Archives for category: Management

This is a difficult and complicated book to review.

Being someone who has been an advocate of email, as opposed to other forms of business communications, such as text messaging and apps, I started reading this book with a certain amount of trepidation. Email does not have the sexiness factor of other tools; however, it does have distinct advantages for businesses.

Like many books with provocative titles, “A World Without Email” is arguably mistitled. The central tenant of the book is that email, and other communication tools that are often put in its place such as Slack, create a “hyperactive hive mind.” This hyperactive hive mind makes us so concerned with the work of reading and answering messages, that it frequently gets in the way of our actual jobs and that it is ill suited for most of the communication that is needed anyway. What Mr. Newport is suggesting in this book is that we reevaluate how we perform work rather than just assume that the way we have always done it is best.

The arguments for doing this are pretty compelling for a project-based workplace, where “knowledge workers” are producing materials. Where most of the arguments in the book fall down is when it comes to managers supporting other employees in a service-based industry – such as a veterinary hospital. Or a business where “training” your customers to communicate in a particular way is difficult if not impossible. Having said that what should actually be taken away from “A world Without Email” is not the title, but the idea that we should carefully look at our workflow and information exchange and build systems and protocols that actually work for what our employees need. This is of course opposed to making our employees bend to what an ad-hoc exchange of information, using a tool such as email can give rise to; a hyperactive hive mind.

A surprising recommendation from this book, is the suggestion that what is often missing from businesses for their knowledge workers is support staff. This does not mean a return to the days of typing pools and Mad Men-esque assistants outside every office door; but it does suggest that leaders need to understand that for knowledge workers, switching between their primary focus and communication, can dramatically impact the former without significant gains it the latter. Assistance in communication can result in productivity increases that far outweigh the costs of that assistance.

There is, however, a real danger that the wrong lessons from this book will be drawn. For example, that implementing a tool such as Trello, a task-based management app, will remove the need for meetings or other forms of digital communication. In fact, I find the focus on the evils of email while ignoring the much greater issues that can arise with text messaging and apps such as Slack, undermines some of the book’s credibility.

The idea, that workflow in business communications needs a more formal protocol, has been around for a while in various forms. Mr. Newport makes a good argument for devoting time and energy into a workflow protocol for you and your business. What is not so clear from “A World Without Email” is whether what actually needs to change is our relationship with email and other forms of communication – practicing good communication hygiene for example – rather than abandoning the tool all together for its own misuse.

To sum up this a book that is worth reading, thinking about, and even discussing with your team. It is not a book to adopt trite slogans from and use to justify making rash decisions.

Business is rarely one size fits all.

One of the many changes wrought by COVID-19 was not the move to working from home and the use of virtual meetings, but the discovery of the shortcomings of these modes of work and the “zoom burnout” which a significant majority of white-collar workers experienced.

Mr. Citrin and Ms. Derosa’s book, Leading at a Distance: Practical Lessons for Virtual Success, is written with these realizations in mind. Written from the perspective of mid-pandemic, the writing was finished in the fall of 2020, it was not aware, however, of how quickly people embraced returning to normal wherever possible. Remote work may be here to stay, as the book suggests, however, the tolerance for it both from employers and employees, is less than may have been expected at the time of the book’s writing.

What is interesting from the research that the authors have conducted is that there have been positive benefits to using virtual tools – particularly when it comes to expensive and complicated travel for meetings which are about getting to know people. What Leading at a Distance stresses is that it is easy to become too focused on the job of work, without allowing time, energy, and opportunity for the personal connections that make work fun and help to build trust. Checking in with teams can create an atmosphere of micromanaging, while managers who worry about micromanaging, can be seen as too distant because it is hard to causally “check-in” over Zoom. Building trust is often about personal relationships and so the authors stress the need to make time for these connections with remote teams and in particular with new remote employees.  

