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Archive for October, 2009

When Meetings Are Bad for the Company

I had a colleague in Germany who once told me, “If I didn’t have to go to a lot of these meetings, I’d enjoy my work more.” We probably had a lot of meetings – maybe too much – with them.

Internal discussion, status meetings, presentations, weekly update, checkpoints —you name it; they are all types of internal collaboration, otherwise called meetings. Internal collaboration is almost generally viewed as good for a company. Leaders regularly challenge us to collaborate, to talk to different departments, and chat with counterparts in different business units and work together in cross-unit teams. Where do we end up? Typically, swamped by information overload, spending more than 50% of our time in meetings and spending 20% preparing for it. Contrary to popular opinion, you indeed can have too much of a good thing. 

MeetingI am not saying meetings are bad.  Not at all.  It is a time-tested tool for communication and assistance for employees in aligning activities to desired goals. It is vital for projects and operations. In leading a team or department, I hold meetings periodically (and sometimes more than necessary). It is essential to functioning teams. There is simply no substitute for a good meeting. Meetings, working with teams and collaborating across organizational boundaries can create tremendous value. 

However, conventional wisdom rests on the false assumption that the more employees meet and collaborate, the better off the organization will be. The fact is, too many meetings can easily undermine productivity and performance. 

Knowing when (and when not) to meet 

There is an existing rule of thumb for this; I certainly don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Let me cite what effectivemeetings.com has to say on this subject. I got this from the article, Six Tips for more Effective Meetings. You will be surprised with tip number one: Don’t meet!.  

Avoid a meeting if the same information could be covered in a memo, e-mail or brief report. One of the keys to having more effective meetings is differentiating between the need for one-way information dissemination and two-way information sharing. To disseminate information you can use a variety of other communication media, such as sending an e-mail or posting the information on your company’s intranet. If you want to be certain you have delivered the right message, you can schedule a meeting to simply answer questions about the information you have sent. By remembering to ask yourself, “Is a meeting the best way to handle this?” you’ll cut down on wasted meeting time and restore your group’s belief that the meetings they attend are necessary. “

What’s a good meeting? 

You know when you’re attending one. There is a good reason to meet in the first place. The purpose, agenda and timeframe are clear. The participants are prepared and there is some degree of skilled facilitation. It is important to have someone who can keep participants focused on the goal in mind and can navigate issues so that the meeting can be effective. In good meetings you always leave with clear action items. 

Managers who emphasize the benefits of meeting are right. But they should temper those that do it excessively. It is a mistake to underestimate the equivalent time and cost the company spends in meetings. We should approach holding meetings as a group value-creating endeavor. Although getting together to collaborate is imperative to a working environment, the challenge is not to cultivate more and more meetings. Rather, it’s to develop the right meetings so we can achieve objectives and goals otherwise not possible when we work alone.

Photo courtesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.

Innovation During a Recession

Innovation is bringing creative ideas to life. It occurs in the organizational context when individuals and teams work to spark new product development, to implement new technology and even to transform the organization. Innovation is always linked to performance and growth through incremental improvements in efficiency, productivity, quality and services. On the other hand, it is also associated with radical improvement like inventions, new products and radical changes in the business model. It is a balance of incremental improvements and radical innovations that keep the company competitive in a changing world.

NY StocksWe are on the brink of important change in the world— and it is economic in nature. We have seen massive job cuts, company bankruptcies, budget reductions, etc. We are in a period of profit-focused cost cutting. Innovation may be a low priority for many companies in this period of recession but I think it is a big mistake. Innovation ought to be a crucial element in a firm’s recession strategy. It will allow them to do more with less and to generate profit by exploiting existing resources.

Two kinds of Innovation that are especially valuable in a recession:

Internal and External Collaboration

Greater internal collaboration– between departments and business units, as well as external collaboration– with customers and suppliers, are essential if companies are to stay healthy during the recession. For example, internal collaboration could result to a Cross Selling strategy that could increase sales to the existing captured market while lowering cost of selling.  Collaboration can be a channel for transfer of best practices between operating units. Internal Collaboration can also result to inter-business-unit product innovation by creating new products and services from existing knowledge, technologies, products and brands.  External collaboration, specifically with key entities of your supply chain network — from suppliers to customer, is vital to staying in business during a recession. The big challenge to firms is to reduce cost while maintaining service levels. Businesses need to have open communication with suppliers and customers alike and ensure a more effective and efficient supply chain.

It is also important for firms to use new technology and cheaper options for collaboration. Leveraging Web 2.0 in the enterprise can be one option. Let me give you a clearer example. It is critical for companies to understand how customers reassess priorities, reallocate funds, switch brands and redefine value of products and services. Web 2.0 platforms can be both a source of information and a channel to facilitate this kind of collaboration in a cost effective way.

