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Having a great vision does not guarantee success, but not having one almost universally guarantees failure. If you don't have clarity of what you're trying to accomplish, it's almost impossible to succeed at what you're trying to accomplish.

In this episode

How can you almost guarantee failure? 

By not having a clear vision. 

On episode #114, Chris Williams, former Microsoft Vice President of Human Resources, shares the power of clarity and vision. 

Chris was responsible for 32,000+ employees, a $2.2 billion a year payroll, over $300 million a year in benefits, and led 1,000+ HR employees worldwide. He worked directly with Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, and the board of directors.

Chris shares feedback’s half-life and why instantaneous feedback is best. 

He also explains why he dislikes regular team meetings and when meetings should be scheduled. 

Tune in to hear all about Chris’s leadership journey and the lessons learned along the way!


Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the podcast with your colleagues.


03:47

Chris’s management story

12:33

Chris on Tiktok

14:42

Clarity of vision

20:43

Applying the company vision to your department

24:28

Vision versus values

28:02

Transparency around decision making

30:04

Half-life of feedback

35:19

Reasons why people have meetings

44:15

Batched communication debate

51:02

Taking off the leadership mask


Resources


Transcript

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  01:12

Chris, welcome to the show.

Chris Williams (Advisor)  03:49

Hi, it’s good to see you again.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  03:50

Yeah, it’s really fun. We have seen each other a few times in the last few weeks and very excited to have you on the show. You’ve had such an interesting background. And I know that you told me the story, the last time we chatted, but I’d love for you to walk people through because I think it’s just fascinating like all the different experiences you’ve had and the rise up the ranks while you were at Microsoft. So we’d love for you to just tell us the story of like how you ended up learning and becoming a thought leader in the management space and just becoming interested in the topic.

Chris Williams (Advisor)  04:26

It begins incredibly early. I had had a wide variety of jobs as a kid, I’d worked in a charity factory I did a bunch of different things but my first full time job I had taken a hiatus from college. I took a job with a car stereo company installing car stereos had a deep passion for cars and stereos so I was installing car stereos and about six weeks into it the head of the entire chain who was a chain of like six or eight stores comes to me and goes can you go fire Billy over there or I can’t remember what his name was. And I said I’m just he’s appeared Right. And he said, Well, yeah, but you’ve got the gift of gab, go fire him. And so I pulled him aside. And I said, Sorry, I think it’s done. And he packed up his stuff and left, and I go back and the head of the thing is go, you are great. This is amazing. And I’m like, But wait, I had a manager, and then he worked for you. And how come neither of you would do it. And that led to about a year in which I was transferred from store to store to fire

05:24

people, Oh, my God, that’s crazy. And I was 18. Oh, my God,

Chris Williams (Advisor)  05:29

I immediately learned that leadership matters, right. And having strength of mind and your character. And being able to lead is an important thing. I then went on and got a degree in computer science. My first job outside of computer science, or getting a degree was at a large market research firm. And within, I don’t know, maybe six months, I was made the head of the systems management responsible for all the computers in this mid size market research firm, including managing people who were many years, my senior, and most of them, the I was 22, or three, and there were people who were easily twice my age, the third shift guy we have calculated at one point was three times my age. So I ended up learning really early on that leadership is about communication. And leadership is about making sure that you know and understand your team. One of the things that stuck out to me very early on, I was thinking about it, as I was looking over the questions you had was knowing your team in great detail. And there was this one woman who worked for me whose name was Greta, and Greta was probably in her mid 50s. At that point, one of the best COBOL programmers I’d ever known in my life. She knew her way around anything. And very, very early on, I realized that if there was a problem, the person you went to was Greta and say, Well, you know what’s up? And how does this work and my recognition of her skill and her ability really softened to the fact that I was her manager, right and controlling what she was supposed to be doing on a day to day basis. She really understood that I respected her. So anyway, I did that job. I had my own software consulting firm. I did all kinds of interesting things. I helped GM put their first robots in their factories. I helped Johns Manville diagnose the problem with the space shuttle tiles when the Challenger disaster happened. And I did a bunch of interesting things and then went to go work, I sold my company to help build FoxPro, which was the first high performance PC database system, and myself and five other people wrote that product. And pretty soon, it got on Microsoft’s radar because they were trying to do PC database and had failed in several attempts. So they bought us mostly to acquire the talent. That was another thing that was fascinating to me at the time, they spent a fortune for our company, and really didn’t care about the product. They were buying the people and which was fascinating to me. And when I got to Microsoft, I was a kid in a candy store. This was at a time in which the company was growing, doubling in size every year. And there were management opportunities everywhere. And I almost immediately took leadership roles in all kinds of different places. I ended up leading teams in Seattle, and Dublin and Tokyo and all around the world, eventually rose to be responsible for software development best practices across the entire company. And that was absolutely fascinating because I got a view of how the teams that were building Word and Excel and windows and SQL Server and all those products were working and what worked and what didn’t work. I was there when Bob, which I don’t know if you remember Microsoft, Bob, but it was an entire disaster. And I did comprehensive research on what was the difference between these projects that were successful and the projects that weren’t. And it came down to leadership and visions. If you had a project that had a clear, crisp vision, it was almost always successful if you had a project that never had a vision of any kind or was a machi vision, or it almost always failed. And that was just stunningly fascinating to me. I then was was one of my old friends at the company came to me and said, rather than talking about this, why don’t you do it. So he put me responsible for bringing together seven of the most divided teams in the company that were the oldest company are the oldest products that the company including basic, which was the company’s very first product, put them together and create a single product out of it. And within a year I had a team of 500 people we had built Microsoft Visual Studio and it had sold $100 million in its first year. And so I’m like okay, you know, I’ve punched my ticket. I should be done. Thank you very much. The stock had risen. Oh, I was doing okay, I should leave. And my HR person came to me and said, You should be in HR. And I said, You should be committed. You know what kind of a person who would go from this huge success to go into HR? And she said, No, you have this deep passion for leadership and organizations and that stuff you wrote about why teams work and stuff that is amazing. You should be in HR. So I went and was responsible for HR for the third of the company that built the products. And then one day, my boss, the VP of HR came in and said, Remember when you said you wanted my job? I said, Yeah, you know, that’s what we always say in an interview. He said, How about Thursday, and I was made VP of HR for the whole company by Steve Ballmer when he took over as CEO. And so I was responsible for 32,000 employees, and 160 places around the world. My signature was on $2.2 billion worth of paychecks every year, it was a crazy, huge job. So I got this enormous opportunity, again, to see across an entire organization and what mattered and leadership and what didn’t. And when I left Microsoft, after spending time in that role, I found that it was just a blast to go to small businesses and startups and I was on the board of a nonprofit for 20 years and helped lead that and it was absolutely fascinating to be able to leverage these kinds of lessons I learned about leadership throughout my entire life, across just a broad range of businesses.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  11:29