A problem with Leading at a Distance is that it is written with large corporate organizations in mind. This includes its research and its general outlook on company structure. While large corporate organizations are more likely to rely on virtual communication tools as a way for managers to communicate, smaller businesses have had to also embrace these tools and their challenges are often different from that of larger organizations.

What really works in Leading at a Distance, is it focus on results and culture with remote teams rather than whether they are busy at any particular moment. The book suggests that managers need to set goals and be happy that they are being met rather than on the how those goals are being met. What is surprising is the effectiveness of location when meeting with remote employees. There is always the temptation to multitask, or try to, when coaching, or being coached, over zoom while sitting at one’s desk. The authors suggest that having coaching conversations, particularly when it comes to difficult conversations, while on a walk or a calm setting such as a park or beach. This makes sense for anyone who appreciates the benefits of meeting out of the office, but it is rarely adopted virtually.

Having a hybrid team has its own challenges, say the authors. In particular, it is important to ensure that remote workers do not feel isolated or experience unconscious bias due to their remote role. This may require special attention from HR to ensure that there is a level playing field if we are to ensure that remote workers are a success.

Remote working is here to stay in some form. While the pandemic has shown what is possible, it has also shown how the tools are lacking for remote workers and that management will also need additional tools and training to allow remote teams to succeed. Leading at a distance is a good first step in a field that will continue to evolve and grow but is lacking in literature to help it do so.  

Subtitled “Getting Smarter about Visual Information,” How Charts Lie is a plea for the public to educate itself as to how we are misled everyday but the very tools that are there to make our understanding easier. As the economist Ronald Coase once stated, and then was forever quoted or misattributed to others, “If you torture the data long enough, it will confess.”

How Charts Lie is a sublime book. A book that actually makes you smarter, or certainly appear so. Reading it leads to an understanding of how statistics, and in particular charts, are misused to bolster some cases and discredit others. Using real world examples, Mr. Cairo shows how charts are often the unwilling accomplices as data is cherry picked, zoomed too far in on, zoomed too far out on, and data sets that have no business being used together are presented as unquestionable truths because they come in the form of a chart.

This is less a book about how charts themselves lie than how they are misused and how to read charts properly in the first place. A chart only shows what is there is an often-used refrain throughout. How Charts Lie is also a great introduction into some of the most often used charts and how they should, and should not, be used. That it is easy to produce a chart that seems to show that smoking leads to long life spans throughout the world is an example that should give us all pause and adopt “correlation is not causation” as our mantra.

An easy and fun read, How Charts Lie is colorfully illustrated with charts, both good and bad, which make what could be a dry academic text come alive in the mind of the reader. It should be noted that this is my second reading of “How Charts Lie.” The audio edition I originally purchased did not come with the PDF of charts and illustrations as it was supposed to – I’m looking at you estories.com. This rendered the book, interesting but fatally flawed and led to me also purchasing the latest hardback edition. I am so glad I did as it contains a new afterward written on May 3rd, 2020. This inclusion of how charts have affected the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic – he postulates that the CDC’s “flattening the curve” graphic will become one of the most iconic visuals in history – brings added urgency to our quest for better visual data.

In a world where fake news, false equivalency, bad charts, and just plain lies are daily scourges which have real world consequences it is great to see a non-partisan work standing up for facts and truth.

That people have a seemingly unquenchable thirst for data presented visually, means that increasing our visual vocabulary has never been more important. Not adding to the problem and ensuring that our own charts are truthful and accurate is a great place to start.

How Charts Lie is guide to doing that and so much more.

Self-Help books, of which Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster, undoubtedly is; seem to fall into the two categories. The overly new age, “everything will be alright as long as you are positive” and the so grounded in psychology and psychiatry that you need a degree in medicine to even begin. Resilience is neither of these; yet bridges both worlds and in such a way as to take value in both approaches.


