Book Review – Running Meetings by Nick Morgan

​Running Meetings by Nick Morgan is one of the books from the Harvard Business School Press Pocket Mentor series. This small book with just 97 pages will give you sufficient information to run efficient and effective meetings. The book is divided into two broad sections. The first section titled, All About Meetings, has the main reading content and I’ve briefly reviewed that section below. The second section is a consistent feature of the books in this series, titled Tips and Tools, it contains extra information about the book’s main topic, in this case, running a meeting.

What you can learn from reading section one?

Here is a very brief review of some of what you can learn from reading the information in section one. The section is divided into eight sub-sections.

Getting started

In this section the first question answered is, why have a meeting? The answer to that is followed up with points on who comes to meetings and recognising other types of meetings apart from the usual type of group meetings. There is also some information on how to run a problem-solving meeting.

How to prepare for a meeting

This next section outlines key actions to take when preparing for a meeting. The actions discussed are:

  • Identify the meeting’s purpose.
  • Decide who needs to attend.
  • Think about date, time, place and equipment for the meeting
  • Build the agenda
  • Assign meeting roles and responsibilities
  • Supply any extra pre-meeting information

How groups reach decisions

This third section is all about decision-making meetings.  The section starts out offering some advice on how to prepare for this type of meeting and then discusses three ways decisions may be made which are by:

  1. Majority voting
  2. Group consensus
  3. Leader making the decision

There are also some points on how to guide the decision-making process.

How to conduct a Meeting

After preparation comes conducting the actual meeting which this section discusses. If you want to run a meeting properly, then reading the information here will show you how to:

  • Open a meeting with authority
  • Run a meeting skillfully
  • Know how to get full participation
  • End the meeting properly

When bad things happen to good meetings

This section has an interesting title, but what is it about? It provides us with some steps to take when a meeting goes wrong:

  • Be realistic, no matter how much we prepare, things can still go wrong.
  • During the meeting be prepared. Be vigilant and look out for signs of things going wron so you can act on time.
  • Be ready to act if something actually does go wrong.

This section contains a lot of information that can help with managing meetings when things go wrong. 

How to handle end matters

As the title implies, the information here deals with ending a meeting properly. It provides advice in three areas:

  1. End the meeting on time.
  2. End the meeting early if possible
  3. Provide closure.

How to follow up after a meeting

Following up after a meeting is a major factor that can help to determine if a meeting ends up being successful and some of the things you can do to follow up as discussed in this section are:

  • Communicate with people after the meeting.
  • Make sure you’ve created an action plan for people to work on after the meeting.
  • Evaluate how the meeting went and listen to those who may have complaints about the neeting.

Virtual meetings

This final and short section reminds us that meetings don’t have to be face-to-face all the time. Using videoconferencing, webconferencing, chats rooms and other types of collaborative technology can help us run meetings where everyone is not in the same place. These meetings have the same rules as face-to-face meetings and can be as effective too.

Tips and Tools

This is the second part of the book, albeit a very short one. It contains:

  • Tools for running a meeting which include three templates (Meeting planners checklist, meeting agenda and communication and action plan).
  • Self assessment questions to test your knowledge of the book.
  • References to further information on the subject.

While this is a short book, it’s not short on information. The information in this book is more than sufficient to support anyone to run effective meetings. 

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Managing Teams – Four Key Lessons

Managing Teams

Some time ago I reviewed one of the Harvard Business Review Pocket Mentor books titled, Managing Teams (you can read that review here). I revisited the book and identified four key ideas to curate from the book. These ideas describe four obstacles that can hamper team effectiveness and how to overcome them. I have briefly described them below:

  1. The obstacle of low participation where team members don’t participate wholeheartedly in team meetings and activities.
  2. The obstacle of poor communication when teams communicate poorly and prevent the team from achieving its goals.
  3. The obstacle of ineffective team leadership when the team leader is the obstacle because they don’t  lead the team properly.
  4. The obstacle of destructive conflict where teams are experiencing the type of conflict that has negative impacts on the team.

These are four key issues that team leaders and managers cannot overlook and the book gives some great ideas on how to tackle them. Regarding my vision for Justbookideas, I am turning the four ideas into a learning tool that consists of a book summary and  group session that anyone can use to teach others about the four obstacles and how to overcome them. So please watch the space.