What an incredible story. And there’s a lot that I want to dig in on about some of the things that you said about what makes some teams successful and others not. But recently, you’ve also I think, you were mentioning to me that during the pandemic, you picked up a hobby on Tik Tok. And now you’ve become this tick tock influencer, and you have like millions of views and everybody on the internet is getting your management advice in bite sized chunks, which is just incredible. For people who haven’t checked it out, how do they follow you on tick tock?

Chris Williams (Advisor)  12:01

You can look for the CEO will I was known as CEO will since I was very young CL w i l l. Unfortunately, that name was taken on several social media platforms. There’s actually as it turns out, a famous Chris Williams, who’s an actor, there was a famous Chris Williams, who was a rock star who apparently took his own life many years anyway, so but the CLL th e CL will, is how you find me on LinkedIn, on Instagram, on Facebook and on tick tock. As you noted, The Tick Tock story is a little interesting. I was like many people during the pandemic, just trolling through tick tock and notice that there was a lot of people giving leadership advice that was, let’s just say not the best leadership advice, or a lot of it was just read out of books, it was people who’d read some book, and then we’re doing a tech talk about it. And not a lot of it was based in anybody who had any actual experience doing leadership. So a friend I made on the app said you should post tiktoks. And I, again said you shouldn’t be committed, what a crazy thing to do. And she eventually convinced me to do it. And it started just over four months ago. And as of today, I’ve got 146,000 followers, I get on average, about a million and a half views a week, I have two videos that have over 2 million each. And it’s been a blast, best part about tick tock, I mean, it’s obviously great for people because they get a lot of things. But for me, the best part is about how it has forced me to crystallize any message I’m talking about. And that’s one of the things that I think is incredibly powerful for leaders as well, is just learning, I had to figure out how to communicate an incredibly complicated problem, how to lead a team, or how to hire people well, or whatever, in 60 to 90 seconds. And when you’re given that kind of timeframe. It’s amazing what you can do if you really work at it. And it was just invigorating, you know, electrifying for me, to have that restraint. That caused me to be more creative, and more concise. As you can tell from this interview, I’m a talker. And to be able to say something in 90 seconds is just really hard and more fun than I’ve had in a long, long time.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  14:25

Yeah, it’s incredible. We are all fans. And that’s why I was so excited to have you on this show. Not only is the advice really good, but also you make it so entertaining. It’s very clear, like you said, but it’s also very entertaining. At the same time you don’t get bored watching it which is just incredible to tie these two concepts together. So one thing you said is what Tiktok does, it forces you to be clear. And when you were talking about your experience at Microsoft, you said that the thing that was different between teams that were successful and those that weren’t clarity of vision was one of the things that really made a difference. So tell us a little little bit more about vision and how to make your vision clear. And you know, if I’m a leader of an organization or a department, how do I know that my team thinks the vision is clear that I have clarity? Like, how do you diagnose if you’re doing well in this area? Or what does great look like?