It is telling the Ms. Graham is a marriage and family therapist. Her ability to speak in plan language but also to explain the scientific underpinnings to what can sound, and I am sure does, sound like hogwash to a lot of people, if it were not for these explanations. This is a book for rational people, willing to embrace change – even of they are a little reluctant. It is worth noting that this book was given to me to read by a colleague who recognized how useful it could be for the workplace – particularly in a profession dogged by mental health issues and suicide; but was unwilling to embrace even the small leap of faith that the book asks.


Resilience is a book of exercises – 133 in all. Some will not be right for you, and undoubtedly, some will. Each chapter deals with a different type of intelligence and general resilience. Each chapter is broken down into different mode of how the brain processes; conditioning, new conditioning, reconditioning, and deconditioning. These modes are then in turn broken down into three levels of need; “barely a wobble,” “glitches and heartaches, sorrows and struggles,” and “too much.”


This is a book to refer to and reference as the reader grows and their needs change. One of the most exciting chapters for managers is on “Practices of Relational Intelligence with Others.” The tools and exercises which are explained in detail, have significant uses in getting third parties to communicate with each other, and for improving with interpersonal communication. I am often someone who talks to others about whatever I am currently reading. Resilience, however, has had me proselytizing to co-workers significantly more than normal.


Its use as a tool to help train our brains, something we often pay scant attention to, cannot be disputed. It is a little long and dense, but as mentioned earlier this is a book to refer back to – not to ingest over a few days like I did. That the book strays into areas more normally associated with meditation and yoga is not says a lot more about the positive nature of those practices, than it does as a criticism of the book. This is a book for cynics, and self-help believers alike.
We all struggle from time to time and as this book’s title suggests, Resilience is about making us better and more adaptable. Being able to adjust and influence our thinking and emotions, rather than allowing them to influence and dominate our lives.


This should be required reading for the veterinary profession, and for anyone who wants to improve how the inside of their head works. I can’t recommend it enough, and it is not hyperbole to suggest that it could save your life.


I am keeping this copy of Resilience; it is on my nightstand.


I will have to buy my colleague another copy.

Any book that tries to deal with a subject that is as current as the COVID 19 pandemic is going to face an uphill battle. It will be out of date as soon as it is written, never mind published.


With that in mind, Nicholas A. Christakis has done a remarkable job. An epidemiologist, Dr. Christakis in Apollo’s Arrow places the COVID 19 pandemic into is historical context as a plague and also provides a definitive account of how this pandemic played out and where mistakes were made – spoiler alert; there is plenty of blame to go around. Where Apollo’s Arrow really shines, however, is in its examination of the social impact, both positive and negative of COVID 19 on individuals, countries, and our culture.


Due to his background, Dr. Christakis is able to not only make sense of the confusing early decisions made by multiple parties, but also in understanding the motivations behind those decisions. There is also no coddling of the reader in Apollo’s Arrow. In a time when most people’s expertise in epidemics comes from the movie “Contagion” – and I have to include myself in those numbers – it is refreshing to gain an understanding of why more well know terms are problematic, such as R-0, and others that are less well known such as NPI (non-pharmaceutical interventions) are used and why.


While it is impossible the remove the politics of the response to COVID 19, particularly in the United States, Dr. Christakis does try his best and it is noticeable that in his initial timeline he tries to keep politicians out of the picture. That’s is not to say that there is any mincing of words; “If the United States had been a student in my class, I would have failed them,” is an early example.
The debunking of wrongheaded ideas from politicians is also a key element of Apollo’s Arrow. The Swedish solution – “herd immunity” as soon as possible, is an example. Sweden has small healthy population, universal health care, and low levels of poverty; all of which make it distinctly different from the United States. Testing and the approach to testing is also examined in depth. If you only test those with symptoms, the ratio of positives to negatives will be high. If you only test those that are worried, the ratio will below. Randomized samples are the only way to know levels of infection.


