From lessons gathered from forty years of observation, reading and discovery. I have broken the smarter ways into the following categories. Making Work Fun, Work Habits, Communication, and Innovation. Lets now look at Communication.


The Achilles heel of many managers. John Kotter, of “Selling and leading Change” fame points out that we often under communicate by a factor of TEN.

Learn how to sell change

Teams around the world have wanted to embrace lean practices but are weary as many initiatives both inside the finance team and in other teams fail far too often.

Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan in their book “The Three Laws of Performance” have written a compelling argument that explains why so many of these initiatives have failed. The first law is “How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them.” The writers point out that the organisation’s “default future” which, we as individuals just know in our bones, will happen – will be made to happen.

Thus, in an organisation, with a systemic problem, the organisation’s staff will be driven to make initiatives fail, so that the default future prevails. The key to change is to recreate, in the organisation’s staff minds, a new vision of the future, let’s call it an “invented future”.

In 1996, John Kotter published “Leading Change”, he had an eight-stage process of creating major change. The secret is to blend his work with Saffron & Logan’s thinking. See working guide “Leading and Selling Change”.

Have “Action Meetings”

A majority of meetings are totally defective. They are held because they are considered a ritual. The fundamental purpose of the meeting has long since been forgotten.

Most managers, at some time, have received training in managing meetings, yet the level of frustration inflicted with meetings remains the same. The problem has been that the training has not looked at all the core reasons for failure. Even the legendary John Cleese’s training video, Meetings Bloody Meetings, serves to entertain rather than tackle these issues.

A methodology has been developed called “Action Meetings” to address the real reasons behind dysfunctional meetings.

Getting people properly into and out of the meeting

This is done through the introduction of a “first word” and “last word”, where attendees briefly say what state they are in. The first words could be “I am very time challenged and this meeting is last thing I need,” to a last word “This meeting once again promised little and delivered nothing,” to “I look forward to receiving Pat’s report and working with the project team.” The key to the first and last word is that attendees can say anything about how they feel at that point in time. Their comment is just that and is to remain unchallenged.

An effective agenda constructed as outcomes

This involves the use of precise wordings about meeting outcomes (see Exhibit 2). Outcomes provide focus and the ability to easily check whether an item has in fact been completed. One major benefit of establishing “meeting outcomes” worded in this way is that requested attendees should not attend if they do not think they can add value or assist in achieving the outcomes.

Meetings are participant – owned, not chairperson – owned

All attendees are trained in the new methodology. Thus, meetings are owned and policed by all participants and are less reliant on the capability of the chairperson.

Once an outcome is closed, it remains closed

During the meeting, remind anyone who is opening a closed item that the item has been closed.

Nonrelated issues are parked

Any issues raised that are not related to the outcome under discussion are tabled for another, future discussion.

Action steps

Action steps are written carefully on a special pad and then entered into a web – based application so all can see the progress.

Hold stand-up SCRUM meetings

Scrum meetings are stand-up 15-minute project update meetings held first thing each morning, where team members are asked to talk about:

  • What they did yesterday on the project?
  • What are they doing today on the project?
  • What are the barriers to progress?

The debrief, for each team member, is to take no more than a minute or so. Some teams even have a dumbbell weighing 5-10kg to be held out horizontally, with the weaker arm. The rule being you can only talk as long as you can hold the weight horizontally. At the end of the session, the group ends the session by bumping fists, a homage to the source of this technique.

The manager, renamed the scrum-master, notes all the roadblocks and immediately sets about removing them with an appropriate phone call or walkabout: “Pat, will you please make time this morning to see my corporate accountant? I understand Sam has being trying, for the last few days, to meet you. This is now holding up the ___________ and the CEO and ______will soon be on my and your back if we cannot resolve the issue today.”

This scrum stand-up meeting does many things: it replaces loads of emails, as the team members get to know what has been done and what is going to be done and by whom. It makes everyone accountable. There is no place for a cruiser.