Chris Williams (Advisor)  15:16

Well, there’s a couple of things. I mean, the first thing I have said from the very beginning, is that having a great vision does not guarantee success, but not having one almost universally guarantees failure. So if you don’t have clarity of what you’re trying to accomplish, it’s almost impossible to succeed at what you’re trying to accomplish. If you have clarity about what you’re trying to accomplish, there’s a whole lot of things in the world that can break that right. You cannot have the resources you need the right people, environment can conspire against you. But without it, you almost certainly will fail. For me, the clarity thing is a couple of things. First of all, it’s got to be crisp. In other words, if you have a vision that has seven or 10 bullet points, you’re in trouble, right? Because someone is going to be looking at point seven and trying to decide whether point three or point seven is more important. It really needs to be one, two, at most three things, but preferably one. That is really what you’re trying to accomplish, it’s got to be really crisp, and you need to reject those other things can be sort of ancillary, and whatnot. But that cannot be the driving factor about which you’re going to make decisions. And it cannot be the Northstar that you’re going to head towards. The other thing is it has to be measurable, and don’t necessarily mean, you have to be able to put a number on it. But you need to be able to judge where you are in the process, you need to be able to say I’m halfway to my Northstar, I’m three quarters of the way to my north, I’m almost, and you need to be able to look beside you and gauge whether or not you really are making progress against it or not. If it is just we’re going to be the most efficient software in the world. define those terms. What does efficient mean? How do you define that? How do you measure it? Who do you measure against what is your benchmark. And if you have those things, then the team as a whole can look up and say, Oh, we’re at 17%, we’re at 19%, or at 22%. That’s key. So once you’ve created the vision, though, the most important thing about it is to actually use it, communication of it is incredibly important, but you have to use it. And while we’re on communication, one of the side steps I see a lot of leaders make is they will decide on what the vision is for something and they will go and they will do a big presentation to the whole team. And then they’ll do a couple of group presentations. And they will, you know, tada, this is what we’re headed for this is our vision. And they will feel like they’ve said it 15 times, and so they’re done. And what they don’t realize is nobody hears anything until they hear it three or four times. And if you’ve got a large team, that means you need to say it over and over and over again. And you need to mention it whenever you’re having a meeting with someone you need to say remember, this is where we’re headed, and you need to use it in people’s performance reviews, you need to talk about it all the time. But you also need to use that vision. And that’s when it becomes real. When you make a decision about something in a project, you’re the leader of the thing. And people come to you should I choose A or B, you need to say to yourself the vision says we should do a. But you also need to outloud tell people that the vision is how I made that choice, you need to be able to say I chose a because it more aligns with our vision. And it gets us further along the path to where we’re trying to go with our vision. That’s why I chose a over b, you need to say that out loud and very clearly. And if you do that enough, what happens is those people will go to their teams, and they will make decisions based on the vision, they will say the same thing. It will ripple its way down in the organization. And people start making clear decisions based on the vision. And what you’ve done then is delegated the vision all the way down through the organization. So the people at the bottom will say I don’t know if I should do X or Y and they’ll go well, but this one is the one that aligns with the vision. So I don’t even need to ask anybody. I’ll just do that one because it’s the right choice. And it gives people empowerment, it gives people a sense of where they’re going. It aligns everybody, because you’re using the vision in actuality. The other thing I think people miss is they don’t use the vision all the time. You can use the vision in your marketing. You can use the vision in your internal performance reviews, you can use it in your hiring. One of the things about a great vision is that it makes hiring easier because when you sit down with a candidate you can say this is what we’re trying to do. Isn’t that interesting and exciting and they can ask you questions about that and they can decide whether they’re on board with that vision. You can use visions to fire people look, you keep making choices that are completely antithetical to our vision. So it’s time for us to part company, you can use it all over the place, you can use it to make business decisions. I mean, obviously, right? We’re going to open this store, we’re not gonna open that store, we’re going all of those things, if you just constantly use the vision and focus on the vision, it makes all the difference in the world. And I’ve seen that in. It’s particularly obvious in software, but I’ve seen it in retail business that I was working with, once they finally clarified who they were and what they were doing all kinds of things got easier and more clear.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  20:40

Yeah, that’s incredible. So many great points in there. One of the questions I had is, I think it makes sense if you’re a founder of a company, if you’re a CEO, it makes sense to have a vision. But this probably comes into play for if you’re a department leader, and even if you’re, you know, first line manager of a team, right?

