Meeting the productivity gap

I have a confession to make, I’ve become a little obsessed by meetings. I’m fascinated by the way in which we, in organisations, fill significant proportions of our time talking about the things that need to be done.

Which feels kind of weird.

I saw some data last week that showed that the higher up you go in an organisation, the higher proportion of your time is spent in meetings. Now assuming that people have succeeded in work because of a level of competence in doing “something”, to take them away from that to instead talk about “stuff” seems slightly counter intuitive.

And even accepting that the coming together of people within organisations is a valuable part of the working agenda (which I absolutely believe to be true). How often are meetings run by the most skilled most adept facilitator versus how often are they run by the most senior person?

What happens is that we are stuck in a historical model of business, where those on high would call together their underlings to convey, check, question or hold to account. And whilst so many aspects of our business life have changed, this one part still remains firmly planted in the past.

The much talked productivity gap that exists within UK business surely can’t be helped by the amount of unproductive time spent in unnecessary or badly run or defined meetings. Freeing people up to do rather than talk, to create rather than discuss.

When our lives become about meetings, we have to ask ourselves whether we are adding value, or simply taking resources away from the main purpose of our organisation.

Shift your perspective

If nothing else, 2016 has shone a very strong and revealing light on the seemingly polarised nature of society. Our ability to see, hear, repeat and convey from a singular point of view.

“They just don’t get it”

“Why can’t they open their eyes?”

“It’s right in front of them, they’re just too…”

They. Their. Them.

In the ontological approach to coaching, there is a model that with the acronym OAR, where O is the observer, A are the actions and R the results. In life we are often taught to focus on the latter two: first we do stuff and in return we expect stuff to happen. When the results don’t go as we want, we change the actions, or repeat them twice as hard.

Seldom, do we consider the fact that the range of actions that we observe, might not be the entire and only options. In other words, we see things entirely from our perspective. Which is only human, but also limiting.screen-shot-2016-11-26-at-15-06-00

The model suggests that if we widen our perspective as observers, then the range of possible actions and potential results will also increase.

The boss who “always” seems to make the “wrong” decision?

The spouse who “never” understand what you want?

The stranger that voted the other way to you?

It seems to me that their is often no absolute “right”, no definitive answer. Just people observing, making actions and seeing results. And given the different experiences, different lifestyles, different upbringings and existences we have, the range of observations are going to be entirely different too.

We like to believe that we are enlightened and that others some how need to catch up to our perspective. But what if, instead, we chose to try and understand the point of view, ask ourselves what they might see that we don’t, what they might understand?

They. Their. Them.

Entirely natural, but unhelpful. And ultimately limiting ourselves as well.

 

Our technology is making us dumb

Stand on any street corner and watch people going about their business and you’ll see a curious sight, so many people looking down. Locked in to their personal experience with technology. There was a time when it used to frustrate and annoy me as I made my way to work; the people stopping, walking aimlessly, unaware of their surroundings.

But now, more than ever, it not only annoys, it fundamentally scares me.

Technology was supposed to be the great emancipator, the leveller, it was supposed to open the doors to new horizons and new opportunities. But the reality is not one of bright new dawns, but closing doors. We are narrowing our experiences and polarising our attitudes at a time when we need to be more thoughtful, more explorative, more inclusive than ever.

Our social networks through their definition are based on people “like us”, we share news and comment that we agree with, with people that agree with us. Anyone who wants anything to the contrary can be muted, unfollowed, exiled in from our social existence. The opinions reinforcing our views and the assurance that “we” are “right”.

We “choose” our media, the things that we watch, listen to, read from an increasingly reduced selection of “things we might like”. Losing the ability to have the serendipitous discovery, the accidental opportunity. Instead allowing algorithms to serve up our future, based on what we once consumed, reducing our experience to predictable similarity.

And we close ourselves off from the world, plugging our ears with preselected sound, looking down to view limited content, basing our existence on the screen, not the world. We eschew the chance conversation, the momentary eye contact and smile, the haphazard interaction. We close off the sounds of life, anaesthetising ourselves from reality.

In a world that feels increasingly polarised, where the signs of social isolation and abandonment are becoming central drivers of our political and economic existence. In a world where we talk about the need to be more inclusive, more open, more tolerant and understanding. We are instead shutting ourselves away in closed systems of ignorance.

It would be asking too much to change, to reverse and renew. But perhaps if we were all a little more aware of our choice to have no choice, of our willingness to give away freedom, then we could recognise the limitations of our existence and challenge ourselves to step outside more. To break out of our circles of similarity, to experience difference and to venture more in to the unknown.

Conversation is not enough

In a country still reeling from the largely unforeseen referendum in June, the US election result added a further sense of discombobulation to the many attendees at the CIPD Conference last week, who reacted to the unexpected news on Wednesday morning with a level of predictable hysteria.

A lot of the debate at the conference followed the theme of the future of work and making work more human. Themes that I (and others) have been implementing, writing and talking about for over five years. And whilst it is great to see the mainstream finally adopt the same agenda, it fills me with a deep and profound sense of unease.

Both electoral outcomes were largely unseen by the liberal elite, the same people that talk of making work more human. Both outcomes were partly driven by a sense of societal injustice, unfairness and frustration with the role that the establishment has played. Or perhaps, more accurately, the role the establishment has not played.

If we believe in fairness, if we believe in humanity, if we believe the future of work is indeed human, it is beholden on us to do less talking and more acting. Positive outcomes are not achieved through well meaning dialogue but through the actions we take and the changes we make. Positive outcomes are not achieved in the warm bubble of elitist consensus, but by taking ourselves out of our comfort zones and listening more than we talk.

We have to accept that “we” have got things wrong, not “them” and that “we” can make the change, not “them”. We have to accept that the inequalities in work, housing, education, society come from our hand and from the hands of our like. But that we can also make changes that matter, right here, right now.

In my darker moments, I fear we do not have enough time and that ultimately the change that needs to be made will be provoked by external circumstances out of our control. That the burning platform will not be lit by our hand. But if there is a chance, if there is an opportunity, if we have a moment in which we can change things for the better, it will surely only come from meaningful, visible action, and not well intentioned, but impotent talk.

Leaving the conference I got in to a cab to go back to the station. The driver asked me where I’d been and what sort of things I spoke about. When I explaned, he replied, “Good luck with that! It’s dog eat dog out there. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with the sentiment, I just don’t see how it is ever going to happen”.

Unless we start to act, I think he’s probably right.