For most of us, meetings are unavoidable, uninspiring, and an overall waste of everyone’s time. But, they don’t need to be. Douglas Ferguson, the founder of Voltage Control discusses how we think of meetings as passive ways to convey information when in reality, a meeting should be the place where we take action and get things done. The way Douglas and Voltage Control look at meetings is in much more of a diagnostic method. What works? What doesn’t? Can we borrow from one approach to make another work better? By applying a good design process, the meeting ends up being the place where we actually accomplish projects more than just handing out action items to hopefully complete before the next meeting. In fact, meetings should become mini-retreats and action items replaced by commitments from members of the team who come to a meeting with the understanding of what the mission and goals are, and are already taking ownership of a part of the outcomes.
If you are not satisfied with the way meetings are run at your firm or company, then Ferguson’s discussion is a great place to start. There are a number of templates and guidebooks on the Voltage Control website as well to get you started.
As many in the media and information fields worry about disinformation/misinformation, one acronym to think about when reviewing the credibility of information is “EMAIL”. (Yes, everyone knows it is a terrible abbreviation, so we’ve pitched “MAILE” (pronounced my-Lee) as an alternative.) Think of the Evidence, Motive, Activity, Intent, and Lables surrounding the information you have. Is it questionable, or too good to be true? Both reporters and information professionals rely upon credible information and sources, or we lose our own credibility. For more on this, check out the New York Times The Daily podcast about the issues surrounding the NY Post’s release of what they thought was the October Surprise, but what we ended up talking about was the process of how reporters verify possible hacked and leaked information.
Speaking of elections, it is very easy to get caught up in the emotions this political season. The Five Thirty-Eight Blog helps both calm some of those fears and gives you some tips on how to handle the stress everyone is feeling in 2020.
Large law firms are still finding ways of creating safe and productive work environments for their lesbian, gay, and bisexual attorneys and staff. While many have updated policies and procedures to protect sexual orientation, they are still way behind when it comes to gender identity for Trans and Queer attorneys and staff. If you’re behind on those policies, now is the time to start updating them as there will certainly be more professionals who identify as gender nonconforming entering the legal industry. Whether it is trans partners making equity status in firms like Goodwin Proctor, or a partner from Patton Squire Boggs identifying as nonbinary, there will be more people coming out in the years to come. Time to prepare.
One problem with propaganda is that once you release it into the world, it can take on a life of its own. While many may think that “Fake News” is a modern phenomenon, the Woodrow Wilson administration actually used these tactics in 1912 with the Committee on Public Information. Seems that history does have a way of repeating itself.
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Marlene Gebauer: Welcome to the Geek in Review. The podcast focused on innovative and creative ideas in the legal industry. I’m Marlene gave our and I’m Greg Lambert.
Greg Lambert: So Marlene, one of the fears that I have when I do a podcast, or I do a blog post is that the listener or reader is going to walk away from it and think that it’s a waste of their time.
Marlene Gebauer: No, that’s impossible.
Greg Lambert: Yeah, I know. Why would they do that? You know, many of the people who run meetings at their organizations, they don’t seem to have this issue.
Marlene Gebauer: They have a high level of confidence.
Greg Lambert: Yes, they do. So, you know, I think that’s one of the reasons why when many of us walk out of these meetings, they’re thinking, Man, this could have been an email. So
Marlene Gebauer: I’ve never had that thought ever,
Greg Lambert: Ever, ever. I have never posted that meme. So this week’s guest Douglas Ferguson from Voltage Control is here to talk with us about how we can change how we approach and conduct these meetings.
Marlene Gebauer: And for those of you who think you know, all there is to know about meetings, I challenge you not to learn something from Douglas during this podcast. We don’t merely talk about how meetings can be more useful. We completely re envision what they are, what they’re named, and their actual purpose. And now as so many of us needing meetings to even communicate, it’s a perfect time to try out some of the ideas Douglass provides.
Greg Lambert: All right, well, let’s jump into this week’s information inspirations.
Greg Lambert: So as we get within a couple of weeks of the national election, the US and probably the world is waiting to see what the big october surprise is going to be. You know, many of us last week thought that we had that answer with Rudy Giuliani going to the New York Post, with the alleged Hunter Biden hard drive that he just, you know, somehow found, however, the conversation went a lot different than it did in 2016. When we talked about these emails, mainly because the social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter were on hyper alert this year looking for misinformation, especially looking like it might come from a foreign government being involved in spreading that misinformation.