As mentioned above, it is in the social science arena that Apollo’s Arrow really shines. That “fear has its own epidemiology, its own spreading dynamics,” is one such revelatory idea. Dr. Christakis does not spare the conspiracy theorists; “There is a feeling that we can change our reality if we change the words or images – the virus is real. Reality matters.” A surprising part of Apollo’s Arrow is how positive it is, with a recognition of the successes we have had and also that our species is capable of extreme examples of altruism. We probably do not hear enough about that.


Where Apollo’s Arrow fails is in relationship to the vaccine. It points out that while there is hope, the quickest previously created vaccine as for Ebola; and that took five years. That a significant proportion of the population of the United States, and several other countries, has been vaccinated for COVID 19 by early 2021 is an almost impossible hope by the vantage point of the author at the time of writing. This is a very welcome shortcoming; however, and given the variants that now exist and the unknown levels of protection that the various vaccines may provide to these variants, we should probably not be so smug.


For anyone who wants to stand back and view the early days of the COVID 19 pandemic, and its effects on our society, it hard to imagine a better book; written without the benefit of hindsight, to read on the subject than Apollo’s Arrow. I can’t recommend it enough.

Being, effectively, a self-taught manager, there are things you come across that drive you crazy. One of those things is the insistence, from people with MBAs, to only look at data when it comes to decision making. While I am a great proponent of education; I have my career in spite of a lack of further education – not because of it, I find the constant insistence on relying on data to be frustratingly narrow minded and lacking in imagination.

Restoring the Soul of Business, Staying Human in the Age of Data by Rishad Tobaccowala is one of the few business books that actually supports the downplaying of data, and by god is it refreshing to hear.

I should make clear; this is not a “touchy feely” plea for businesses to be based on being nice to people; but the business case for giving equal weight to both “stories” and “spreadsheets.” That the best business decisions are often not data driven, but driven by the experiences and ideas of individuals.

There are points in the book, like with many books that argue for seemingly “too good be to true” ideas and concepts, that the reader can become frustrated and want to yell “Yes, but..” Mr. Tobaccowala; however, deftly sprinkles in touches of reality which gives context, and caveats, to benefits that seem to have no place in the business world of real people.

Restoring the Soul of Business is a plea for the middle ground. That data has its place, and is not an omnipotent modern god as pointed out by Cathy O’Neil in her excellent Weapons of Math Destruction that I reviewed here, and that people with ideas and intuition, stories in other words, can balance each other in the workplace. Over reliance on either the “story or the spreadsheet,” a phrase that does begin to grate after a while, is a trap to which we can all fall into; and many businesses already have.

It is the realism of Restoring the Soul of Business that makes it a book worth listening to. That data driven companies tend to have cold cultures and little innovation which in turn leads to poor customer service. The examples litter the headlines; Southwest Airlines vs. United Airlines for just one example.

While there are lots of books that ask us to take a better look at our data, I have reviewed a number of them, this is one of the few books making the case for balance.

And that makes it a fresh, and interesting read, and a book to take to heart.

I recently installed a new VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) based phone system in two veterinary hospitals. I consider myself a reasonably technical person who had a grasp of the issues and drawbacks of such as system, as well as the benefits. I learned a lot during the process. While I am ultimately happy with our system, and how the installation process went, there were multiple things that I wish I had known before getting into the project. This is an attempt to pass on some of those lessons.

It should be noted that some of these lessons can also be applied to cloud-based mission critical software, such as cloud-based practice management software in the veterinary world; however, I do not have enough experience with such systems to make them a feature of this article.

First things first…

Are you the right person?

If you do not have a good understanding of how the business concerned works, at a process and protocol level, you are the wrong person to be purchasing a VOIP phone system for that business. It is very easy for people, even those who deal day in and day out with phones, to completely misunderstand the needs of a business and its phone system. Modern IP based phone systems can be very flexible and yet still have limitations. If you are the right person, don’t be afraid to get input from others; you are not perfect. You are about to radically affect how your colleagues work each and every day. Getting things right, and getting people on board, is critical.

