August 5. “Well done is better than well said.” (Ben Franklin)
When I was in High School, I had one of those “Murphy’s Law” posters on my bedroom door. It was a replacement for the ill-fated Buddy Bell poster, but that’s a story for another day. The “Murphy’s Law” poster started with the traditional “If anything can go wrong it will” statement, then proceeded to list 30 or so other statements of a similar nature. I am fairly certain that one of them was “When all is said and done, much more is said than done.” I don’t think any of the “laws” were attributed to anyone, so who may have said this one is a guess. This morning when I read this note from Ben Franklin, it reminded me of that poster.
I live in the corporate world at work. I go to a job in a building where there are a couple thousand other IT professionals. We have team rooms for over half of the building where small groups collaborate on assignments. The rest of the building is cubicles, offices and conference rooms. Down the road from my building there is another with a more modern set up. In that building there are much lower walls, and people sit right across from each other. It’s all in an effort to get people to talk to one another during the day and collaborate on assignments. In that building there are precious few conference rooms, which can make for a challenging environment when private discussions are needed.
On any given day, about 1/3 to ½ of my time is spent in some kind of a meeting. Sometimes they are working sessions, other times they are just gatherings to discuss status, issues, risks or changes to the project. What I am getting at is that a LOT gets said at work.
Much of the talking is very important. Discussing and setting the goals and objectives of a project help make sure that there are proper boundaries. Discussing what problems there are keeps people informed, and talking through the solutions helps make sure that the right solution to the problem is implemented. Having said that, there is most certainly an element of too much talking that happens at work, and not enough doing.
I do my best to fight this by only agreeing to partake in meetings where I am actually needed, and which will help further my project, or others in the company. Too often I see people in meetings who just should not be there. They either look bored, or they spend their time sitting in a conference room doing their email, or some other tasks, and not truly engaged in the meeting at hand. For them is minimizes the disruption of the meeting, but it can be distracting or even disrupting to the business at hand.
I often think of this existence as being a very modern problem. The idea of men and women in suits sitting in endless meetings feels very much like a phenomenon of the 20th century and beyond. But, apparently, some flavor of this problem existed way back in the 18th century, prompting this proverb from Ben Franklin.
I can spin up a very funny scene in my head of the Founding Fathers all gathered in a modern corporate conference room trying to frame the Declaration of Independence, and later the Constitution. Rather than seeing beautiful handwriting on parchment, I see endless PowerPoint slides projected on a screen. The beautiful prose of the Declaration, and the Preamble, all presented in some modern font, with plenty of bullet points. I imagine something along these lines:
For some reason that whole idea really makes me laugh this morning. But, I digress. The truth is that at work I can win the meeting, or I can deliver the goods, they aren’t always the same thing. I have seen many times when meetings were called, and magnificent results were documented. As people left the meeting there were smiles and handshakes. If the meeting was in the morning, perhaps lunch was up next. If it was at the end of the day people went to their happy lives. Then, in the days and weeks following, far less was accomplished than was documented at the meeting. The meeting was a success, but there wasn’t enough actual work done to bring it home.
This morning my reflection is not on whether or not there are too many meetings. That’s a battle for another day. Today I am reflecting on whether I am winning the meeting, and losing at the project. Am I tending to be great in the conference room, and failing somewhere in the execution. I do not think that I have a systemic problem in this area, but it is always a concern. So today my reflection is on making sure that I thoroughly follow up and deliver on the commitments made in meetings.