Marlene Gebauer: We’ve learned something, I guess.
Greg Lambert: I guess. We haven’t learned anything, I can tell you that. But I was listening to The Daily podcast from the New York Times this week. And they covered how the conversation is turning to the process of how to handle potential issues of what they were calling hack and leak. So New York Times reporter Kevin Roose mentioned that they have a hack and leak policy at the times. And it’s one that many of us have been following for years, but may not have actually an official policy and verifying questionable information resources. So the New York Times calls the policy and this is a horrible acronym. They call it EMAIL.
Marlene Gebauer: Oh, of course they do. Because that’s not going to confuse anybody that’s not already taken.
Greg Lambert: So email stands for Evidence, Motive, Activity, Intent and Labels. Now, I would have branded it different I would have I would have called it MAILE, that’s M A I L E. But that’s just my preference over EMAIL, anything is better than EMAIL. It’s a common sense approach to how we handle questionable information. But with the emotions running so high right now, you know, the desire to be the first one to distribute information or get something juicy out there. We may skip over some of the process and and be directly responsible for passing along misinformation. And as information professionals, that’s really something that we can’t afford to skimp on. So make sure that you practice MAILE procedures
Marlene Gebauer: Not Cyrus, just MAILE.
Greg Lambert: When you’re passing along the information that seems questionable, or or that information is way too good to be true.
Marlene Gebauer: Don’t be a wrecking ball. Practice your MAILE
Greg Lambert: Oh My God. So good.
Marlene Gebauer: So in honor of Election Day, my inspirations are about politics and voting. And Greg, you mentioned election days coming up. And of course, many states have early voting options. Now, Greg, you and I both took advantage of that option. And you know that I’m working the polls here in Texas on election day, and I was really fascinated by the process in my county. Now. I’ve never voted with a paper ballot until this week, so, so it was it was fun to compare the process to what I was used to in New Jersey. But you know, I admit listening to the news and the commentators and the analysts, you know, it gets it gets really stressful, because let’s face it, this, this is a historic presidential election. So Five Thirty-Eight offers eight tips to keep it together the last couple of weeks before the election. So what do they suggest? Okay, well, here’s a few things. I will as a quick aside, I will say that that the October surprise, really not a thing. Yeah, really not a thing, according to these guys. But anyway, for starters, even though it is a historic election, remember, we are in a pandemic, which, you know, I interpret to mean, essentially, you know, remember the elections, not the only thing that’s happening in the world. So keep things in perspective. Don’t pay too much attention to individual polls, wait for the polling averages to come out. Now. I think this makes good sense. Even though, you know, it was it was a kind of a shameless plug for Five Thirty-Eight because they happen to have that. And, and, you know, don’t buy into the ideas that the polls are broken, you know, or, or buy into sort of comparing a lot to 2016. You know, polls are imperfect and elections are different. So, you know, while you might be tempted to listen to that, and do that yourself, try not to. Also don’t pay too much attention to campaign behavior in the last couple of weeks before an election. You know, the campaign team often has no better read on public sentiment than the polls do. And there’s also a lot of hype from partisans, you know, right at the end, they’re trying to indicate that there’s large swings when in reality, things are really steady.
Greg Lambert: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Now that I’ve voted, I’m like, Why are these signs still up?
Marlene Gebauer: I’m like, I don’t need this anymore. I’m done.
Greg Lambert: Done. All right. Well, Marlene, you know that I’m involved with an organization here in Houston called p flag, which is for parents, family and allies of the LGBTQ community. So this year has really pushed law firms, I think, to think and act more upon diversity, inclusion and equity of minorities and historically discriminated against members of our own firms. And one of the groups that I’m seeing who are becoming more visible in our workplaces is the LGBTQ community. Specifically, we are seeing more of the trans community coming out and being their true selves at work at major law firms. So this summer Squire Patton Boggs, partner Rafale Langer-Asuna, came out publicly as non binary, which means they go by they them pronouns, and they were supported by the firm. This week, Bloomberg law reported that Blake Liggio I hope I said that right. Blake made equity partner at Goodwin Proctor, and is one of a very small group of openly trans attorneys in large law firms. And I have to say, as Gen Z begins to graduate law school, there will be more trans lawyers who enters big law ranks. This isn’t because there’s something different about this generation. It’s because this is the first generation who grew up with the vocabulary, the resources, and the support to understand what it means to be someone who doesn’t fit the gender they were assigned at birth. This influx of trans and gender fluid attorneys coming out of law schools is gonna catch law firms off guard, they’re just gonna be flat footed and not ready for it. I can only imagine the mistakes that some firms are going to make by not being prepared. And to be perfectly honest, firms are just now come to grips with the LGB community. So I’m really happy that you know, Squire, Patton, Boggs and Goodwin Proctor are setting a good example for others to follow. And if your organization isn’t ready for how they’re going to handle trans attorneys, then they’re going to need to find a way to get help soon and to create a plan and create an environment that helps everyone feel welcomed and given every opportunity to succeed.