Leveraging Shared Services

If it’s all about cost reduction and economies of scale, it’s probably the best time to implement Shared Services. In these demanding times, companies are challenging themselves to discover business processes and business models that will open undiscovered synergies. Shared Services could be the answer to companies keenly looking for convergence and streamlining of an organization’s functions.

Shared Services has to ensure that they deliver the services required of them as effectively and efficiently as possible. In a recession, this convergence enables the appreciation of economies of scale within the function and can enable multi-function collaboration where there is the potential to create more synergies. A word of caution though, a Shared Services implementation involves a large scale cultural and process transformation; it must come with a well-planned organizational transformation and change management strategy.

In a nutshell

Shared Services has been around for years and companies have always strived to collaborate — internally and externally. I think the emphasis this time should be precision, timing, and bringing the best ideas forward. Forward looking and innovation-focused companies are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I strongly believe that this is the best time for innovation, for breakthrough value and for paradigm shifts. This is the best time to position your company ahead of the pack when the economy regains momentum again.

Web 2.0 + Application in Business = Enterprise 2.0

People as the platformIn the world of Information Technology, many buzz words and phrases are created everyday. It’s hard to keep up. It’s not only because too many of these words are thrown at us everyday but also because their definitions often change rapidly. One of these phrases is Web 2.0 – which I talked about in my previous article.  Now, let me throw you another one of those technology buzz words – Enterprise 2.0. 

The term Enterprise 2.0 was coined in the spring of 2006 by Andrew McAfee. As an Associate Professor of Harvard Business School, he studies the ways that IT affects businesses. His research efforts are focused on investigating how IT changes the way companies perform, organize themselves and compete. Andrew McAfee defines Enterprise 2.0 as the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers. It is quite simply the application of many of the Web 2.0 ideas to the enterprise.

AIIM, a non-profit organization that provides education and research, takes this further. According to AIIM, Enterprise 2.0 is a system of web-based technologies that provide rapid and agile collaboration, information sharing, emergence and integration capabilities in the extended enterprise. 

Enterprise 2.0 Adoption 

Until now, many firms have yet to recognize the potential advantages Web 2.0 could bring to the business. Traditional command and control management is directly opposed to the distributed and collaborative style advocated in Enterprise 2.0 and there are always a set of rules that discourage change. For this reason, adoption of Enterprise 2.0 tools is happening from the bottom up. Enterprise 2.0 is being brought up gradually by ordinary users. It is uncommon to see adoptions and initiatives – such as establishing a corporate-wide blog or wiki – spearheaded by top management. More often, blogs are started by individuals and small groups in one department as an independent initiative. In some cases, these blogs, social media sites and microblogs succeed and evolve as key components of the corporate internal and external communications arsenal. 

Few companies right now are pioneering the use of Web 2.0 platform. One of then them is Sun Microsystems. Sun uses Open Source and Enterprise Social Software to build a YouTube-style portal for social learning. They have implemented a learning environment called Sun Learning Exchange (SLX) to provide training programs to employees and contractors in more than 50 countries. The entire solution was built for $60,000. One week after launch, there were more than 3000 unique visitors and hundreds of unique content were uploaded. The viral rollout strategy proved to be a success and allowed Sun to create more value with less investment in training. 

UniversalIn my article last month, I talked about how Universal Studios used Web 2.0 platform to announce the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter project. They invited seven avid Harry Potter fans to a top secret webcast and informed them about the plans for the new theme park. By word of mouth, these seven people told thousands through emails, internet forums and blogs. Eventually, mainstream media picked up the buzz and wrote about it in magazines, news, and TV reports. In a few days, the news reached millions of people. Universal was able to reach its global audience by first reaching out to a select group of fans through the Internet. They were able to save thousands and perhaps millions in advertising costs. 

Enterprise 2.0 Challenges 

It is understandable that in spite of the current momentum, Enterprise 2.0 is experiencing strong resistance from business managers. I think the challenge is two-pronged: cultural and structural. There will always be cultural challenges when you are trying to make people work, collaborate and organize in a different way. Companies are so used to the traditional management and coordination style that it’s hard to imagine a quick transition. On the other hand, the Enterprise 2.0 model and its supporting structure also need to strengthen. Experts argue that it’s hard to implement something that has no commonly accepted business model and runs in an immature services landscape. Application management, support, security, ownership and identity are also common challenges being confronted by early implementers. 

To be continued… 

We already discussed about Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 in two separate articles. We’ve laid out the groundwork. In my next post, we will further explore these topics and talk about how to incorporate cutting-edge Web 2.0 services within the enterprise networks, create internal social networks, blogs, wikis and manage Enterprise 2.0 security and compliance.

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