Book Review – Getting To Yes With Yourself By William Ury

IGetting to yes with yourselff you haven’t heard the William Ury, the author of this book, know that he is someone worth exploring. I previously read one of his books titled, The Power of a Positive NO. You can read my review of that book here. My experience of that book meant I could not resist picking this one up. Ury writes about negotiation and he has worked as a mediator and negotiation advisor. He wrote his first book on the subject with the late Roger Spencer titled, Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, over three decades ago, so when Ury writes about negotiation, he has a wealth and depth of experience and knowledge he’s writing from.

In Getting To Yes With Yourself, Ury looks at negotiation from a different perspective and he calls this book the prequel he should have written before he’s other books. He believes that in negotiation situations, the biggest obstacle is often not the other person, but ourselves. According to Ury, it’s a good step before any discussion involving a degree of negotiation to first negotiate with ourselves. This involves asking ourselves key questions about what we really want from the negotiation and also being honest about how we react in difficult exchanges with others.

To teach us this concept of ‘getting to yes with yourself’, Ury has created a six-step framework with the necessary actions. Each step in the framework forms a chapter in the book. I have briefly introduced each step below.

  1. Put yourself in your shoes: Ury describes the purpose of this chapter as understanding your worthiest opponent which is YOU. Instead of judging yourself, listen intently to your own needs just as you would in a negotiation situation to your opponent’s.
  2. Develop your inner BATNA: When we are in conflict with others, our default stance is to blame the other person. In this chapter Ury is challenging us to do the opposite and take responsibility for our lives and relationships, and to make a commitment to take care of our own needs irrespective of the other person’s actions. That’s why we need to develop our inner BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement). Ury tells us how to do that in this chapter.
  3. Reframe your picture: The advice here is to let go of our fear of scarcity and see life as being on our side even when things don’t seem to be going well. This is about developing a different life outlook.
  4. Stay in the zone: Don’t get consumed by resentment with the past or anxiety with the future. Stay in the moment, in the present which is the only place where you can act to make things better.
  5. Respect them even if: This is a challenging area, but Ury is teaching us to respect others even when they disrespect us. In other words, don’t meet rejection with rejection or attack with attack.
  6. Give and receive: Don’t fall into the trap of a win-lose mindset where you only focus on meeting your own needs. Work to devise win-win-win solutions where you give first before receiving.

This is not a large book with just 177 pages of reading content, but it is a practical one. Ury encourages us to practices the skills distilled into the six steps till we master them. When you read a book like this, you may not be able to grasp or remember everything. It is important that you take something away from it. Two lessons that have already stuck with me are from the fifth and sixth steps. I want to learn to respect people despite the way they may treat me. I also want to learn to give first before receiving.

I wonder what you will learn if you read this book.

Book Review – What the CEO wants you to know

What your CEOWhat the CEO wants you to know is a book written in 2001 (an updated version was published in 2017, but this is a review of the older one), but it’s by no means dated. Written by Ram Charan, an adviser to senior executives and former teacher at Harvard and Northeastern universities in the USA, this book may have old illustrations, but the principles are timeless.

The main focus of the book is explaining what great CEOs do which have been summarised by the author as:

  • Understand the basic building blocks of a business and use them to figure out how your company makes money and operates as a total business.
  • Decide what to do, despite the flutter of day-to-day business and the complexity of the real world.

This is not a big book, it has just 137 pages of reading content written in simple-to-understand and engaging language. What I particular like about this book are the short stories Ram drops in to illustrate some of the principles he’s teaching. The book has nine chapters split across four parts. I have written very brief descriptions of what’s in each chapter below.

Part 1 – The universal language of business

Chapter one – What Jack Welch and street vendors share: The essence of business thinking – The title of this chapter says it all. What do CEOs and street vendors have in common? Apart from the scale of the venture, Ram asserts that the basics of business are similar. They need finance to build or buy their products, they need to sell, make profit and market their products.

Chapter two – every business is the same inside: Cutting through to cash, margin, velocity, growth and customers – A core aspect of business is discussed here, and it’s the act of money making. Three aspects of money making covered are:

  1. Cash generation: This is about answering questions such as, does the business generate enough cash? What are the sources of cash generation? How is the cash being used? According to Ram, a business person who can’t answer these questions will fail in their business.
  2. Return on assets: Assets are what is invested in a business and these can range from money to more physical assets like land. A successful business must be able to generate a reasonable return from the assets. For instance, a person who gets a loan to start their business has to not only generate enough returns to cover the loan repayments, but also make a profit
  3. Growth: This is about the growth of a business. A business that isn’t growing will be overtaken by competitors and may eventually fold up.

