Sunday, March 3, 2019

Ways to Keeping Your Work Meetings on Track

When is the last time you were at a fantastic meeting? I would venture to say the majority of internal meetings are painful and expensive time sucks, especially if you consider the collective wages and time your organization is losing for however many people to sit around and talk.
How often do you regret going to your staff or management meetings?  Be honest. I have only worked in a few places where all the staff enjoyed and participated in meetings and worked as a team. 

Lately, I hate attending staff, management or planning meetings because the same people practice and rehearse different ways to derail the meeting and to never stop talking until they are certain that nothing has been accomplished. I keep waiting for the leadership to stop the nonsense, but it hasn't happened yet. 

Have you seen this behavior before? If not prepare yourself for a show of people that give new meaning to being obnoxious. They never stop talking and I keep wondering if they ever pause to ask themselves, why am I talking?

Here is a snapshot of W.A.I.T. - Why am I talking?
There are a few things that can be used to make your meetings better.
1. Stop derailment before it starts.
Results," Roger Schwarz recently wrote a guest blog for Harvard Business Review in which he said there are three things you can do to keep a meeting from going off-track.
First, spell out and get agreement on the purpose of each part of the meeting. If someone believes other issues need to be addressed they'll have the opportunity to say so instead of bringing them forward as rabbit trails once the meeting is rolling along.
"If it's not your meeting and there is no agenda, simply ask, 'Can we take a minute to get clear on the purpose and topics for the meeting to make sure we accomplish what you need?'" Schwarz writes.
Also, don't move to a new subject without properly closing out the prior one. Ask people if there's anything else that needs to be addressed regarding the topic. If someone isn't ready to move on, find out why not. Doing so lessens the chance they'll reintroduce the same subjects down the road.
And if you think someone is derailing a meeting, determine if they're doing it for a legitimate reason. Tactfully ask him or her how what they're talking about relates to the subject in question. Maybe there's a connection you or others hadn't considered.
2. Hold your stand-up meetings at 5 p.m.
Stand-up meetings aren't new, but making people do it at a time of day when they want to go home is an unconventional way to ensure a meeting doesn't stray off-course.
3. Make sure everyone is on the same page.  
LinkedIn has done away with in-meeting presentations because people can read them on their own. But CEO Jeff Weiner has some other strong beliefs about meeting etiquette. He stresses the importance of defining semantics. He writes:
It never ceases to amaze me how often meetings go off the rails by virtue of semantic differences. Picture a United Nations General Assembly gathering without the real-time translation headphones and you'll have the right visual. Words have power, and as such, it's worth investing time upfront to ensure everyone is on the same page in terms of what certain keywords, phrases, and concepts mean to the various constituencies around the table.  
Weiner says it's also important to identify one person to "keep the car on the road" by making sure the conversation remains relevant, no one dominates the discussion, and adjunct discussions are taken offline.
4. Agree on rules and have them enforced by an issue-neutral person.
The worst offenders when it comes to derailing meetings are ramblers, bores, show-offs, latecomers, naysayers, time wasters, and minutia-minders, writes Charlie Hawkins, president of Seahawk Associates, an Albuquerque, New Mexico-based management resource for strategic planning, idea generation, and communications effectiveness.
The first thing to do, he says, to agree on ground rules. For example, your team could agree that meetings will start and end on time, a prioritized agenda will be followed and no side conversations are allowed. You could even make a rule that chronic latecomers will be tasked with facilitating the next meeting.
Then, when ramblers ramble, someone can raise the agenda rule. Use some kind of parking lot--board, paper or another mechanism--for capturing side issues that can be addressed at a later time. And you can appease attention-seekers or derailers by giving them a job, such as a timekeeper.
Hawkins says gentle but assertive facilitation is better than direct confrontation and should be employed by an issue-neutral person who's not the boss or someone otherwise invested in the outcome.
Work with a particularly disruptive person? Don't invite him or her to meetings. If that's not possible, the person's supervisor will have to initiate a frank conversation. This direct approach might not be fun for anyone, but it's worth doing if it results in less time wasted in meetings.
The following tips can help when setting ground rules for your next meeting: 

  • Show up on time and come prepared. Be prompt in arriving at the meeting and in returning from breaks
  • Stay mentally and physically present
  • Contribute to meeting goals
  • Let everyone participate
  • Listen with an open mind
  • Think before speaking
  • Stay on point and on time
  • Attack the problem, not the person
  • Close decisions and identify action items
  • Record outcomes and follow up

It is possible to make the workplace a great place with the right leadership and management stepping forward. Information in this blog is shared from an article in Inc. Magazine by Christina DeMarais called 4 Ways to Keep People from Derailing Meetings.