Chris Williams (Advisor)  20:59

Yep. The problem when I talk about visions for some people is that they say exactly what you say, oh, you know, I know what our company’s vision is. But I don’t, you know, as the finance guy, I don’t know how this vision really impacts me or whatever. But every single organization can have a clarity of what their vision is. And the way I recommend these lower level managers decide what their vision is, is to sit down and write down the 10, or 12, things that are their objectives in the organization. So the finance guy said, we’re going to be more efficient about processing invoices, we’re going to cut down our interest expenses we’re going to do, right, and they write down the six things that are part of their financial objective. And they decide which are the one or two of those things that are going to be the Northstar that are going to be the thing that they’re going to know you can focus on one this year and one next year and a different one than next year. But you got to have a fairly narrow, crisp vision, otherwise, people are just wandering around. So in any organization at any level can do that, figure out what you’re trying to do pick out the one or two that are really, really important. And then be just abundantly clear that this is where we’re going, this is where we’re going, this is where we’re going and make your decisions based on that thing. So any part of an organization can have a vision, it doesn’t have to be some lofty thing created by the marketing company and put on a t shirt, it can be a vision for every single level of leadership,

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  22:27

who should be involved in creating the vision? It’s an

Chris Williams (Advisor)  22:31

interesting thing, because I’d love to say everybody, right? But the problem is what you get is a cacophony. So I think it can be pretty good to get a lot of opinions and figure out what people think should be. But I really think somebody has to edit, somebody has to clear. And so I usually think it’s the leader with their direct reports, who is the one who can call and figure out exactly what the vision needs to be. One of the ways you can safety valve that is, once you’ve got one that you think is what you want to do. I’m a big fan of going out and testing it right and going to the people who are a few levels down and saying, hey, you know, this is what we’re thinking about, what do you think, and smell, test it and see if they think it’s okay, or make sense or whatever. But I think trying to lead a large organization, particularly with several levels of organization by consensus is difficult, because many of the people at the lower levels don’t see the strategic objectives or the strategic timeframe that you might see at a higher level. So it’s important to make sure it smell tests and feels good and people can get behind it. But I don’t know that you want to try and go through some sort of poll or that sort of thing to figure out what the best is.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  23:50

I agree with you. This is one of the things that it’s often said it’s at least for startup companies, it is a founders job to come up with a vision because people will look at the vision and they’ll decide should I join this company? Or not? Like is this a vision that I’m passionate about? And like you said, you can use it for everything down the funnel from that to for performance reviews for making decisions? I love what you said about decisions? How can you make sure that everybody makes decisions in alignment? Well, if you have a clear vision, then you can get everybody making decisions based on the same set of principles and the same direction of where people are going. So I think that’s incredibly valuable. Exactly. While we’re on this topic, there is this other philosophy around vision. My question is, how different is vision than values? For example, because if you’re using the vision to make decisions, very often people talk about using values to make decisions as well. Are these two intertwined? Are they really very different things? Well,

Chris Williams (Advisor)  24:52

I have a problem with the use of values largely because and I did a video about it. One of the problems with value uses that people will present you with this list of 200 words honesty, integrity, faithfulness,

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  25:06

and everyone has one on ownership. That’s every company ever

Chris Williams (Advisor)  25:10

recently, I was looking at this list of 230 values. And there was like two, that I didn’t think were important, right or that I didn’t think were valuable. So what I think is important is less values than it is priorities. A, it is much more important for me for an organization to be able to, for one of a better term stack rank their values than it is to be able to list them. Right. So I mean, you know, everybody should have ownership, everybody, you know, safety is our number one priority. I mean, companies have all these things. But what matters is you need to be able to say, I’m sitting here trying to make a decision. And I cannot make that decision, because the two things are on two different values. I don’t know which one to choose, right. So you need to be able to say customers are more important. Customer Relationships are more important than money. Safety is more important than profits, there needs to be a set of priorities that are clear, so that people can make those hardcore decisions. Now, you know, to be honest, yes, a list of core values is not a bad thing. These are the three or four things that drive those things. But if those values don’t line up with the priorities, then it’s just noise, right. And in fact, one of the problems I have with people who list this laundry list in no 11 values, is that they very often don’t live them. And so people start to think that not only Well, their value, they don’t obviously, they don’t think integrity is important, because they just did x, right. And people start to diss the leadership, because they’re not living this list that they said was their core values, right? And I think if you have a list of priorities, it’s much easier to say, look, I specifically chose customer relationships over profit in this scenario, and here is why I specifically chose being honest to this customer, over making more money with this customer, because that’s who we are. If people see that, and they see those. This is again, one of those cases where if you explain why and how you made the decision, it’s really in most cases, hard to argue with the decision. Okay, I see what I understand why you made that choice. Cool, I get it. But I really recoil it. There are all kinds of people who have these values workbooks, where you’re supposed to go in and list your values. And, ah,

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  27:39

hey there, just a quick pause on today’s episode to let you know that we’d really appreciate you helping us spread the word about the Supermanagers podcast, if you’re enjoying what you’re hearing so far, dial into your podcast app of choice, whether that’s on Apple, or Android or Spotify. And just leave us a quick review. Now back to the interview. I really like what you’re saying, particularly because it just goes back to this clarity point of view, right, which is I’ve worked at organizations where some decision has been made. And I’ve been to senior leaders at such organization. And even I don’t know why it was made. And then people are asking me, Hey, why this happen? And I can pretend I know. But I don’t I it doesn’t make sense to me either. But if it was very clear, and people use the values, and nobody can argue against that, because these are the values we know that these are the values this is how we make decisions based on them. And