Marlene Gebauer: Yeah, I think this publicity around these things are great, but you know, exactly for the reason that you mentioned it. So that’s wonderful. I heard about a new book on Marketplace this morning about how modern government propaganda was born. It seems we can trace this back to World War One Woodrow Wilson and the Committee on Public Information which he created during the war. The the CPI was created with with very good intentions, and staffed by progressive educators and journalists, but Yet, like all propaganda machines do, apparently it ended up taking shortcuts rather than being democratic. So things like only telling one side of the story and sometimes not telling the truth. The committee also used methods to stifle speech. So you know how the term fake news is used today? Yeah, well, so a quick aside on that there was actually a book entitled Fake News published in 1912. So the term isn’t entirely new. Well, instead of fake news during Wilson’s term, they called it creeling, named after George Creel, who was the head of the CPI and who was always seen as putting a spin on things.
Greg Lambert: That’s, that’s one time your name, turning into a verb is not it not a really good,
Marlene Gebauer: Not a good thing. Another thing that happened is that if someone challenged Wilson, the CPI would call it ‘enemy talk.’ So if you said something against the president, you were unpatriotic. On the flip side, the CPI is responsible for Smokey the Bear and all other public service announcements. So some good did come out of it. But mostly bad seems
Greg Lambert: Only you can prevent Fake News.
Marlene Gebauer: I actually felt weirdly comforted by the fact that this seems similar to what we’re going through now and that the country moved past it.
Greg Lambert: Yeah, this type of misinformation. It’s, it reminds me of when I was in the army, one of the things that we were taught was, we don’t use biological weapons, because once you release it, you no longer have control over it. And I think we see the same thing with with fake news.
Marlene Gebauer: And that wraps up this week’s information inspirations.
Marlene Gebauer: Even in the best of times meetings bring dread to most of us who have to attend them. But what if that weren’t the case? What if you looked at meetings as time to actually get things accomplished, and where you don’t have to worry about getting others buy in with the goals of the meeting, because they’ve already taken ownership. Today’s guest is going to tell us more about how we can turn our dread into productivity and action.
Marlene Gebauer: Douglas Ferguson is the founder of Voltage Control, a company that offers guidance and custom coaching to companies that want to transform their meetings. Douglas is an entrepreneur, author and technologist with over 20 years of experience, and a more impressive beard than Greg.
Greg Lambert: It took me almost 50 years to be able to grow a beard. So
Marlene Gebauer: Well, welcome, Douglas.
Douglas Ferguson: Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.
Greg Lambert: So Douglas, your website says that your company designs and leads workshops that helps people in companies work better together. That’s a great mission. So can you explain to me what it is that facilitators like your company’s what their main purpose is? And what are some of the common hurdles that you see when when you get people to work together?
Douglas Ferguson: Well, there’s lots, you only have to attend a few meetings at any company to start to realize that there are kind of anti patterns and dysfunctions.
Greg Lambert: So you’ve been to some of our meetings I see.