Mikael Wagner - Promotions West -


Many years ago I entered the field of broadcast media with no skills or any understanding of media. A woman interviewed me for the position of Assistant Public Affairs Director and gave me the assignment to write a news story on a specific topic that could be read in 30 seconds. I wasn't worried because I had been a teacher and knew how to write. Being very proud of my work, she took one look and I thought uh uh I am doomed. She took the time to explain the difference in writing like an educator and writing for the ear like media people do. With her help and guidance, she worked with me until I got the news copy correct.  She left the room and the next thing I heard was my news story being reported. At that moment I was confused and excited. She thanked me for my time because she had other interviews scheduled but would be in touch. Again, I thought I flunked the test. Within 2 weeks, I was the new Assistant Public Affairs Director learning as fast as I could to understand and try new things without being afraid of failing. From the position of Assistant Director, I became the Director of Public Affairs once my boss moved to a more powerful radio station. From there I was able to move into many other exciting positions in radio and television. My training in broadcast media helped me to start my own Public Relations and Marketing agency.
My director, best friend, and the best mentor ever was the late Dr. Julia Hare.

My boss, I later discovered was one of the founders of the Black Think Tank and a great author of many books with her husband, Nathan Hare, Ph.D.  It didn't stop there, she had a doctorate in Psychology, was known on every national talk show and throughout the media. If it wasn't for her playing a major role in my life I would not be the person I am today. She was tough on me but loving, pushed me as hard as she could, but always waiting to catch me if I tripped and she taught me everything about broadcasting, writing, how to dress, how to speak and how to be a true champ. She also taught me major lessons on being proud, about Black history, jazz and all types of music, lessons of racism and hatred that exist all over the world, about prisons and the Black community, about the fake war on drugs, and most importantly to always remember the color of my skin and always greet another brother or sister that looks like you. She also taught me about Blacks that desire more than anything to not be black, she called them Tom and Tomasina. The most important lesson she taught me was to always hire someone smarter than me so that another will have a chance to grow.

Dr. Julia Hare’s work has brought her many awards and honors including Educator of the Year for Washington, D.C. by the Junior Chamber of Commerce and World Book Encyclopedia in coordination with American University; The Abe Lincoln Award for Outstanding Broadcasting, The Carter G. Woodson Education Award, The Association of Black Social Workers’ Harambee Award; the Scholar of the Year Award from the Association of African Historians; and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Black Writers and Artists Union. Hare has been inducted into the Hall of Fame of her high school alma mater, Booker T. Washington High, was given a Presidential Citation from the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education and was named one of the ten most influential African Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Here are some of the books by Nathan and Julia Hare. In fact, I am re-reading the Black Anglo Saxons and the ink is still wet like it was written this morning.

Julia Hare was my lifetime mentor. Even today, she is with me in every political meeting in the Mayor's office or even a staff meeting. She taught me how to enter a room and evaluate it within 5 seconds to know where the hatred is or where the racism sits. To this day, I evaluate every room that I am about to enter.

A good mentor possesses the following qualities: Willingness to share skills, knowledge, and expertise. A good mentor is willing to teach what he/she knows and accept the mentee where they currently are in their professional development. Good mentors can remember what it was like just starting out in the field.

Have you ever had a mentor, someones that genuinely care about your growth? I hope that everyone says YES, but I know that may not be the case.

Here is a video of Dr. Hare speaking out about life. Makes me sad that many of the same issues are being dealt with every day while living, breathing, working, driving or shopping while being Black. 