Chapter three – Understanding your company’s total business – How the pieces come together – Here Ram emphasizes how important it is for all individual components of a business  to come together to facilitate business success. The business components that need to come together are, cash generation, margin, velocity, return on assets, growth and customers.

Part 2 – Business acumen in the real world

Chapter four –  The world has complexity, leaders provide clarity – figuring out business priorities: The premise of this chapter is that CEOs use the same business sense as street vendors to cut through business complexity to deliver outcomes. According to Ram:

They use their business acumen to determine clear, specific priorities, or action items, that make money in the real world and create wealth for stockholders and owners.

He uses a number of examples from Ford, Apple, GM and Kmart to illustrate this principle.

Chapter five – wealth is more than making money – Seeing the business like an investor:  This chapter focuses mainly on the importance of  the price-earning or PE ratio. Ram writes about what it is, where it came from, how to manage it and how to boost it. He uses some real examples to illustrate this.

Part three – Getting things done

Chapter six – Growing people takes courage – Making matches, fixing mismatches: This is my favourite part of the book as it’s about developing people. The emphasis is on getting things done through others which is a crucial aspect of good leadership. Here’s a quote from the book on the subject:

Personality alone is not what makes a company deliver. It takes insight into how the organization really works and how to link people’s actions and decisions to the right priorities. 

According to Ram, this requires the right people to be in the right jobs and when people are placed into jobs they are not fit for, dealing with the mismatch promptly. The latter part of the chapter focuses on business and behavioural coaching.

Chapter seven – Making groups decisive – designing social operating mechanisms : The term “social operating mechanisms” used by Ram in this chapter sounds very technical, but it refers to a system of coordinating the efforts of all individual staff so they work for the good of the organisation as a whole. That is what this chapter is about and an example from Walmart and the late Sam Walton is used to illustrate how it may work in practice. Some more information on how to design social operating mechanisms is also provided.

Chapter eight – What to do and how to do itA CEO with an edge in execution: Having an edge in execution or successfully executing business priorities requires a number of factors coming together and according to Ram:

An edge in business execution comes from having the right people in jobs, synchronising their efforts and releasing  and channelling their energy toward the right set of business priorities

Ram also expresses that while business acumen into the organisation helps a leader to select the right priorities, insight into the organisation and people is necessary to get energy aligned for the purpose of successfully executing the priorities. Ram again uses an example from a former CEO of a company called EDS to explain this concept.

Part four – Your personal agenda

Chapter nine – Your part in the big picture – Rekindling the spirit of the lemonade stand:

This is the last chapter in the book and it’s really a review of what was covered in the previous eight chapters. It also contains some key questions to answer around assessing the total business and cutting through complexity.

The one lesson for me

A habit I am developing is to curate one lesson from each book I go through. My lesson  from this book is from chapter six, growing people takes courage. It’s around the difference between business coaching and behavioural coaching. To be honest I wasn’t aware there was a difference between the two. In my next post I will write a brief summary about my learning on that topic.

Book Review – Fostering Creativity

Fostering creativityThis is another book in the Harvard Pocket Mentor series, titled Fostering Creativity and written by Dorothy Leonard, a professor at Harvard Business school. Among other lessons this book aims to help us understand how to:

  • Identify opportunities for innovative solutions
  • Develop an environment conducive to creativity
  • Move a team from brainstorming to project execution

This book has just 78 pages and the content, which is really useful, is split into two main sections, the reading content titled Fostering Creativity: The Basics and a section with extra tools titled , Tips and Tools. I review both sections very briefly below.

Fostering Creativity: The Basics

 This section has five topical areas.

What is creativity?

This is a good start for a book on creativity as the author takes the time to define what creativity is. Here’s the definition used:

A process of developing and expressing novel ideas that are likely to be useful.

This is contrasted with innovation defined as:

The embodiment, combination, and / or synthesis of knowledge in original, relevant, valued new products, processes, or services.

Personally I found this definition on innovation to be unclear. But then author does clarify that innovation is the end process of creativity. Continue reading