Understanding Workflow

Map out exactly how the phone system is to work on paper with a schematic for call flow with all the relevant parties. For example, veterinary hospitals are very different from a lot of other businesses. They can have very high call volumes, few users will have dedicated extensions, and the way calls are answered can vary dramatically from other businesses.

Tackling Phone Trees

IP Phone system vendors love phone trees. They cover a multitude of sins. You may also love phone trees. Your business may also be right for using phone trees. Don’t, however, be bullied into using phone trees if you don’t want to use them. There is nothing to say that just because a phone system is capable of having a phone tree, that they have to be used.

Phone trees can work great if a business can guarantee that an employee will be a particular extension 90% of the time that it is rang, and is able to perform a particular function. If employees are constantly in flux, and rarely at a specific extension, phone trees may not be a good solution.     

Recruit Allies

Spend way more time figuring out who is installing and configuring the phone system, than the company that the phones are to be purchased from. Simply put, the installer will make or break a new phone system.

Yes, it is possible for you to configure your own system with phone based technical support.

Yes, this is a very bad idea and you will be miserable.    

In addition, get your IT vendor, or person who looks after business’s network, on board. You are about to make their lives much more complicated. They have to be on board or the installer and IT will be at locker heads from day one and setup will be hell.

Your Internet Sucks, You Just Don’t Know It

Obviously, internet speed is a potential issue with IP based phone system; however, reliability is often overlooked. When browsing the web, having the internet drop out, or have significant latency or packet loss, for 30 seconds to a couple of hours, does not often come to a user’s attention. With an IP based phone system, however, four minutes of internet down time, which will mean that a business will have no incoming or outgoing calls, can be an eternity.

The only way to find out if there are internet issues, with a current internet service, is to use a tool that looks for them. A tool such as Multi-Ping, can monitor the internet constantly for days and weeks, and send alerts about outages. This is not a complicated tool to use, or setup, however, getting some input from both your phone system installer and your IT vendor is probably sensible.

The solution to some internet issues may be to move from cable internet to having a dedicated fiber connection. This can be significantly more expensive, or may not even be available in your area. IP phone systems usually mean significant savings over traditional line-based telephones; however, the need for fiber can put a significant dent in those savings, or wipe them out entirely. It is worth looking at this issue during the initial planning stages rather than once you have an IP phone system and are dealing with multiple outages.

Choosing A System

Identify key new features that are needed in the new phone system, and features from the old system that need to be kept. Make the demonstration of new phone systems address each of these issues in detail – take nothing for granted. Have each potential vendor go through the training process on how the phones work before a purchase is made.  Don’t just settle for a demonstration. Irksome functionality, or lack of features, will only come up during training and are two easy to overlook during a sales demonstration.

Things to look out for:

  • How can a call be parked and picked up by other users?
  • How can multiple phones be paged so that users know a call is parked for them?
  • Are there different rings for internal or external calls?
  • What happens when a call is made to an extension that is in the process of dialing out?
  • How are incoming calls routed?
  • What happens when incoming calls are not answered?

Call the technical support line for the new phone system and ask some dumb questions. Do you like what you hear? How long does it take to get through?

Visit a business that has your potential new phone system already installed and has been using it for a while – even if that business is in different field to your own. It will provide valuable insight into the system working in the real world.

Signing the Contract

Get a guarantee about getting out of a new contract.

Usually, companies offer a 30-day money back guarantee. That is probably the minimum amount of time that it will take to setup and configure all but the simplest of systems. Try to get at least 60 days and agree with your installer and the phone vendor on date to go live within this period. That way, if major issues arise during the first month there are options, and leverage.

Phone Lines and Phone Numbers

In a traditional phone system, every incoming and outgoing call takes up a phone line. Each line has a phone number associated with it. With IP based phone systems there are no telephone lines and does your business want to keep these phone numbers? What will happen when a client calls one of these numbers when the new phone system is in place?

