Sunday, 15 November 2009

Paid to do nothing

First Published on

One night after a long day at work I came home wanting to chill out and relax. As a father of four that is seldom an option. This particular night I arrived home right on bedtime and soon found myself in the middle of stories and good night cuddles. In our house the bedtime ritual usually includes a period of time where we ask each other questions about our day. On this particular night my daughter asked me, “Dad, what do you do at work?”

This was not the first time she had asked me this question. On this particular night, being tired and not really thinking, I gave a glib “well, I get paid to do nothing”. I followed this up with what I thought was a pretty good attempt at describing what my job as a leader of a fairly large team actually is. It included an analogy between the principal of her school and what I did at work.

The story went that at school her job was to learn as much as she could and the teachers job was to help her learn. The school principal’s role was to support her teacher and all the other teachers in the school and make sure it ran properly so she and her friends could learn as much as possible.

He didn’t get paid to learn, but he got paid to make sure all the children did learn and to help the teachers to make that happen. At work I don’t get paid to work with computers, I get paid to support the managers, team leaders and all of the team to do their work as effectively as possible and make sure the work is done, I told her.

My daughter went very quiet and looked to be thinking about the ramifications of the answer I had given. I was quietly quite pleased with the answer I had given and then she said, “Dad, if you get paid to do nothing, why does it take so long?” I was stunned, quickly said goodnight and left disgruntled.

Now, when I said I get paid to do nothing I was half joking, but it was only half. If I look at how I actually spend my time, virtually all of my day is spent in meetings.

The form and topics of these meetings are many and varied. They may be one on ones, team meetings, executive briefings, steering committees, operating reviews, meet and greets or many other forums and topics.

If I am not in a meeting chances are I am preparing for a meeting, doing the occasional necessary action that comes out of meetings or reading and answering email and occasionally doing some personal research and study. Not a “productive” task there anywhere!

The organisational focus on meetings is often criticised loudly and with passion. How many times have you said or heard others say, “if only I didn’t have so many meetings, I could actually get something done!” Well what if you didn’t have meetings? How would we get our job as CIOs or senior IT leaders done?

In reality, as leaders of large teams, meetings are the job of CIOs and senior IT leaders. It is how we do what we do, which is to inspire, motivate, align, communicate, prioritise, discuss, decide, reward and recognise our team. There is no other effective way to do these things.

So, if you find yourself or your team lamenting about too many meetings, the problem isn’t too many meetings but that your meetings are ineffective and don’t add value. The answer is not to stop your meetings, but to find out how to have more effective, value-adding meetings. How do you do this?

As some of my previous columns have suggested, thro-ugh focusing on the basics. In this case be prepared, have a clearly defined objective and supporting agenda and ensure you have clear outcomes and next steps that are followed through.

Indeed, I believe meetings are so important that anything we do outside of a meeting should be completely focused on making our meetings more effective, so we can make a difference for our teams.

1 comment:

David Gandar said...

Here's another viewpoint.

Very pertinent to today's NZCS session. While I don't agree with all the points - my company's experience is very different - it does show truth about how little ROI is being measured in IT, still.