Douglas Ferguson: A few in my lifetime. Yes. And, you know, I think the one big problem, that is a really unfortunate problem, which is these dysfunctions that happen, can often be interpreted as bad actors. So there’s a dysfunction that’s happening, someone’s reacting to something that is impacting them personally. And then others see that and they think, oh, why is he such a troublemaker? And it’s usually not the case, right? Usually, that person is responding to some threat, or maybe the concern of some kind of loss, they’re having to make a sacrifice of some sort. And the fact of the matter is, we haven’t slowed down to take that into consideration. My friend, Greg Sitel, often talks about every, every revolution sparks a counter revolution. And so even if we’re creating some good change in the world, there’s going to be a backlash of some sort, because some people don’t appreciate that change. And so if we understand that phenomenon, and really embrace it, it can, it can open up a lot of potential for us, as companies and as teams and organizations of all sorts. And a facilitator is someone who can, as an outsider, or sometimes and these outsiders are in house, sometimes, some companies have teams of facilitators that come and help assist when very critical conversation needs to happen, whether that be at the executive level, or, or even at the team level, we might be launching a new project. And it’s really important that we start off with a lot of momentum. Or maybe we have a project that stalled out, and we haven’t been able to get it moving. Or maybe we just need to explore our meeting systems. Some of the listeners might be familiar with the Entrepreneurs Operating System. And I’d like to point that out that as an example, if that’s a very, I would say, prescriptive meeting system that says Like, do your meetings in this way? We’re very big fans of doing a more diagnostic approach where we say, hey, let’s let’s reflect on what’s working and what’s not working. And then let’s keep what’s working. And then let’s look at how we might change what’s not working, and even the meetings that are working, Can we borrow them for other purposes? Can we slightly change them? Because everyone’s culture is a bit different. Let’s really embrace the fact that we work well in certain certain scenarios and don’t work so well in others. And how do we design accordingly. So it’s a it’s a, it’s kind of applying good design processes, to our, the way we meet and the way we work together.
Greg Lambert: You make it sound simple.
Marlene Gebauer: It’s sort of like agile, it’s sort of like agile, you know, meeting organization, you know?
Douglas Ferguson: Yeah, absolutely. I spent years and years writing software and building and growing startups. And, you know, I started to really become a fan of Patrick Lencioni. His work as well as lots of you know, the agile and different product management disciplines. But you know, the thing about Lencioni, that was really fascinating was this has talked around organizational health being more important than operational excellence. And if we can have stronger teams, and more trust, we’re going to be a lot better off than if we concentrate on making sure we’re doing all the things just right. And I think that really struck me as a young leader, and led me to experimenting with different ways of leading and bringing teams together. And then, you know, I’m just I’m taking that work out into the world and for other companies.
Marlene Gebauer: Yeah, that’s, that’s actually really interesting. And I wonder how many organizations really apply that?
Douglas Ferguson: Well, it’s really hard.
Marlene Gebauer: Yeah, I had a follow up point to what you were talking about. You know, you were mentioning that that, you know, some people are in a meeting and something happens, and, you know, they feel like they take it personally or there’s they feel threatened somehow. And, and, you know, I think back and I don’t want to call them like personality tests, but essentially, they kind of assess, okay, is this someone who’s more analytical? And that will ask a lot of questions. And that sort of needs that assurance? Or is it someone who’s more concerned that, you know, if a decision is made, that everybody’s okay with it? And you know, is going to need that kind of reassurance? And, you know, I can see how, depending on your leadership style, somebody may, may take offense at that. It’s like, you know, why are you questioning me all the time? It’s like, you know, we’ve already decided this is what we’re gonna do? or Why do I have to make sure that how everybody feels about this? I wonder if that’s something that you also run into in your work?
Douglas Ferguson: Absolutely. And there’s lots of shades of gray there, right? You may have some leaders who struggle with tapping into the more emotional pieces, or maybe there are issues where the method of decision making is not made clear. And then the teams left confused. And so again, it comes back to my earlier points around, we have to first look at the problem and understand what’s going on. And then we can diagnose and talk about addressing, and well, how can we design a fix. So sometimes it could be dynamics on the team, how their leaders are showing up, or how they’re not showing up. And he talked about one example, which is something I see all the time, which is teams, reopening decisions. And I like to talk about durable decisions and how we make decisions more durable. One of the best ways to do that is to be really clear about your decision making framework, and also setting expectations up front. So what I mean by that is if you walk into a meeting, and you tell folks that I need to make a decision, your input is very important to me. I want to hear everything you have to say before I make the decision. Now that’s that’s a very clear expectation on what’s going to happen in that meeting. And then what you’re going to go do with that information versus if of you say is really important that this decision get made. What should we do? And that happens, or, you know, some version of that, right. So everyone has their own way of speaking. But so often, we don’t make it clear what our intentions are. Now, if I were to say, Greg, we really need to make a good decision here. I’m going to delegate it to you, what do you think we should do? Now? If I say exactly that, then I’ve also made it very clear that I expect Greg to make the decision. Now, if he comes back and tells me that I think we should go to Lanno. And I say, No, we totally should not go to Lanno, then that that that starts to erode trust in a very negative way. Because I have told him the decision was his and then I took it away from them. But often, the problem is with malaligned expectations, because we didn’t make it clear, people assumed. And then they got their feelings hurt, or they got, they just got misunderstood. And so it’s so easy, just to make it clear upfront what we’re thinking and how we’re going to go about it. And, and then then if we want to go even more deeper, you know, there’s lots of cool consensus making techniques. So that’s just like, in the simple majority, the super majority, or even there’s like, kind of gradient based consensus models are like, you know, like, a one veto and or any veto shuts it down kind of approach. So there’s just a lot of need, I think to be more clear up front, and not enough people are doing that.