Chris Williams (Advisor)  28:34

I’m a huge fan of even an ugly decision is transparent. We made this decision because we needed to cut $100 million off the bottom line. We didn’t we had no choice. We I mean, look, I’d much rather have that frankness of clarity. You know, look, this is a pure money problem, right? Our investors will no longer accept the fact that we lost $100 million last year, we got to find $100 million off the bottom line. I was forced to do this. Here’s what the decision here were the decision points we made. I think if you’re open and honest with people like that, at least they understand it. If you come out with some statement that is filled with Mark, HR speaky, kind of you know, run through the marketing, grist mill, everybody just goes Cathy’s people can’t even tell me I’m their employee. They can’t even be honest with me. All the trust just can poof, disappear in a minute. Yeah, so even an ugly decision. You just got to be open about it.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  29:36

This is very true. And especially these days where there’s a lot of these big decisions like that being communicated. I think this transparency is super important. We’ve watched

Chris Williams (Advisor)  29:46

several people do it on Zoom. And we there’s these videotapes of these people doing these just absolutely cringe worthy things on Zoom. And if they were just real to their employees, they wouldn’t not have made it onto the nightly news, right?

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  30:02

Yeah, it’s super important stuff. I know that you coach, very senior leaders in very important organizations, lots of CEOs, lots of very senior folks. And one of the things that I know you talk a lot about is just the concept of feedback. And there’s this term that you use, which I thought was very creative. And I thought it was like a really good phrase for people to learn. And it’s just a phrase of the halflife of feedback. I’d love for you to explain this concept and how it applies.

Chris Williams (Advisor)  30:36

Well, when I first started thinking about this, the example I used, my daughter came to me and said, Stop using that example. But I’m going to use it nonetheless. Which is, if you’ve ever had a puppy, or any kind of a dog, you know, or something like that, and you come home three hours later, and they’ve pooped on the rug, smacking them with a rolled up newspaper does nothing, right? They have no idea why you’re mad at them, right. And the same thing is true with an employee if you sit down with an employee at their annual review, and say, Remember back in February, when we left that meeting, and you said something stupid to the VP? And yeah, I guess, I mean, but I don’t remember it that way. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that feedback does, in fact, have a halflife. If you think about it, if I pull you aside after that meeting where you said something that was not what we wanted to say to the VP or whatever. And I said, Hey, Chris, that wasn’t necessarily the best way to put that perhaps you should have put it like this. There’s very little fog in the air about that. You know what I’m talking about? We both just are feeling in the moment what oh, yeah, you’re right, I stepped in it, I shouldn’t have done that, that probably was wrong, I can be clear, you can hear it, you know not to do that again, right. So you won’t do that next week. But if I save it for the annual review, you will likely will have done the same thing 33 more times before the annual review. But the other thing that is really important is that everybody’s perception of that meeting will be different. And it gets worse over time. So I will remember that meeting, because you said something stupid, and my impression of that meeting will go down and down. You may remember that meeting because it was your one chance to get in front of the VP. And you will think it was went pretty well. And yeah, I said that one thing, but who cares, right? So our perception of that meeting will differ more over time, I will start to see it with rose colored glasses, you will start to see it would like everything was wrong. And the reality was much closer to something that we both could agree on. So I am a huge fan, the rule I posted was a one sunset rule. You should never let more than one sunset go by before giving feedback. So my preference is when you walk out of that meeting, you pull the person aside and say, Hey, that wasn’t the right way to do it. My second preference is, you know, later that day, when the meeting is over, you send an email that says, hey, you know, maybe we should talk about that that didn’t go as well as we thought. The Fallback is the next day you say, Hey, can I talk to you for a minute, we should talk about the meeting and what happened yesterday. But if it’s next week, and you know, I say hey, remember that meeting last week? What meeting? Oh, no, the one with the No, but wait, that didn’t go the way I thought it was fine. What was the matter? Right? So I like saying you should have no more than one sunset between the feedback and the event. You can go home and sleep on it. And the next morning, you can come back and give them feedback about it. But two or three sunsets later, that ship has sailed. And maybe you can make a note about it and think about it. But instantaneous feedback is the best feedback because it’s clear. And it’s also not, you know, as I said, fogged by our impression over time,

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  34:08

when you think about it from that lens, which is I want to deliver this feedback. But if I want it to be really effective, it should happen sooner. And if I’m going to give the feedback anyway, I might as well get the maximum effectiveness from it. And if I give it you know, if I wait three days, it’s going to be half as useful, for example, then it’s just not a way that one would want to approach it. I do think sometimes for me, depending on who it is and what the context of the feedback is, I might need 24 hours just to think about the right words to use and how to