I wanted to share my feelings on the importance of having a mentor in life. I lost my mentor at the end of February. Most appropriately that it was Black History Month. When you care about someone it's difficult to accept the news. I cried, then I smiled because at that moment I knew that she would always be with me and guiding me on the correct path.

I would love to hear about your mentors that help to guide you. Please share the great qualities that were shared with you.

Mikael Wagner - Promotions West -

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Networking vs Building Relationshios

Is there a difference between 
networking and building relationships? Could they basically be the same?  It's a question that many of my professional colleagues continue to discuss when we get together for tea, coffee or a cocktail.

This month I was invited to a business networking luncheon for entrepreneurs and independent consultants.  When I received the invitation, I simply tossed it aside in my Review Later folder on my computer. After several days passed, I decided to review that folder and delete most of the "Not in Your Life" invitations, announcements that arrive daily.  This one was different for some reason, one of the co-organizers was a colleague that I've collaborated with on several projects. It peaked my curiosity as she is someone that I've built a strong relationship with over many years. So, I responded in the affirmative, still feeling a bit hesitant. The question that kept running through my head was is this a networking hello meeting or building relationship activity.

Over the years we have been taught by professionals to always have an elevator speech in our back pocket or tucked away in your brief case to be pulled out at the drop of a hat. They usually say practice makes perfect and you end up delivering a canned speech that has been remembered, often sounding less than sincere. If you have an elevator speech, remember that it should change, depending on the audience or person you are talking to at the time. Giving a 10 to 15 second speech about yourself can inform and peak curiosity but follow up is an important next step. Quite often I hope that the elevator door will open sooner than later.

Communications is one of the key factors in everything that we do at home or at work. Active listening is a key factor of networking and building relationships.
Often, most people are not listening at all but waiting on a chance to jump in and share their story whether it relates to what was discussed or not. Trust me, it's a turn off. Often when I am conducting training sessions I have participants practice this concept and ask pertinent questions to what had been communicated by their partner. Try practicing active listening over the next few days, most people notice when someone is listening or not listening to what is being said or requested. It's key when working with clients.

Not everyone wants to build a relationship, but they are interested in networking if they can see the benefits for themselves. Networking can be a bit like speed dating.  Often you may be asked the same questions whether it's in business or on a date. The usual questions are:
  • So, what do you do? My response is when? Then they probe further asking -- "For a living?" People tend to be impressed by job titles as opposed to who you are as a person. Of course, this varies from region to region. 
  • Where do you work?  If you say Google or Apple people want to know more about you and if discounts come with knowing you. When living in Washington, DC, the question always started with "Do you work on Capitol Hill?"  Give the wrong answer and people walk away. It was always fun to say I work at the White House to see them start to drool and gather around to become a new contact.
  • Where do you live? I sometimes say in my car just to see the look of horror on their faces.
  • Do you drive? When dating often someone will volunteer to walk you to your car as if you need a guard for protection. Do you know why -- to see what type of car you own. Apparently, it provides more information on how successful they think that you should be.
Building a solid relationship is an investment and takes time. It's a bit like fishing, if you reel the fish in too fast you could snatch the lips off, as my dad use to tell us kids on every fishing trip. Here is a networking cheat sheet that may be able to get you started until you feel comfortable. 

Daily, organizations ask me and those in my network, "How do we get into the African American, Latino/Hispanic or Asian/Pacific Islander community?" Building relationships with communities can take years to create properly. The relationship between individuals must be nurtured and respected before it is used. Developing a genuine relationship creates trust and a strong bond. Creating strong relationships is a process of honesty, commitment, loyalty, and growth that starts with being culturally sensitive, respectful, and wise.  It saddens me that most companies and staff are not interested in putting in the time that it takes to develop a contact or a relationship.

Today, most companies and people expect it to happen immediately through social media, text messages or emails but not in person. One of my interns said to me, "What would anyone talk about over lunch or coffee with a stranger?" Fast and dirty is not always the long-term solution to being successful. So, I took my intern to lunch with a new contact to teach her how to have a delightful conversation.