Marlene Gebauer: Well, I’ve personally participated in one of your workshops, and I’ve listened to your live sessions on LinkedIn. And they’re great, by the way. The most recent one I heard is how to make meetings more effective. And just from our conversation now, it’s like, I know, we all want help in this regard. So can you give us a little overview of what you covered in that session?
Douglas Ferguson: Yeah, gosh. I talk so much about effective meetings. And I don’t know if I’m gonna specifically speak to that session. But I, you know, the thing that always comes to mind for me, is being intentional about the meeting taxonomy. And if we were to really get intentional about, like, what our meeting is, and why we’re meeting, then we’re going to be a lot more effective. And there’s, there’s many reasons for this. And often people will tell you, you got to have an agenda. And yes, agendas are important. I think we’re a lot of people fail is they think of agendas as list of topics, versus a roadmap or a blueprint for a good meeting. And instead, if we think about the arc that we want to take, how are we going to on ramp people and to this to this experience? How are we going to like move from one thing to the next? And how do we shift the behavior patterns? Because so often, well, so often meetings are just status updates, which is like, that’s another way to have effective meetings is just identify if it’s a status update, and then just remove those from your calendar. Or, let’s be intentional about why if we really feel strongly that we do have to bring people together, and we’re looking at it, we’re like, oh, it’s just a status update. And I’ll tell you, the number one, the number number one abuser of this role, are boards, think about it. Yes. Think about how many smart people you bring together for this board meeting. And then you pat yourself on the back. Not you specifically, Greg, but you know, the listener,
Greg Lambert: Nah… it’s me
Douglas Ferguson: How many board meetings have been there, and they Pat themselves on the back, just because they follow Robert’s Rules of Order. And they’re, you know, I said motion a couple times, like, good board meeting. But the thing is, is like, you’ve gotten together all these smart people, and you’re not putting them to use. And so that’s the thing, that how do we honor the participants? And how do we become really intentional about what we’re trying to accomplish? Because if it really is the fact that, hey, we just want to update our investors that happened to be on our board for how well we’re doing. And if we’re tracking two goals, and then maybe answer a few questions, could we just recorded a video, better yet summarize stuff in this into a nice into a nice deck and just send it over and answered some questions asynchronously. And so I think instead just being maybe we do that instead, that do the update asynchronously. Learn where there might be potential. Feed that into a good design, where we start to extract a lot of learning from the people that are going to help influence the company the most, you know, these very smart people, we’ve invited to our board for a reason, and help let them help guide us toward toward new destinations.
Marlene Gebauer: So like, like a lot of good design, you’re basically starting with the end goal and sort of working backwards as to how you should get there.
Douglas Ferguson: Absolutely. And I’m trying to be a tool agnostic. And I think in this virtual setting, a lot of folks look at like, Oh, I want to do a virtual event. Okay, I’ve heard Run the Worlds is really good. So open up Run the Worlds and say, Okay, what can I do? And I think that that’s where we get into a lot of trouble. And, you know, I’ll give you a give you an example. I was brought in to be a judge or offer critique to some UX students, for a local course here in Austin. And I noticed this trend around the folks that had kind of mediocre work, versus folks that had really interesting, unique work. Now, even the unique work had issues, you know, that stuff I could point out, and, you know, none of it was perfect. But I definitely saw there’s two camps where some stuff felt just ordinary run in the mill. Some stuffs felt different and special. And near the end, I started I got a hypothesis and then went back and talked to a few other students and proved my hypothesis, which was the students that just opened up Squarespace and started designing in Squarespace were the ones that made ordinary stuff, because they saw the world through the templates that were available, or just kind of did what was expected. The ones that started off and on paper, or Illustrator or whatever, and then started to move their stuff into the tool, were the ones that push the boundaries, because they were trying to accomplish some vision that they had set forth, rather than just being kind of hamstrung by the tool or being forced down a path by the tool. And so I thought, though, I mean, it’s obvious, right? But it was so profound to seeing them the massive difference between these this work product on the by the students.