Chris Williams (Advisor)  34:39

use the one sunset deal because I think very often pulling somebody aside after a meeting I’m really upset right? And I don’t wait I don’t want that to happen. So you know, sleeping on it and coming back the next day and saying okay, like in the cold light of day. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was but it was nowhere near as good as you thought it was. We should get together on this, but again after that kind of time, it just starts to feel like, again, it gets into that. Remember that meeting when we talked about the thing on Tuesday and the thing didn’t work like we? None of that’s clear. It doesn’t help you’re smacking the dog three hours later. Yeah,

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  35:15

no, no, I agree. I think that is a very good way to put it. You mentioned the word meetings. So I know this is a hot topic for you. And you were just telling me that yesterday, you posted a five minute Tic Toc, which is the first time that you’ve done a five minute tic toc. And it seems to be going really, really well. And what is it about meetings that you don’t like? And why do you think people should meet, if at all?

Chris Williams (Advisor)  35:42

So here I am talking to the meeting, dude. So I know, I need to be careful. But I actually think you will endorse my core premise. And my core premise and my passion about meetings, whether they are group meetings, or one on ones or whatever, is that they should be exactly at the right time. And they should include exactly the right people. And my biggest pain is this group that meet every week, you know, they have a whole group meeting every week to go over stuff. And to be brutally honest, I am not at all a big fan of the scrum technology of having a daily stand up meeting. I think it’s almost never the right time. It particularly one of my examples was so I have my weekly meeting on Thursday, Thursday morning, and Thursday afternoon, some issue comes up. And so do I wait till next Thursday? Do I schedule another meeting on Friday, do I our clock based meeting is almost never at the right time. And a whole group meeting is almost never the right people. Right? It’s usually got people in there who could not care less about this issue. And sometimes it doesn’t have people in it that you could care more about. So in the five minute video that I just did, I said, look, there are three reasons. And actually three and a half reasons why people meet, the number one reason that I see is people doing status updates. So that’s where they go around the room. And everybody tells what they’re working on and how they’re doing and whatnot. And my comment is that in the year 2022, if you are doing meetings where you are going around the room reflecting status, you should be not be in a leadership position. There are 1000 better ways to transmit status. And it can be everything from a whiteboard, and a post it note and a or a Slack channel or Trello, and JIRA, and Monday or your CRM system, you know, Salesforce or SAP, or all of those things have ways for everybody to indicate what they’re working on what the status of it is, and where they are with it. And the neat part about it is that’s real time. So if I’m updating my status, you know, I’ve just finished working on this thing, and I’d spend three seconds and I tag that I’m done with it. And I move on. Anybody who wants to know where that is, day or night, 24 hours a day without having to wait for the Thursday meeting knows the status of that project, right? So status updates, if you are doing a weekly meeting where everybody goes, you should not be doing that. Let’s just get clear, right? The second reason people meet is because they’ve got some kind of a challenge, right? So it is either some kind of somebody’s faced a blocker, somebody’s got some complex problem, they can’t figure out you need creativity from the team. We’re trying to figure out how to design this user interface or this new widget we’re trying to build or whatever. But But here again, those things don’t wait for the weekly meeting. I don’t get a blocker and then wait for the next Thursday we or wait for tomorrow morning’s meeting, right? Why shouldn’t I be able to, I’ve got a blocker, it’s 10 o’clock in the morning, I should be able to find out who I can address that Blocker with and deal with at the time. It also is almost never the right people in that room, right? If I’ve got everybody in the room, and I’ve got a blocker, it’s probably booked three people in the group of 20, or whatever, who could address that blocker? Who could help me with that blocker who could figure it out of the 20 people in that room. There’s probably only six or eight who could help me with a creative problem, right? So when you’ve got a challenge, again, it’s this right time, right? People think you should address it as soon as you can. And you should get exactly the right people in the room. And this is where it goes to my passion for managers and leaders as connection machines. If you’re a good leader and you know your organization, like I knew Greta Hall abaa. For example, when I was a young manager, I knew who to go to so if there’s some kind of a blocker and issue or something comes up the manager the leader can make sure that the right people are in that meeting and you have this little quick ad hoc meeting. to figure out that blocker, and it’s got it happens exactly when it needs to happen. And it’s got the three people in the room who can address that block, not the whole team, trying to understand you know, I don’t care about that blocker, right half of the team is going God, I’d rather die than talk about that blocker. Right. So that’s to the third thing is milestones. Those are, you know, the big milestone events, that is a project kickoff, a success meeting a post mortem for a treasure, you know, retrospective, sprint retrospective, if you must, whatever it is, these are milestones where the organization has reached some kind of a milestone. And that is the perfect case, for an all group meeting, that’s when everybody needs to be in the same room, they all need to hear the same message, or they all need to be able to get a chance to be heard. So those milestones, those are important. But those milestones don’t happen every week, you’re not going to have a milestone meeting every week, right? You’re going to have them when they happen when the project is kicking off when the project failed when you’re right. So here again, the right time is when it happens. But the right people is probably the whole group. And that’s perfectly fine. And that whole group meeting, which is centered around a milestone is one of those things that builds a team, they are all together, they are either all working the problem together for a project that went south or they are all celebrating the success of a project when it was successful, or they’re all rallying behind the kickoff of our project. That is when you’re building a team and the camaraderie that you thought you were building in your weekly meeting, right? Your weekly meeting was just making people frustrated and angry. But if you do it around a milestone, there’s a reason for people together, get together and do it. And that’s what builds a team. And then the fourth half reason is that in some industries, meetings are required by law, right? There’s some construction businesses that are required to meet every morning and what and I can’t, I’m sorry, I can’t help you there. But so those are my thoughts. And it all centers back around to this idea that I think meetings should be exactly when they should happen. And exactly what the people who should be in the room no more no less, right? Weekly all group meeting is not that it’s none of those things, right?