Moving numbers can take a significant amount of time and will almost certainly dictate the date and time of the new phone system going live. This is also a process that can go wrong. The disconnection of lines that are no longer needed invariably does go wrong. Ensuring that the correct lines have been disconnected, and the correct lines have been transferred is an important area to double check.

Ye Oldie Fax Machine

Faxes are pretty old school these days; however, here are plenty of businesses that continue to use them. If this is your business think long and hard before turning over this piece of phone technology to the IP phone system’s solution. There is a reason that your business has not moved away from the humble fax machine, and it is almost guaranteed that the new phone system’s fax solution is going to look a lot like email.

Consider keeping your fax machine as is until the new phone system is in place and settled. It is a change that can be made at a later date without too much trouble. In a worst-case scenario, it also gives you a backup form of communication should there be issues on day one of going live with the new system.

The Human Element

Have cheat sheets, extension lists, and phone maps ready before the system goes live. If users have to make their own it can be difficult to stop bad habits from developing. Give your team the tools to succeed.

Be prepared to make changes. Field Marshal Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, a 19th century Chief of Staff of the Prussian General Staff, is famously quoted as saying; “no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.” This is often paraphrased as; “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.”

Employees, and colleagues, are not the enemy, but the concept is the same. There will be things that have not been thought of in the planning stage, even if you have involved as many people as possible in the design of the phone system. Be prepared to make changes, and adapt to make a new phone system a success for everyone.

Preparing for Disaster

What happens in an emergency, such as a complete loss of internet, or power? It is easy to leave the planning for emergencies, until all the kinks have been resolved in the new system.

This is a mistake.

Have those plans already worked out, and the kinks in the emergency plans worked out, before the new system goes live. By making the emergency plan part of the main plan it will mean that you are not scrambling when there is an issue sooner than you had hoped.

Make testing your emergency solution part of the going live process. Also make sure that the emergency procedures are written down and easy to follow. Staff are going to absorbing a lot of new information when dealing with a new phone system. It is unlikely that they are going to remember how to switch over to the back plan, weeks or even months after it was explained to them.

All the Shiny New Toys

The aim of rolling out a new phone system should be to replace the existing phone system and address some of its shortcomings. Don’t be in too much of a rush to show off just how powerful and “cool” this new toy is. Get the basics sorted and stable. Adding new features to your workflow, and foisting large amounts of change all at once, while being unable to perform key functions of the business can easily back fire and cause hospitality. There is nothing wrong with rolling out features in stages to make managing change more, well, manageable.   

Final Notes   

VOIP phone systems are tools. They should not dictate how a business functions, unless that business considers the change a benefit. It is the job of the tool to change to suit the needs of the business. For this reason, VOIP phone systems can be complicated beasts. It is therefore to be expected that installing a new phone system is a collaborative effort. Stick to your guns about what you want from a phone system, because it will be you who will suffer if it does not work how you want it to.

It is a cliché, but an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.  

I’ve been holding staff meetings in veterinary hospitals since I started in veterinary Medicine in 2005.

That is a lot of monthly staff meetings. In 2017, it occurred to me perhaps others could use some of this information for their own meetings in the same way that I used this information from where ever I stole it from. You can find Part One on The Client Centered Practice herePart Two on Team Building Exercises and Games here, and Part Three on Communication Tools here. What I did not cover in these initial three articles was how to actually best hold staff meetings. This post is an attempt to rectify that oversight.  

Meetings get a bad rap, and it is usually because they are badly organized, and don’t obey some basic rules.

Meetings should not be about delivering information. Meetings should be for discussing things. If a lot of information is to be delivered, consider writing an email or a white paper and distributing the information beforehand.  