Greg Lambert: And one of the thing I wanted to follow up with you on the on your comment on basically waste wasting the time of very smart people on a board by having a meeting, which is just basically an update of what’s going on. You hear this a lot, especially lately of you know, great, we just had another meeting that should have been an email. And I read one of your recent blog posts where you were you really kind of talking about a rebranding, how we talk and how we set up what we call meetings. I mean meetings is such a broad term that it may not be the best way. In fact, I think you start the blog post off with words have power. So what are some of the ways that, you know we can look and potentially rebrand how we talk about what it is that we’re going to do, instead of just saying everything’s a meeting?
Douglas Ferguson: You know, this is one of my favorite topics. And I’ll tell you a little anecdote here, which is URL give you something to kind of chew on. It got cut from the blog post, editing room floor, but it’s
Greg Lambert: Oh, original content.
Douglas Ferguson: That’s right.
Marlene Gebauer: Scooping!
Douglas Ferguson: Yeah. So I’m sure you’ve heard that phenomenon that Eskimos have like 900 words for snow. Because like, that’s their existence, they’re surrounded, they’re inundated with snow. And so it’s forced them to like come up with so much nuance in their language. What are we inundated with in corporate America? More than anything?
Greg Lambert: Meetings.
Douglas Ferguson: Yet, we have one word for them.
Marlene Gebauer: Email.
Douglas Ferguson: Email too, yes. So meanings. And we. So how do we rethink our language and taxonomy? And here’s the thing, if we’re gonna bring together folks to do a bunch of deep work, or if it’s just two of us, gathering the chat about something quickly, you know, or whether it’s something that’s going to be a big decisions, we’re gonna make. Where’s an all hands with the entire company. We still use a calendar and create a meeting, and we call it a meeting. And I think that it’s valuable to step back and think about what are we actually coming together for? What’s the best way to conduct said gathering, and when when’s it appropriate, who should be there, all these things can be really helpful to step back and explore because then it gives us a rubric or some guidelines by which we can operate. And this is what I refer to earlier by the word meeting systems. And so you know, we’re big fans of words like review, you know, verbs, you know, that we’re going to come together and do something. In fact, we have a meeting mantra that were referred to as do the work in the meeting. And so rather than talking about stuff, and then coming up with some action items, just another classic, best practice, you know, these action items, say, hey, go do these things. But what if we could have done them together. And the beautiful thing about doing the work together, is you start to uncover hidden talents on the team, whether that’s insights or capabilities, you also start to get deep ownership. And, you know, there’s no such thing as we, we can move away from the classic buy-in. And I really dislike that word, because buy-in assumes that you’re selling something. So let’s just have ownership. And the way we get to ownership is by creating space for folks to feel like they belong, and that they’re truly included. Just because they have a seat at the table, and we listen doesn’t mean they’re included. Are they allowed to roll their hands get on get on the tool and make a difference? And once people start doing that, then they are signing up, you know, you don’t have to have someone saying, Hey, can you do this, they’re already saying, Hey, I’m gonna take care of this, you know, they’re, they’re already telling, telling you what they think needs to be done and how they can make a difference. I’m a big fan of ending meetings and workshops of any sort with commitment, which is similar to action items. But instead, we’re asking everyone what commitments they’re gonna make. And so these are self-made commitments. And we usually encourage folks to think about how can, given the resources they have right now how can they make a big difference? And so it allows them to look through the lens of, well, based on what I have accessible to me, this is going to be really easy right now. And so prioritization, that that’s simple mode of prioritization, which is, like bottoms up and organic, tends to inspire tends to create enthusiasm. And there’s momentum that you get with that. So highly encourage people to think about how to continue consider their meetings from this lens of doing work, and driving real commitment and how can we label them so people understand the purpose because, as I said earlier, purpose is critical. And if we don’t understand what we’re gonna do, if we’re holding the meeting, and we don’t understand what we’re doing exactly, and we’re just going through motions. I mean, come on. I mean, why we’re just wasting people’s time.