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  42:21

Yeah, we do this thing at fellow which I think you will like, which is that for sort of like leadership meeting, the way that we tackle it is it’s in everyone’s calendars. So it is recurring. But it changes the topic changes and the people who are required to attend changes. So for example, if we’re dealing with something that it’s an issue, it’s an opportunity, it’s something that we’re working on, there’s a lot of written material in advance. And we’ll say like for this one, sales, and marketing and finance need to be there. And there’s written material in advance, everybody knows what they’re going, what we’re going to talk about all the materials read and commented on in advance. And then we meet to discuss and for everybody else, who’s part of the leadership team that may like this may be useful for we also record the meeting, we send out the notes, but they’re not required to attend. We very specifically say for every meeting here, the required folks here are the people that are not required. And most often, it’s just only the required people that attend and I like that idea only the people that must be there should be there. Because technology makes it so easy to communicate. There’s no reason for everyone to be there synchronously.

Chris Williams (Advisor)  43:32

I would argue that your use of a consistent time on the calendar is a way to ensure that some kind of time happens. I mean, if you follow my dictum of right time, right? People, you’re just defined how it’s the right people, the right time thing can be a problem, synchronizing people is difficult and hard, right? So by allocating a specific time, you are in some ways, ensuring that time does actually get allocated. So for me, it’s sort of a three quarters of the way to the right time solution. Right? It’s certainly better than just because it’s Wednesday at eight o’clock, right?

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  44:13

Yeah, so let’s debate this a little bit. So there’s this concept that I’ve been toying with, which is the idea of batched communication. The idea behind it is that I think most people tend to or in a lot of organizations, it’s like very interrupt driven, I’m working on something and I need to talk to someone about it. And I’m gonna go basically tap that person on the shoulder, distract them, get them out of focus, and just go kind of address that. And one thing that is solved by potentially saying that we’re going to, you know, batch this activity and say it’s, you know, Monday at 11am is that we know that there’s like this release valve where some things can plug into you know, that time slot. With that said, if something is you know, so important that it can’t wait then then obviously we should to address it, but most things are not urgent. And I think that by having a time where everyone set aside, there’s like this dedicated time for certain types of activities in this particular case like it’s this group meeting, I think he can help reduce interruptions and concentrate that kind of discussion. What do you think about that?

Chris Williams (Advisor)  45:21

I think I agree in practicality. I don’t know that I agree in principle, because one of the things and you and I were talking about this the other day, one of the things I would love it is if people could figure out what the priority of that interrupt is. So if somebody asked has just something, remember that thing you wrote six months ago, and I need to figure it out, right, that can be a low priority interrupt, and I will get to that later in the day. I mean, that’s one of the reasons why text messages are so much better than phone calls, which is why emails are better than many other things, right? Because I can get to it when I get to it, as long as you can guarantee me that you will eventually get to it. So batching, the meeting does, in some sense, make some sense. The one issue I have with a lot of people though, is the asynchronicity of our work environment is increasing dramatically. And if I say I’ve got an 11am meeting on Thursday, that’s fine, if we’re all in the same timezone. But if we’re not in the same time, you know, if I have an 8am meeting, and you got an 8am meeting, and you’re in the eastern time zone, that is five a frickin clock in the morning for me, and that’s really kind of a problem. And we haven’t even talked about Tokyo yet, that’s another 10 hours beyond, that’s just not going to happen, right? Either that or you’ve got you’re making your teams that are in other parts of the world do ridiculous timeframes, or you end up doing ridiculous timeframes yourself in order to write. So managing across those time zones. I’ve been doing that since the 80s. Right, I’ve managed in a long way. And that is one of those things that is incredibly difficult, right is to have all these people at different time zones. But one of the problems with the remote work world is that people are now having micro timezones in their own life. I’ve got to go pick up my kid at daycare, I’ll be back and I’m gonna put in my eight hours, but I got it, I have a 45 minute window when I die. I’m not going to be around for that meeting. And so then I got to figure out is that regular? And yes, you can probably figure out a time that works for everybody if they’re all in the same timezone. But you start adding multiple time zones and multiple people’s lives and how to make this work. And it gets to be complicated and forces me to think that asynchronicity is not something we should beat into submission by having a clock based meeting. But the we should figure out a better way to work with and I’m not fully certain exactly what I mean by that. As I said, when you and I talked about it before.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  47:51

