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Create Value with Regular Check-ins

You recognize communication as an important founder responsibility but remain concerned with effectively using your time and the time of others. Founders of startup companies share common themes:

  • Huge demands on their time

  • Too many voices

  • Competing priorities

  • Not enough time, money, skilled staff members and more!

Effective managers balance demands on their time by using check-ins to structure effective communication, expedite reporting and coordinate shared activities.

Always respond and follow-up

Beyond their own management objectives, senior managers receive requests to “check-in” from employees, investors, mentors, prospective business partners and the merely curious. Never ignore requests to “check-in”. Responding promptly to invitations opens a conversation on the goals of the proposed conversation and allows you to make decisions to address the matter directly, refer it to others or arrange a meeting.

Schedule tightly. There is no magic in setting meetings to last 30 minutes or an hour. Allocate time appropriate to the goal. I am not a fan of letting any meeting last more than an hour. Follow-up promptly with referrals or an on-line calendar appointment to confirm meeting details including subject, time and place.

Send an email message shortly after each conversation to reinforce discussion points, document decisions and set the stage for a following engagement.

Identify value

Meetings tend to fill every available calendar space. Avoid the tendency to “work in your business” in favor of “working on your business”.

Consider budgeting the amount of time spent on regularly scheduled meetings to balance other demands. Be realistic and allocate time for “open office hours”. Tight budget discipline helps you concentrate priorities, say “no” when appropriate and achieve the highest value from your meetings.

Who should attend and how often should we meet?

Meetings bring people together to identify, discuss and act on business specific needs. Clear and specific objectives ensure the right people attend. Smaller groups are generally more effective. Focus the agenda on key items and limit attendance to direct contributors.

You lose effectiveness by scheduling meetings randomly, too closely or far apart. Every business activity has a rhythm that sets the appropriate frequency for recurring meetings. Project and production naturally drive recurring check-ins with “walk-around time” best structured as a recurring practice.

I personally have trouble with the practice of using recurring calendar functions to schedule appointments. It always seems participants need to reschedule after a few cycles. By manually planning recurring meetings, I consider the scheduled activities of other participants and gain flexibility to incorporate my own scheduled meetings, business travel and industry events. I like to have a planning horizon between 3-4 weeks. You will have your own.

Be on time!

Respect everyone’s time and extended responsibilities. Establish a general practice of starting and ending meetings on schedule with exception of those times you complete the work and end early.

Share appropriate information

A well-known executive coach often repeats the mantra, “You can never over-communicate”. I refer to this phrase as the myth of transparency. Senior executives need to manage critical information in context with their desire to communicate effectively with stakeholders. Sharing critical information with the wrong people may hurt your business. You can talk too much.

Practice and help others maintain disciplined communication by describing intellectual property (IP), work in process, core business information and employee matters cautiously, at high levels and without specific details. Be aware--everything can be “re-tweeted”.

Business leadership is a lonely sport. It is important to maintain formal relationships with people you work with. Concentrate on business and avoid gossiping and personal, non-business conversations.

You are always on camera and there is always an open mike.

Stay relevant

Make meetings count by framing goals at the beginning and end of each engagement. Avoid the general tendency for check-ins to become informal conversations with marginal value. Embrace the chance to establish an overall objective for recurring meetings as well as goals for each session.

Message consistently

Effective managers recognize setting consistent tone and practice as one of their most important responsibilities. Nothing establishes the culture of your company more strongly than the way your team works together to coordinate activities by checking-in on a regular basis.

Focus on positive, results-oriented communication. Make check-ins count by embracing opportunity to surface important issues, discuss alternate perspectives and make effective decisions.

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