Marlene Gebauer: You got a time suck.
Douglas Ferguson: We You know why but we haven’t communicated that’s just as bad. Because then no one knows coming in. So
Marlene Gebauer: Well, I really like that word commitment. Much more than action items, because action items, just it seems kind of removed. Commitment seems a little more personal. It’s like you’re Can you commit to this, it’s like, yes, it’s like, it’s sort of your word.
Greg Lambert: And, to me, it reminds me of what you do after a retreat, you know, when the retreat wraps up, that there’s this commitment of, Okay, here’s how we go forward, here’s, you know, whether it’s personal or organizational, that’s what that word kind of reminds me of when you walk away from that type of engagement.
Douglas Ferguson: 100%. And so what you’re, what you’re referring to, there is our inspiration, you know, if we can make people, if everyday meetings can feel like a mini-retreat, that’s when we’re hitting the nail on the head. Because we can borrow the those elements, and imbibe them, even if it’s like just the essence of them. I mean, because there’s certain things we can’t do, because we don’t have a whole day for this meeting. We don’t have a whole week for this meeting, or whatever. But they’re, they’re designed elements, and there’s intention that we can bring in. So to your point, this commitment is one example of that stuff, how we think about how meetings start. And can we hold space, and be intentional and reverence about that time, versus just jamming straight into the content. And another thing I’ll say to your point about the the commitment, and laddering back to retreats, imagine that the team does go on a strategic retreat, they make these commitments, then they go back to work and start attending normal meetings. How easy is it for them to commit, keep those prior commitments, unless they’re continuing to like affirm micro-commitments that ladder into those bigger ones? So it’s sort of like OKR’s that are nested, right, and then we kind of build up into like, the, these the work that we’re going to do and, and how we organize and prioritize our work. So I believe that if we’re going to make big commitments, then in order to stick through with them, we have to make smaller ones as well.
Marlene Gebauer: So I was in law, we hear a lot of talk about tech solutions, solving problems and how the use of technology is going to distinguish firms. And you know, as a technologist, you know, maybe maybe you agree with that. But with the rise of the influence of design thinking, maybe the soft skills of being more effective, dealing with people is going to be the deciding factor. How is your training contributing to that? Hmm.
Douglas Ferguson: Yeah, I think it’s both. I think you can’t have one without the other. I mean,
Greg Lambert: You would make a very good lawyer.
Douglas Ferguson: Well, it depends. So, here’s the thing. I mean, I think if certainly, building a world class, legal Operations Group and team that’s highly empowered by software, will make your firm or your legal department, I would say you will have competitive advantages, right? But if we’re just throwing pure technology at stuff, and we’re not actually looking at I mean, how do we even decide what’s the best technology, you know, it’s one thing to buy a CRM, we don’t, we don’t have a plan for how we organize it, how we use it, how we leverage it, then it’s probably not going to serve us that well. And so I think the technology is table stakes, but the design, the empathy driven decision making, how we hold space for our team, how we motivate them and build enthusiasm, that stuff is what’s really going to push us over the edge because anyone can go buy the software off the shelf. But if we empower our teams to be phenomenal, then that’s where we can really be better than anyone. And if you think about how much money we spend on number one expense of any company, or employees, you look at the HR spend. It’s really sad, right? But this notion of like, how do we how do we make our employees better is always seen as a, as a cost center. And also I feel like HR has been kind of relegated and a lot of companies to just the, you know, they’re the someone curses in the meeting, you know, they have to go talk to HR or they’re the ones that handle the the signing up for insurance or PTO policy and these things are, you know, and it’s like, wow, I thought for years that there could be more and I’ve been really excited watching and seeing HR professionals start to show up at design things. In conferences and because it makes total sense to me, this notion of taking the tools that are used to make empathy, human driven decisions for products that humans use, it’s very much just obvious that you could turn those tools inward and use them on employee experience. So instead of user experience employee experience, and you know, while that’s not our specific target, the fact that we target meetings, and that we target creating better meeting and better work experiences, we’re kind of attacking one sliver of that. But I think HR groups should be looking very broadly at the employee experiences and how, how they can improve them, because the better a company is at creating those dynamics. Especially if you’ve done a good job hiring, you got the right people set them up for success.