Yeah, it definitely does get more complicated, especially now that we are changing. And it’s not just the timezone of the country that you work in. But it’s also like you said, your personal timezone of when you pick up the kids and when you do groceries. And yeah, it’s going to be interesting how this stuff plays out. I will ask you one more question about meetings since you were at Microsoft, I mean, like you said, 30,000 employees or something like that at the time, given all the things that you said about the recurring meetings? I’m curious at the, you know, leadership executive levels, you must have had recurring meetings, or you had them and how did it work for you at that level?

Chris Williams (Advisor)  48:29

Well, what was fairly interesting was, there was an ingrained, passionate disdain for large scale meetings, that made its way down from the top of the company. And so large group meetings were always treated as an exception, right? It was always an event. And it was more in this milestone thing. But there were the higher you go up in an organization, there are recurring strategic things that have to you know, budgets and that happen on a calendar. And that calendar is set a year in advance, you know, there’s quarters, and there’s we’re monthly reporting and whatever. And some of those meetings had to happen on the clock. And when I was there, we were just starting to appreciate that this meeting could have been an email. And so many of those housekeeping meetings, got replaced by emails now we were doing shared documents, but they weren’t live editable at the time. I mean, it was kind of but but we would put up all the documents related to a meeting and then send an email and people would look at them and whatever. And that often made the meeting that ended up having to happen be really short, as you said, everybody was up to it and whatever. But there were also meetings that got just replaced with an email and this was long enough ago that that phrase, this meeting could have been an email was Just a child at that moment, and we were learning how to do that, right? Oh my gosh, this meeting could have been an email. And so we started to do that. But again, the higher you go up in an organization, and I’m sure you’ve seen this, but the higher you go up, the more that every minute of your day is managed by someone else, right? Not you. It’s some clock on a wall that you have very little control over. I actually got around it. By having a superstar admin, she was stunning. And she defended my time, like, Gladiator. And so, and she was amazing at making meetings that didn’t need to happen have only the right people in them, or Chris doesn’t need to be in that meeting. You guys figure it out on your own. She said that at least 10 times a day. Chris doesn’t need to be there. You guys can figure this out. And she was right. And it was great.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  50:55

Yeah, it’s a good question where everyone should ask themselves, do I need to be there? Can these folks figure it out? Chris, we’re coming up on time. But we’ve talked about so many interesting concept. We’ve talked about the clarity of vision, feedback, HalfLife. We’ve talked about leaders being connection machines. And of course, we’ve talked about meetings. So the final question that we like to ask, and this is just, you know, curiosity for me, which is, for all the managers and leaders who are constantly looking to get better at their craft? Are there any final tips, tricks or words of wisdom that you would leave them with?

Chris Williams (Advisor)  51:31

Well, there’s a couple. One is, I don’t care what level you are, as a leader, you have self doubt. And you’re not sure if you really are up to this. And if people react to that in different ways, and some people react to it, by becoming softer and easier to work with and wanting to hear more from other people and trying to absorb what they can. And other people respond to it by putting up defenses and walls and demonstrate they’re in control and whatnot. And I have found routinely, that the people who fall into that latter category can almost always do better if they learn to listen better, particularly to their direct reports. If they have a policy where their direct reports can come in and sit down and tell them that they’re wrong, tell them that they disagree with something, you know, of course, disagree in private and agree in public once you’ve come up with an answer, but take off the mask of leadership, and the ability, particularly with your direct reports to be open and honest and listening and being able to take the feedback and and have them be able to come to you and say boy, you know, when in that meeting when you said that, that wasn’t great, you know, for them to be able to say the same thing to you that you might say to them, that changes everything. And I feel one of the reasons why people get that way again, is this. Nobody feels comfortable in there. I mean, every leader I’ve ever known, is worried about do they have everything under control. And more often than not, you know, some of the things they don’t and so as I said some people build the fences, and you need to let those down, particularly with the people who you work with, right? They need to be able to talk to you, frankly. And that’s a huge deal.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  53:23

That’s great advice, and a great place to end it. Chris, thanks so much for doing this.

Chris Williams (Advisor)  53:29

I had a blast. You and I have never had a conversation that I didn’t think was just so much fun. So this is great.

Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app)  53:35

Yeah, thanks for doing this. And of course, we’re gonna link to your tick tock account, highly recommend it even if you don’t use tick tock. I will go download Tiktok to listen to Chris. He’s that awesome. Thanks again, Chris.

Chris Williams (Advisor)  53:47

Thank you very much. Great to talk to you.

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