Daniel Pink’s newest research proves that the end of a meeting is more important than the beginning. Endings leave lasting impressions. Recency triumphs over primacy. And yet, how often have you found yourself in the hallway after a meeting wondering what was accomplished? What did we agree to? Or worse, you disagree with someone who thinks the results are different, if not diametrically opposed, to what you think. Enter, the Guardian of Change.
Nobody wants more meetings but we still meet a lot. We meet for a purpose. Successful meetings have an end in mind. Some call it “DONE”. Others call it a deliverable. Either way, the meeting purpose is satisfied once the objective is reached, once we have the object of the meeting. Notice that the deliverable of meetings is a noun, never a verb. You cannot hand off a ‘verb’ to someone else, but you may hand them a ‘noun’ or an object.
Even if the deliverable is a plan of actions (verbs) to take when the meeting is over, those actions need to be documented, and that document is called a plan. Any plan details WHO does WHAT. The plan is the object or deliverable, not the action itself. Meeting objectives set plans in motion so that the real work begins after most meetings end.
If you ask a group of ten people, “What is a process?” or “What does a single requirement look like?”, you will assuredly get ten different response. All of them are correct for their respective contributor. Indeed, there is more than one correct answer.
Frequently, however, it’s a good idea for participants to echo the same message so it sounds like they were in the same meeting together. The importance is critical when you have a multi-national organization where translation issues cause misunderstanding and turbulence.
For major initiatives such as strategic planning or project launches, it is wise to invest a few hours to build a robust communications plan, but most meetings do not afford that much time. Rather than skip the activity entirely, Use the MG RUSH Guardian of Change tool to consensually build quick and simple messages.
Guardian of Change
When your meeting or workshop is complete, take a moment to get participants to agree on what they will tell others they got DONE in the meeting. We call that activity the “Guardian of Change” and it should be included in the Review or Wrap agenda step of nearly every meeting you attend.
Here’s how it works for most meetings, and it only takes five minutes. For critical and public workshops such as strategic planning, this activity may be pulled out of the Review step and made an entirely discrete agenda step. Most would call that step a “Communications Plan.” More about that, later.
Before participants depart from a standard or even a standing meeting, facilitate their “water-cooler” or “coffee pot” or elevator speech” with a simple T-Chart. Allowing for two stakeholder groups, usually, one that looks upward (eg., superiors) and another that looks across or downward such as “Employees”. Your appropriate group titles are placed at the top of each column in your T-Chart.
Next, working one at a time, simply ask:
“When you walk into a Superior in the hallway and they ask you what was accomplished in this meeting, what are you going to tell them?”
Apply the Brainstorming principles of Ideation, write down their input verbatim and without any discussion. When someone objects, politely shut them down and remind them that for the moment, there is no discussion. Analysis and agreement will follow once initial ideas have been written down.
Move to the second column and ask . . .
“When you walk into another employee in the hallway and they ask you what was accomplished in your meeting, what are you going to tell them?”
Common sense dictates that frequently the messages are different in each column. And you will discover that people will argue over the messages and even single terms suggested such as “complete” versus “substantial progress.” In fact, what your participants need now is a facilitator.
Through active listening, clear definitions, and an appeal to the organizational objectives, you will get the group to agree on what they are going to tell others. You will have them sounding like they were in the same meeting together.
True to Life Example
Note in the following example from our pro bono effort with a 501(c)(3) organization, some initially wanted to tell parents that the organization was . . .
- “beefing up”
- “more support”
After extensive, if not heated, discussion, the group agreed to downplay ‘promises’ to better manage expectations. Level-setting. Can you imagine the different messages going around the parental community if we had not facilitated the Guardian of Change?
Some parents would have heard they are “expanding, enhancing, etc.” and others would NOT have heard “about that.” As if the participants were coming from different meetings.
Rather, the participants agreed that . . .
“It was discussed that items in GREY (for parents) ought to be substituted with lighter rhetoric and general aspirations rather than concrete claims.”
The message that went out to parents was simple and unified . . .
“The P.A.P. program is our top priority and we’ve got good people working on it.”
Don’t let unmanaged messages circle around, get to “management”, and let you get bitten in the butt. Prevent disturbing turmoil with just a few minutes of structured activity. You’ll be all so glad you did, you’ll want to thank us later.
Comprehensive Communication Plans
Communications plans are complicated by the number of stakeholder groups that need to be messaged, the potential variety of the messages themselves, the manner of delivery (ranging from face-to-face to press release), and the frequency or timing of delivery as parts of the message may be offered up over a period of time.
Many cultures and methods today use the term “Champion” to signify someone who is leading or promoting. Be careful. Our experience with a Fortune 100 manufacturer discovered that their best new product ideas were not being commercialized. Rather, new product ideas that were receiving approvals and funding were highly correlated with the charisma, charm, and personality of the Champion, rather than the value of the idea itself.
Substitute the term “Guardian” for the term “Champion”.
As a stakeholder, you probably don’t want to hear that more attractive commercial opportunities are being passed up because of the persuasiveness of competing Champions. Therefore, we encourage organizations to substitute the term Guardian for the term Champion. Typically, you really want someone to guard and protect their concepts. You want assurance that they will adequately represent and accurately speak to the value of the concepts.
You don’t want your Guardians to let others eat away at the value, detract something from the value, or characterize the value as being worth less than it is. Nor do you want them to inflate the value to be worth more than it actually is. You would prefer they guard it, for what it’s worth, nothing less and nothing more. Therefore, we encourage the use of the term “Guardian” rather than a “Champion” who spearheads their idea at all costs.
Ever see an idea get approved because of the promoter, rather than the intrinsic value of the idea? We all have. Even worse, have you ever seen a valid idea lose out because the promoter was fearful, shy, or timid?
There’s a story about the relatively shy inventor of the Selectric® typewriter who first took their invention to the Underwood typewriter company, a “Company of the Year” award winner. Underwood executives said “no”, so the inventor went to another company known for its scientists and evidence-based thinking and they said “yes.” That company was the International Business Machine Company, more commonly known as IBM. The rest, of course, is history. Underwood Typewriter went out of business ten years later.
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