Greg Lambert: I wanted to kind of wrap this up, because I’ve taken a look at the voltage control website, and you get a ton of really good content that’s out there, you get templates, you’ve got books, you get case studies, you get a blog, you gotta get your own podcast. And I have to say, your your equipment looks much, much, much better than ours. And the one thing I did want to mention, while I get you on the call here is I really love and appreciate the diversity of the guests that you It means guests in the the ideas that you have on the podcast, because that’s not an easy thing to do. I mean, it has to be intentional.
Douglas Ferguson: Absolutely.
Greg Lambert: But for those of us that are in the legal industry, where would you suggest if we go to your voltage control website, where where should we start?
Douglas Ferguson: Oh, yeah, I guess it really depends on the challenge. You know, like, again, coming back to the, the design process is first really thinking about what what it is that you you’re seeking help on, I think that certainly the templates are a decent place to start, if there’s any experience running meetings and facilitating, and then those are just totally ready to use, I would say the resources section is kind of like assuming that people are, are a bit more experienced. That said, we have a guide at the top of that resources page called the it’s the guide to virtual meetings. And I think there’s a lot of really practical advice there. And, you know, one thing that I’m noticing with a lot of folks is that, you know, zooms pretty intuitive. And so when people download it and install it and get a little bit comfortable about where the buttons are in the stuff, they’re like, Okay, we got virtual meetings down. And so I would encourage folks just to think a little bit broader, about how, how virtual meetings can be different. So the virtual meeting guides really great. We’ve also been co producing a series of modules with mural. And so I’ve been going live talking about those modules every other week. And so this next week, we’re launching the fifth module in that series will be the final one. There’s a lot of great content and those modules around how to get started. And we’ve even our focus was for folks that are just starting to learn how to do visual thinking, how to use tools like mural, specifically mural in their, in their meetings. And so these, these templates were meant to be approachable for anybody, because I think a lot of folks see the design thinking stuff, and they’re like, oh, where do I start? To get a degree in this stuff? Like these words don’t make any sense. So we were we were creating some really simple stuff, just to just for teams to start exploring some of this stuff together. So highly encouraged to check those templates out there. They’re on our website under the resources section. And of course, you know, people could fill out a form on our site with with a challenge, and we’re happy to offer some advice up if folks are interested in we have a monthly newsletter, full updates on all the content that’s coming out, and little tidbits and things that are helpful. So you know, definitely, definitely find us. We’re totally willing to help you on the journey.
Marlene Gebauer: Great. Well, thank you, Douglas. It’s it’s been this has been a great conversation, and I’ve really learned a lot and thank you again. Yeah.
Douglas Ferguson: Thanks. Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Greg Lambert: Marlene, I really like the idea that Douglas had about making commitments at the end of the meetings rather than assigning action items, I hate action items, although I do request them every at the end of every meeting, okay, what’s our action items? You know, also to follow up the meeting with these micro commitments that he was talking about to build and help accomplish the actions that you’ve committed to in the in the meeting? I think that’s just a great way of looking at it and owning it, as he said, rather than just having a to do list of things, you know, maybe maybe to complete before the next meeting, so, and I also liked how he was talking about thinking of meetings, as many retreats instead of meetings that that really appealed to me.
Marlene Gebauer: Yeah. So I liked all of the things that you mentioned. But I also like the idea of like, okay, we’re going to come to the meeting, we’re going to actually do the work in the meeting. Yeah. Okay. Not just talk about the work that we’re going to do. We’re going to actually do it, and use that time to do it and work together to me that that makes perfectly good sense. And I don’t know why we didn’t think of that earlier.
Greg Lambert: Yeah. I think one of the things we missed was if we’re going to do the work at the meeting, I think everyone should check their cell phones at the door.
Marlene Gebauer: Mm hmm. Off turns off,
Greg Lambert: Once again, thanks to Voltage Controls Douglas Ferguson for joining us today.
Marlene Gebauer: Before we go, we want to remind listeners to take the time to subscribe on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts, rate and review us as well. If you have comments about today’s show, or suggestions for a future show, you can reach us on Twitter at @gebauerm or @glambert. Or you can call the Geek in Review hotline at 713-487-7270 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org And as always, the music you hear is from Jerry David DeCicca. Download the new album!!
Greg Lambert: Yeah. Thanks, Jerry. All right, Marlene, I will talk with you later.
Marlene Gebauer: Okay, bye bye, Greg.