Visit Jeff Sutherland’s YouTube presentation to understand more details. The following presentations will help you to understand more about this great technique. Search “scrum + Jeff Sutherland” on YouTube to learn more about the history of scrum, how and why to use it.

Other ways to save time in meetings

Abandon as many meetings as you can

Only participate in meetings where action occurs. Monitor the action after a meeting and if progress is not being made, make it clear that the next meeting will be deferred until progress has be achieved. Jack Welch, while CEO of GE, would stop presentations when he realised they had in fact done nothing. He told the culprits to come back at 5pm with some implementation to report.

Banning staff morning meetings

A beneficial start to the day is to avoid having staff meetings during your productive time. I fail to see why senior management feel the need to have meetings with their direct reports at 9 am. on Monday mornings. Such meetings often are followed with more meetings as the debriefing is passed down the chain in the larger organisations. Why not schedule most of your meetings in the afternoon?

Do not allow people to arrive late at the meeting — lock them out

Every late arrival creates a two-minute disruption. That is 20 minutes lost if 10 are in attendance. In some organisations you are only important if you arrive late. If you can get agreement on this rule you will be surprised how this action will change behaviour.

Allow people to walk out of meetings

Organise the agenda so that people who can only contribute to one agenda item speak to this issue first and are then allowed to leave. This simple change has the added benefit of letting the junior staff speak first thus avoiding their opinions being influenced by meeting bullies. Nathan Donaldson, an entrepreneurial CEO, allows attendees to remove themselves from a meeting, with a cursory nod to the chairperson, when they feel their time would be better spent elsewhere. As Nathan pointed out to me, after the second departure you wrap up the meeting swiftly.

Turn meetings into workshops

If you are having many meetings with your staff maybe they are not progressing. Turn more of your meeting into lock-up workshops with whiteboards and lap tops and push the project on by completing a delivery. By doing this you will also give your direct reports some training as they see how the master does it.

Deliver instead of attending a briefing meeting

As a manager, monitor the number of meetings your team gets drawn into. One IT manager I met vetted all meetings and in many simple exercises, told the in-house client that they would deliver the solution, rather than have a meeting to discuss it.

Keep meetings below the magic number of six participants

At this threshold the meeting becomes dysfunctional, taking too long, affecting engagement as some junior participants will not have the allotted time or inclination to participate fully.

Get the sitting arrangement right

As chairperson, it may be best to sit in the middle of the table as you will be nearer all participants including any troublemakers.

Fortnightly one-to-one meetings

Schedule your one-to-one meetings with your direct reports fortnightly as weekly meetings are too frequent; it does not give staff enough time to recover from underperforming in the early part of the week. Consider holding some of these offsite over a lunch which gives staff a chance to unwind and share more confidential issues.

Beware that in some cultures to disagree is rude

Best to ask them a question rather than ask if they agree. As Eon Black, an international trouble-shooter, and a long-term executive for BP Oil, related to me whenever local staff reverted to their mother tongue he knew there was a problem that he had to unearth.

Virtual meetings

Hold more video-based meetings, rather than insist on attendees flying-in. This can be achieved by using technology, such as GoToMeetings. In GoToMeetings, all attendees are visible on camera and you can gauge their involvement.

Other Working Guides

I do hope this extract of my working guide has been useful, and set out below is the current list of working guides you can purchase from my website Each guide comes with electronic templates.

  • 30 smarter ways of working
  • Attracting and recruiting talent
  • Future-ready technologies for the finance team
  • Getting performance bonus schemes to work
  • One page reporting
  • Quick annual reporting: within 15 working days post year-end
  • Selling and leading change
  • Techniques to adopt from the lean movement
  • The hidden costs of reorganizations and downsizing
  • Time is on my side yes it is
  • What you need to know before undertaking a takeover or merger
  • Winning leadership: a Viking with a mother’s heart