So, my question to you: Is there really a difference between networking and building a relationship? Please share your ideas and best practices in what works best for you.

For more information or to share your comments:

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Managing Projects

Project management can be a mass of contradictions. Creating a comprehensive and detailed roadmap is essential, but at the same time being extremely flexible to deal with all the unexpected things that may come your way.  I have learned over the years that being flexible and receptive to changes that will make the project better is key. Many project managers I have worked with struggle with being flexible or if others do not agree with their decision. For me, being totally open is the fun part of project management. A good project manager keeps their eyes on the big picture, focusing on the final goal, but being able to take care of the small details that keep everything on track.

What makes a good project manager? Well, there are a few specific characteristics that are needed for successfully managing any project, regardless of the size. The following skills are needed to be a good project manager:
  • Good people skills
  • Communication skills
  • Strategic planning
  • Clear vision
  • Active listening
  • Common sense
  • Flexibility
  • Open to change
Most people have worked or been assigned to a project, although many have different definitions for a project. A project is a temporary endeavor with a Start and End date undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. Quite often as a Project Manager, you will possess informal authority. Informal authority is the ability, without a formal position of power, to inspire people to willingly follow your directions.

The key steps to a successful project include the ability to:
  • Initiate
  • Plan
  • Execute
  • Monitor & Control
  • Close
Upcoming blogs will address each of the steps in detail. This article will start with Initiate. When planning a project, always ask yourself the following questions:
  • Who will be impacted by the project?
  • Who determines success, and what are their expectations?
  • What are the project limitations?
  • How do you create a shared understanding of the project outcomes?
Before starting a project, it's recommended to identify all stakeholders. It's one of the biggest problems that can cause a project to fail. Quite often organizations will avoid this part and move directly to creating a plan, then wonder why it failed. Once stakeholders have been identified, they should all be interviewed so that you have an accurate account of the needs of your priority community. Then, you document the project scope. 

Stakeholders are important because they may help with major decisions and may influence the budget. By involving stakeholders it can build trust as well as provide permission to proceed with the project. A better understanding of the priority community or stakeholders can also educate the project manager on the variety of ways that the community may be impacted by your great work. Developing a good relationship with your stakeholders can also remove unexpected roadblocks in the future or exert influence when needed to ensure project successes.

For a Key Stakeholder Interview template, please email me at My next blog will cover Planning and ways to create a clear roadmap for smart decision making. For more information go to Promotions West.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Working While Black in America

Have you ever given any thought to what it may be like to be Black in America? Chances are no one does unless they are truly a Black or African American person trying to survive.  It would be great if everyone could walk in the shoes of a Black person for just one week. 

I often wonder if anyone could survive a week when they get upset if a group of people is starting to grill food in Lake Merritt Park or if you are sitting and waiting for a friend at Starbucks.

Fifty years ago, John Howard Griffin published a slim volume about his travels as a "black man" through America. He expected it to be an obscure work of interest primarily to sociologists, but Black Like Me, which told white Americans what they had long refused to believe, sold 10 million copies and became a modern classic.

I keep asking myself and my colleagues what happened? Today, I can't tell the difference between the 60's and 2018. As much as we appear to move forward, we seem to be swiftly reversing in our accomplishments as a race of people. All over the country, racism, discrimination, police brutality and racial profiling have reached the top of the list.

For decades, black parents have told their children that in order to succeed despite racial discrimination, they need to be twice as good, twice as smart, twice as dependable, and twice as talented. This advice can be found in everything from literature to television shows, to day-to-day conversations. 
African American employees tend to receive more scrutiny from their bosses than their white colleagues, meaning that small mistakes are more likely to be caught, which over time leads to worse performance reviews, lower wages or job termination.

For the past 15 years, I worked as a freelancer or marketing consultant in order to have better control of the negative people in the world. As a contractor of color today, contracts became almost obsolete as government organizations and other enterprises stopped giving contracts to those of color because they wanted to hire those that looked like them or to give contracts to friends or family members. What angers me is most white people in charge are never reprimanded or questioned about their choices, even when their contractors are incompetent and unproductive for big buckets of money. Try that as a person of color and you will end up in jail or fired from your position.

