Implementing your New Year’s resolutions

This is the time of year when many individuals set a resolution to change something in their lives. It may be a something like losing weight (simple in theory, if not in practice) or a more fundamental change in looking for a new job or changing the way they live.

It’s remarkably hard to make these changes on an individual level, so how much harder is it to implement change in a large organisation with hundreds of thousands of employees spread around the world.

It’s rarely a problem with knowing what we need to do; more often it is making the kind of systematic change that enables us to reach our goal.

Our lifestyles and our organisations are perfectly designed to deliver the outcomes that they are delivering right now! If we are overweight it’s because we have a pattern of eating or exercise that has created this. If our organisational performance is poor, then we have people, processes and a culture that has allowed and sustained this.

We can’t just wish for a new outcome without changing the system – hope is not a strategy.

As an example, I have just finished writing my next book. It is about how we can change the meetings culture in our organisations to improve collaboration, accelerate decision-making and cut costs.

I’ve worked with many organisations who freely accept that they have a problem with meetings – too many poor-quality meetings with unnecessary participants, poor content and inefficient facilitation.

Many of them attempt to solve this problem by training people to run better meetings. However, this just deals with the symptom, it doesn’t change the underlying culture and way of working that generates these meetings.

Many great organisations have a culture of visibility, where it’s important to be seen and meetings are the main mechanism for staying visible. You show your commitment to activities and build your network by physically showing up at meetings and events.

In these cultures, it is rational to turn up to meetings, even if the content is irrelevant. People who attend these meetings often tell me that the meetings are terrible but it is worth going for the breaks and evenings because this is when they achieve the important outcomes of visibility and networking.

I’ve also the observed that corporate cultures who are wedded to face-to-face meetings tend to underinvest in communications technology and alternatives to travel – thus reinforcing the need for more face-to-face meetings.

These are simple examples and I will go into more detail on the cultural underpinnings of meetings in the book, which I hope will be out later this year. However, I hope they illustrate that we cannot change just the symptoms of problems in our business without changing the underlying culture and way of working. Unfortunately, this is a much bigger undertaking and often puts people off. It’s much easier just to take tactical steps to address the symptoms.

If we train people to run better meetings this will help, but what if those meetings didn’t need to happen in the first place? We are just making them more efficient at running something that didn’t need to happen.

We need a much more systematic look at what meetings are for, who should attend them and how they should be run. If there are valuable outcomes (such as networking) we need to look at how else we can fulfil them without encouraging people to attend unnecessary meetings. If we don’t change at a systematic level we will not be able to sustain a reduction in the number and an improvement in the quality of our meetings.

So, whatever your New Year’s resolution this year, either personal or business, look at changing the wider system if you want to make a targeted improvement – if not your 2018 resolution is likely to be the same one.

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