live and prosper will be order-takers. The disruptives, the game-changers will either get demotivated, or move out. For the creative and the innovative, a job done well is not enough of a stimulant. Salary, big bonuses are not enough of a stimulant. You, the leader, would absolutely require to let them think on the job, and allow them a platform where their ideas are heard. Heard for the quality of the idea, rather than other factors… rank etc.

Entrepreneurs should be wary of this. At times, all that others in your firm want is to be listened, and to be given their due importance. Listening does not demean the leader, listening makes a leader a better leader. Also remember, most importantly, listening is not the same as buying in. John P Kotter, in his book ‘Buy-In’ speaks about passive agreement, which sometimes is worse than disagreement. You can see disagreement, therefore you can work on it. Passive agreement is a malaise you cannot see. And you, as an entrepreneur would rather have disagreeing voices than passive agreements.

Cognitive Biases and Management Decision Making –part 1

During a performance appraisal session, one of the managers in the room was promoting his employee. This individual employee had completed his most recent assignment before the deadline and to the liking of the customer. The person certainly deserved credit and most in the room, rated him high. However, no one ever questioned whether the employee was a consistent high performer over past one year.
Most managers, being as human we are, ( some may debate that about his/her direct supervisor) are prone to such behavioural biases. In the earlier paragraph, the entire term suffered from what we call as “recency bias”. We get carried away by more recent events during our decision making process.

In this discussion, which I intend to write as a short series of articles, I would like to touch upon few of such behavioural biases and how they impact managerial decision making. So let us get going.

We tend to hold on to our losses for too long and cash our gains very quickly. Why not cut our losses quickly ? We believe that the loss making propositions will magically become profitable one fine morning!! You have probably experienced it… while debating whether to sell when the stock market tanks and goes for a nose dive. Is it the same reason why managers hold on to projects that are not going anywhere? They continue to invest company’s resources in projects which yield nothing until they are forced to shut them down. Such “loss aversion” or “escalation of commitment” could be completely avoided only if we did not suffer from such inherent biases as humans.

Let us shift gears and discuss about delivering bad news to our people. How would you communicate layoff decision for a large group ? Do you do it in one go or tend to deliver small doses of it hoping to ease the pain? Imagine the nurse slowly pulling out the bandage from a dressed wound. Thankfully they pull it off in one go. The rapid pull triggers a sharp spike of pain. But isn’t making it a slow process more painful? We tend to often pull the bandage slowly by spreading the layoff over multiple months or quarters. I am not arguing against cases where you may want few people to stay for some time for an ongoing project!! Often management inflicting such pain to the organization over long period results in a sick organization with low motivation and energy.
In the next part, we will look at influences of biases such as “halo effect” and “framing”.

Meanwhile let us continue with our effort to behave both human and rational beings….