Tips for CEOs (and other Leaders): Calibrate Before Engagement

Calibrating the screen using difference-pictur...

Calibration process for picture imaging.

Like a number of other smart tips – think “close cover before striking” for matches, or “lock hood before driving” for cars – a simple prep step or two can save you lots of time, and in many cases avoid disaster.

Here’s one more; “calibrate before engagement.

In the land of abundant management attention deficits, what you’re trying to achieve, or even what information you know when working with others, is often choppy.

Instead of time wasted unraveling what you thought was understood after the fact, take 2-5 minutes at the start of any engagement to do two simple things:

  1. State the purpose of what’s going on (e.g. “Where here to decide when we’ll target the launch of the new product, and what the critical dependencies are that will impact – potentially change – that target launch date.“)
  2. State briefly the knowledge that everyone should have about the issue (e.g – “Here are the five things that we know and what they mean to this project.”)

While these are simple steps, they’re not simplistic. While John Galsworthy noted, “Beginnings are always messy,” they don’t have to be – and rather a messy beginning than a messy ending.

More errors are caused by misinterpretation and miscommunication. Dale Carnegie’s estimate of the miscommunication error rate? 90%. Anyone nosing around a hospital or a boardroom knows that early missteps (Whoa! Guess that market was only $20 million, not $1 billion) are the ones that trip up your career or kills you.

A former mentioned last week that this one little piece of advice I gaver her – calibrate before engagement – was one of the best pieces of management advice anyone had ever offered. While the context was planning for what turned out to be a highly successful 80-person  global Finance retreat (“Let’s get everybody on the same information and purpose page before we ask them to do something we’ll implement“), my former colleagues been using the facilitation trick at the start of any meeting with high success.

That’s no small accomplishment in her world, where the intricacies of international finance tax codes mean small mistakes can snowball into big problems.

Mark Twain noted “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.” The same applies to any any work you do with anyone else – where are we going, what do we know?

So the free valuable advice?

Start conversations, meetings, off-sites – engagements in other words –  with two easy steps; what are we here for, and what do we all need to commonly know to move forward.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.
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