In the past year, I took a 40 hour per week job with an organization, hoping to be able to make a difference for communities to be served. I convinced myself that my skills and experience would be welcomed and positive lessons would be shared and learned to make communities healthier. 

Deep down inside I knew that I was simply fooling myself. From the moment I walked in the door, I was greeted with racism, discrimination and passive aggressive behaviors from white privileged co-workers with less experience and who continue to be unable to reach their goals and simply make a difference. I often ask how many t-shirts need to be purchased to reduce disparities in communities of color? That's when I become the enemy questioning their authority and position. Well, they did get that part correct.

As a black man, I can't remember a day when I didn't face discrimination or racist views from others. Depending on my mood, there are days that I wish I didn't have to leave home for meetings or appointments.  Often it happens before I even leave my apartment building where I have lived for 13 years, but still get looked at as if I am an intruder or burglar. As a black man, you learn to ignore or suppress most of the negativity that attempts to hit you in the face every day.

As a black man in America, many things happen on a daily basis to push your buttons. The key is learning to stay calm and avoid those threatening triggers. Although the events vary, here are some of the issues that I deal with every day as a black man:
  • Every time I enter a department store, drug store or office building I am followed, questioned and watched very carefully by security guards, even if they are black. They are trained to be suspicious of other blacks because their training sessions teach that black and brown people are thieves, murderers and drug addicts looking to steal or cause bodily harm.
  • Riding public transportation can be a curse or a blessing. If you are black, usually no one will sit next to you unless they are another black person or someone homeless that smells like pure crap. During those times you remove yourself to another part of the car or bus.
  • Entering an elevator has always been amusing to me. White women, especially would rather take the stairs or wait for the next elevator to come down to the lobby. If they reluctantly enter an elevator with a black man, chances are they will be holding tight to their purses because being black means you are going to snatch their purse and run. Just a note, most black people don't even think about white people at all.
  • Entering restaurants: Don't be surprised if they are booked. They are very surprised if you have a reservation and in shock that your name was not black enough to alert them.
  • Office or Team meetings can be quite interesting. Bleeding heart liberals are usually 10 times worse than an outright racist. How can you identify one of them? Well, they are usually passive aggressive and feel that they can say anything to a person of color without ramifications. They can also cry at the drop of a hat if an intelligent response is given. They often will launch into a dialogue that starts with that's not really what I meant and I am sorry that you misunderstood me. When it comes to this bullshit, I don't hesitate to go for their jugular and eliminate the problem without raising my voice or an eyebrow. 
  • A black female employee is told by a co-worker multiple times that she is “so well spoken,” or “not like other black women” that the coworker knows. These comments place a negative assumption on Black Americans, as well as shows contempt or a lack of respect for African American Vernacular English.
  • A latina staff member is sitting in a team meeting when one of the directors makes a face and starts to put down another Latina worker who is no longer with the organization but who has been pulled in as a consultant because of her great skills. Being the only Latino staff member in the meeting, she feels crushed by the white co-worker's attitude, facial expressions,  and nasty comments about the other latina person.
  • Driving while Black can be rather frightening. You may be doing everything correctly but if you are black the profiling begins. Being black means that you must be high on drugs, drunk, have a criminal record, have a warrant out for your arrest or may be thinking about committing a crime. To save us all, 10 police cars are called in and you are beaten nearly to death or murdered for resisting arrest. Trust me, it happens every day.

  • The most difficult one is when you are a Black person who goes in for an interview and the only Black person on the panel, like the security person at Walgreens or CVS, focuses on destroying your chances of being hired.
  • Another common form of racial bias can happen even before the interview. Black or Latino sounding names have a disproportionately lower call-back rate than white names when it comes to landing an interview. 

Racism is often boiled down to its most basic definition: discrimination and negative stereotyping based on race or skin color. However, the truest definition of racism — that of systemic or institutional racism — is much broader, and understanding that definition can help illustrate the lived experiences of people of color in America.

So how do you survive being Black in America?

If you have stories to share, please sent them to me. Those lessons can help so many others to succeed.