All meetings need an agenda. In an ideal world, this agenda is distributed to all attendees before the meeting to allow them to prepare or bring any supporting documentation they may need. Agenda items need to be given an allotted amount of time. This prevents over stuffed agendas that cannot be gotten through in the time allowed. Participants should be encouraged to submit items for the agenda ahead of time. Always leave time in the agenda for any other business, but keep to time limits (see below). Any other business, should be a last-minute catch all, not the method by which participants submit their agenda items.

Start on time. End on time. One of the reasons meetings get a bad rap is because we allow them to run on longer than they are scheduled for. Nobody will complain if a meeting ends early. Ending on time also provides other stakeholders the assurance that employees will return to their normal duties by a specific time. There are managers who lock the entrance to meeting rooms at the meeting start time to exclude a anyone who does not turn up on time. While this has a certain “shock value,” it does not trust employees to be adults, or recognize that things happen and that employees have other responsibilities particularly when we ask them to attend a meeting in the middle of their day.

Make attendance easy. If the COVID 19 pandemic has shown us nothing else it has shown us the benefits and the drawbacks of virtual meeting tools such as zoom. However, while tools such as Zoom do not provide a complete replacement for a person being at a meeting in person, they do provide a good enough presence to make them an option for employees who are not on site or who would have to travel into work only for the specific meeting.

Consider attendees days off and the hours of their shift when setting the date and time of meetings. If there is an employee who needs to leave at a certain time, try to adjust the agenda to allow the items most relevant to them to be addressed before they have to leave.

Pay employees for meetings. Meetings are work – therefore employees should be paid. If a meeting is held over lunch time, provide lunch. It is the least that an employer can do.  

Do not make meetings a vehicle for complaints, and negative opinions. Meeting should be able working together as a team to solve problems – ensure that the language of the meeting. This starts at the top. If the agenda is all negativity, and all the things that are wrong, that is the meeting that will result.     

Meetings should be limited in size if possible. Jeff Bazos, the CEO of Amazon, is famously quoted as saying that a meeting should be able to be fed by a single pizza. There is a lot to this.

I believe that once meetings get above 12 people, they become unwieldy, and back and forth discussion becomes either impossible or impossible to control. Of course, there will always be times when “all hands” or “town hall” type meetings need to be held, but understand their limitations and consider if your goals would not be better served by holding multiple smaller meetings. Departmental meetings, for example, may serve your business better and provide better opportunities for engagement.

Where town hall meetings can work very well is to provide context for an announcement, good or bad. These single-issue meetings, can act as a pressure value and allow concerns to be voiced, or addressed, in a relatively controlled environment.

If meetings are a routine affair, and they should be, keep the meeting’s agenda structured. A structure that I used when I used to hold townhall meetings was:

  • Performance results
  • Customer service metrics results
  • Small items
  • Team building exercise
  • Main theme

Examples of main themes can be found in parts one and three of this series, and examples of teaming building exercises can be found in part two.    

I continue to use structured agendas even in very small meetings to ensure that the continuity for one week / month to the next.

Minute Meetings where possible. Keeping a record of decisions, and things that are to be followed up on is essential if meetings are to become more than a group of people talking. Minutes hold people accountable because they do not rely on the memories of participants.   

I believe meetings are important, and that good meetings are a sign of a healthy culture. I also believe you get out of meetings what you put into them – and that does not mean a fancy PowerPoint deck. Just because meetings are held does not mean that they are useful or even needed. Meetings are expensive and time consuming. To make them work, and for them to be relevant, takes effort and energy. It also takes commitment from all involved.

Without that, meetings are all talk.

We all have asked ourselves at some time, or wondered out loud, how would we react in a disaster situation. Would we freeze? Would we pretend that everything was alright? Would we heroically jump in while others watched? Would we panic?

Ms. Ripley’s remarkable, and impeccably researched book; “The Unthinkable: Who Survives when Disaster Strikes – and why,” attempts to answer these questions. It does so by looking at how others have responded in extraordinary circumstances, but it also gives the reader pointers on how to better prepare oneself for potential emergency situations and how managers may produce better emergency protocols and procedures.

