A real corporate meeting, avoiding triggering The Boss

This anecdote from a story on Sears struggles is spot on strategic thinking for most corporate meeting:

There, two mid-level employees were preparing a presentation for the CEO, Eddie Lampert, when their boss rushed in with some last-minute advice.

On a chart pad he wrote three words.

“He looks at the presenters and says, ‘Do not say these words to that guy,'” according to a former Sears executive who described the meeting to Business Insider. “That guy” meant Lampert, who would soon appear on a giant projector screen at the front of the room, beamed in live from a home office inside a $38 million Florida estate – 1,400 miles away from headquarters.

The pad with the three words was out of sight of Lampert’s video feed. One of the words on it was “consumer.”

The stakes were high. If any of those words were uttered in front of Lampert, the two presenters would “get shredded” by the CEO, whose frequent tirades had fostered a climate of fear among the company’s most senior managers, said another person – this one a former vice president.

These two and other executives say “consumer” can trigger Lampert. He wants employees to instead refer to shoppers as “members,” which is his term for customers who are enrolled in Sears’ Shop Your Way rewards program.

It was at that moment, as the executive attending the meeting watched fellow employees anxiously censor themselves in front of Lampert, that he realized he needed to flee the sinking 123-year-old company.

That perfectly captures how much energy you need to spend on seemingly ridiculous details to be successful in corporate environments, not only in caustic ones, but pretty functional ones as well. I love chronically this type of tacit corporate knowledge.

The rest of the article is great background on how older companies are struggling to modernize with plenty of anonymized sources telling gritty, but helpful stories.

Think big, but have small, short, and focused meetings

Have 15 minutes be the default. Sure, sounds interesting.

See also Rumsfeld’s meeting rules which opens with a more management take on what meetings are for:

If you think about it, a meeting’s function is to pool an organization’s collective wisdom and knowledge in one room, making it easier for a manager to learn what his team knows that he doesn’t, and to provide guidance to all of those involved in one place at one time.

Think big, but have small, short, and focused meetings

Tips on scheduling meetings

I’m constantly shocked at how poor most people are ar scheduling meetings. There’s often simple things like “use the free/busy function” that you have to remind people about. Anyhow, there’s some good tips here if you’re someone who does all their meeting scheduling in plain text (read: you need help!), e.g.:

Instead, when I’m setting a meeting with a single person, I write and say, “Let’s have lunch together. How about next Wednesday at Cardiac’s House of Cheese at 11:45AM?” By putting not only the idea of lunch in the first email but also the details, I’m usually able to cut out a lot of later email traffic. The surprising thing is that most people accept my proposal in their very first reply.

Tips on scheduling meetings

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “Yeah, this should definitely be in 3D.”

No, what he said was, “[T]he test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” That’s what you have to do: you have to be confident in your potential, and aware of your inexperience. And that’s really tough. There are moments when you’ll have a different point of view because you’re a fresh set of eyes; because you don’t care how it’s been done before; because you’re sharp and creative; because there is another way, a better way. But there will also be moments when you have a different point of view because you’re wrong, because you’re 23 and you should shut up and listen to somebody who’s been around the block.

Life Lessons in Fighting the Culture of Bullshit, Jon Lovett

It’s a good speech, no matter how old you are, for how to cope with working with other people which, we know, is hell.

Amazon Staff Meetings: “No PowerPoint”

The traditional kind of corporate meeting starts with a presentation. Somebody gets up in front of the room and presents with a powerpoint presentation, some type of slide show.  In our view you get very little information, you get bullet points.  This is easy for the presenter, but difficult for the audience.  And so instead, all of our meetings are structured around a 6 page narrative memo.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon

Also notice that everyone actually uses the first part of the meeting time (30 minutes?!) to read the memo while they all sit there:

The author gets the nice warm feeling of seeing their hard work being read.

If you have a traditional ppt presentation, executives interrupt. If you read the whole 6 page memo, on page 2 you have a question but on on page 4 that question is answered.

This is an anecdote that’s been floating around for awhile, so it’s good to lock down the URL for it, and the original Charlie Rose interview.