The book manages the rather remarkable feat of being both a gripping read when discussing the highly personal stories of people during the worst day of their lives; September 11th, The Virginia Tech Shooting, Hurricane Katrina, and numerous plane crashes, but also highly intellectual when looking at the social, evolutionary, and cultural reasons why people behave as they do.

A fundamental issue that “The Unthinkable” explores, is that the public is more often than not given either no information or the wrong information. With the wrong information, or a lack of information, we cannot evaluate risk. This is importantly because our minds will often, from an evolutionary impulse try to get more data, or try to make the facts fit an existing pattern if the brain does not have previous experience of the particular situation. Fire drills, and safety briefings on planes, are important not merely for the information they impart, but they give our brains a pattern to follow. We behave differently in emergency situations; “superheroes with learning difficulties” as Ms. Ripley so eloquently puts it. Another fascinating aspect of this need for better information to evaluate risk is that our brains do much better at properly evaluating how information affects us when we read the information as opposed to watching the same information on a format such as television.

The structure of “The Unthinkable,” is based around “The Survival Arc” of Denial, Deliberation, and the Decisive Moment. That people can go through these three phases multiple times in an emergency, but also respond differently, is another feature that keeps the book constantly engaging.

It is rare to read a book that could actually save your life, and also shake you out of complicacy. But “The Unthinkable” is just such a book. It is also most intriguing to read a multi- disciplinary book such as this that looks at personal history, culture, and up brining, but also delves into psychology, evolution, and group behavior. For those that are responsible for others “The Unthinkable” teaches us that we need to be thinking about the unthinkable, if for no other reason to help mold how we may respond and how we may protect those in our charge. As an individual, “The Unthinkable” is a road map to survival and to understand our reactions to extreme events.

It could save our lives.  

Chip Heath & Dan Heath write books that I have loved and have bought for others.

Switch, Made to Stick, and to a lesser extent, The Power of Moments; have become bibles of management theory to myself, those that I work with, consult for, and mentor. (Click on the links above to read my reviews of those books.)

So why, oh why, did I have no interest in Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, when it came out. I have come to believe, now having finally read it, that it comes down to the title. Being decisive is never something that I feel I have struggled with. I’ve made bold choices in both my work and personal life; and they have never been things that I have agonized over or second guessed myself after the fact. What did I need with a book about how to make decisions, even if it was from the brothers Heath?

And that’s a shame.

Decisive is a great, and very useful book just like all the other books by Chip Heath & Dan Heath. This is a book about choice. Yes, it also covers decision making, but really it is about how to expand one’s choices and evaluate them better. Like all books by Chip Heath & Dan Heath, it is impeccably researched; and it is that research that drives their advice and conclusions – even when it come comes inconvenient.

A central tenant put forth in Decisive is that when faced with binary decision (do A or do B), it actually helps the process to actively seek out more choices. This would seem to fly in the face of advice from the Heath Brother’s previous book Switch about choice overload. To their credit, the authors freely admit the seeming contradiction with regards to choice overload, and then explain elegantly how to increase your choices and not get overloaded.

Another surprisingly easy tool to implement from Decisive is that when we are faced with a personal decision, that we should ask ourselves what we would advise our best friend to do if they were in our shoes. It does sound odd, but the exercise does actually work and give you a differ perspective. To attain distance.  

These tools are all, if you’ll forgive the pun, wrapped up in an acronym; W.R.A.P.

  • Widen Your Options
  • Reality Test Your Assumptions
  • Attain Distance Before Deciding
  • Prepare to Be Wrong

That humans are not good at making decisions, and often hobble themselves, should not come a news. What makes decisive interested to me; however, is that it is possible to improve the quality of those decisions. Which leads me to wonder if not reading this book when it first came out was not a bad decision of my own.

That’s something I can admit to, as long the Chip Heath & Dan Heath could rethink their decision on the book title.  

%d bloggers like this: