Matthew C. Anderson

Author Archives: Matthew C. Anderson

I'm an enthusiastic speaker, creator, and problem-solver.

Run more effective meetings by pre-writing your “recap” summary

According to the Atlassian, the average employee has 62 meetings per month and reports that half of those meetings are a waste of time. It’s great if you can reduce that total number but for the ones you do have, try to make them more effective meetings. I have several strategies I use to make the best use of my meeting time.

That said, one of the biggest time-sucks wasn’t just the time spent in the meeting itself, but post-meeting trying to put together summary emails that would go out to my team. It seemed like writing those summary emails would take as long (or longer) than the meeting itself! Does this sound familiar?

I knew there had to be a better way.

That’s when I changed up my process and started writing the summary email before the meeting even took place. At first, this seems crazy (or presumptuous at best) but stick with me, it’s only a draft at this point.

This draft becomes a reminder of what the important topics are and is a reference point to gauge progress during the meeting. As the conversation takes place, I amend my notes to reflect the actual discussion and can add more details where appropriate.

Below are the steps I use, which I offer here as a starting point.

Write up the ideal summary email before the meeting

The genesis of this idea is a simplified version of the “begin with the end in mind” concept, which is Habit 2 from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The idea is to start thinking about the actual discussion that will take place, which serves a dual purpose of getting your mind focused on the meeting while giving you a chance to gather your thoughts on each topic.

Doing this is easiest if there’s a clear agenda for the meeting. This becomes a basic bullet point outline. Next, fill in the outcome you want to drive toward (or, if you aren’t exactly sure what you want, jot down the options you expect to discuss).

This doesn’t need to be exhaustive but it should be enough so that if you sent it out as-is you would have a little something to say about each topic.

Now you have your summary email drafted.

During your meeting/call, guide the discussion based on this draft

When the meeting begins, this draft will be an easy reminder/reference point for each of the planned topics. What’s become apparent to me in using this method is just how much “drift” happens during well-intentioned meeting discussions.

It actually becomes easy to see when things have drifted off topic. If something is way out of context with the summary you’ve prepared, consider putting the conversation in the parking lot until the core agenda has been addressed.

Take notes to fill out the additional details and changes

During the meeting, it’s easier to take notes because a decent chunk of the work has already been done. Sure, not everything will go exactly how it was laid out in the draft, but I find it to be a lot easier to make note of where things change rather than have to capture everything from raw.

The notes fall into two main categories:

  1. Changes to the basic summary
  2. Details to provide more specifics

When something is radically different from what I expected, it’s very recognizable, and it’s also much easier to make a logical appeal, rather than an emotional one. This is because I’ve already gathered my thoughts and can articulate what I expected based on my summary draft. This helps drive more effective meetings.

Additional details mostly focus on:

  • Key points/highlights (and who said them)
  • Decisions that were made (and what will be discussed later)
  • Follow-ups/action items (and who is assigned)

Also notice here how the burden of writing/typing during the meeting is reduced. This helps drive focus on participating in the meeting rather than being stuck using that brain power to figure out which notes to take.

Final thoughts

I need to point out the elephant in the room: I don’t intend for this method to be interpreted as a way to railroad a meeting toward the outcomes you’re looking for. The point is to get your thoughts straight so you can focus on getting your point across as well as guide a productive session.

Another note is that this approach isn’t applicable to every type of meeting. It assumes some level of control to know what the meeting is about as well as forming an initial opinion on limited information.

Also, consider the audience and the importance of having some off-topic discussions. These can be really valuable, and remember that, sometimes there are important parts of the conversation that should have been laid out in the agenda (but weren’t).

Do you think that writing this kind of summary could help drive more effective meetings? Let me know in the comments!

Drive Higher User Adoption with Learning Path in Dynamics 365

When deploying or upgrading a relationship management system, success of the project often hinges on people actually using the system. In fact, according to the February 2016 Forrester report, CRM Success Hinges On Effective Change Management, 46% of those surveyed Agree or Strongly Agree that user adoption struggles were encountered during their CRM implementation. This is where Learning Path can help.

Effective change management helps address this area, especially when users have easy and contextual access to resources like training walk-throughs, cheat sheets, and videos.

With Microsoft’s recent addition of Dynamics 365 release of their customer engagement capabilities (sales, service, and marketing) they have included a killer tool for providing the right help/reminders at the right time: Learning Path for Dynamics 365.

Tailor Guided Tasks to your processes to drive user adoption

Deployments of Microsoft Dynamics 365 typically include configuration. You add fields to forms and update business process flows to support the way your company operates. These updates make the system speak your language and drive your processes—and these are exactly the things that should be reinforced inside of the system (without having to search for documents held in a different system or dig around for printout reference cards).

Dynamics 365 Learning Path provides this personalized step-by-step help. Users are literally walked through a scenario with guidance on where to click and what type of information to enter.

d365learningpatheditor

A key enabler is that this guidance can span multiple pages. For instance, moving through a sales process may involve work with a Lead, Opportunity, Account (etc.) and part of learning this relationship is to move between records at the right time. Learning Paths allow you to show how and when to move between records.

It’s also worth noting that once users are comfortable with using the system, they can opt-out of this guidance. This means people won’t feel “nagged” about how to use the system after they’ve become familiar with it.

Reinforce training with Learning Path sidebar self-serve help

Walk-through guidance on its own is helpful up to a point but sometimes you’ll need to provide additional reference material. There is a balance between the amount of content on the page and the depth that people might need.

Too much information with every step can make an otherwise simple system seem cluttered and confusing. Learning Path has a great way to handle this with an expanding sidebar where you can provide this self-service material.

Examples include:

– Videos

– Slides

– Checklists

– Links to other content (e.g. SharePoint content)

Tying these tools back to user adoption

Training and communication are important aspects of driving effective change in an organization and Learning Paths provides ways to engage with users right inside of the application. There are plenty of uses, but here are a few examples to get the ideas flowing.

 

Set up walkthroughs so users can follow along during initial training (and reference them later) – This is especially helpful when users are very unfamiliar with both the system and the process. It’s also a great way to help in training where there is a high student to instructor ratio.

Use Learning Path when introducing new or updated processes – As usage of the system grows there will undoubtedly be tweaks made to the way information is displayed on the form or how the business process flow progresses. Offer new and updated Learning Paths to help support these changes.

Create role-specific content when it’s useful – Learning Paths recognizes who the individual user is, providing them the appropriate context based on their security roles. So, for example, when looking at a Contact record a sales rep and customer service rep could see different content that helps them with different processes and key information relevant to their role.

Regularly update sidebar content to include answers to frequently asked questions – the nature of learning paths makes them a great first-stop for this kind of information. Make this an easy (and in-context) place to provide answers to FAQs

Embrace the configurability and personalization of Learning Paths and iterate, iterate, iterate! Even well-planned changes will have bumps in the road—don’t look at these as static content. Consider including a link to submit questions if your current content doesn’t cover something.

This post originally appeared on the RBA blog.

Enable the Hidden Microsoft Outlook QueryBuilder

After discussing Search Folders in a recent episode of ProdCast, Joel pinged me after the episode asking me about some more advanced search options. Specifically, he wanted to create a search folder with a little more complex logic behind it (like using AND or OR for several potential criteria).

Microsoft does support this without any extra add-ins, it’s a feature called Outlook QueryBuilder, but it’s not very obvious how to turn it on. In fact, it’s hidden and is enabled by adding a key to the Windows registry. I wasn’t able to find a video on creating this key, so in an attempt to give back I present the following brief how-to.

As a word of caution, editing the registry does carry some risk with it. In case you’re not familiar, the registry is where a lot of critical details are stored that makes Windows (and your installed software) work as you would expect it to. Making edits can have unintended consequences. That said, the update in this video is pretty safe, but always be careful whenever you go into the registry 🙂

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Create an Outlook Search Folder (and only search one folder)

On the most recent episode of the ProdCast: The Personal Productivity Podcast, Joel Lindstrom and I talked about Search Folders as part of a strategy for dealing with the deluge of email.

In case you haven’t already listened to the episode, I was talking about setting up special folders inside of Outlook 2016 (or 2013) that look through your whole mailbox for a match (even if it’s in a sub-folder, or sent items, or wherever). In simple terms: a search folder is a saved search that saves you time by storing several search terms, allowing you to find matching emails in just one-click.

Joel asked me if the Search Folder could focus that search to look inside of just one specific folder (e.g. “only mail in your inbox” and not any other folders). The answer is yes…but after recording the episode, I felt like I made it sound over-complicated to set up a search folder that only searches through a certain set of folders. I whipped up the following video to show just how easy it is!

If you’re not familiar with ProdCast, it is a podcast about personal productivity, getting more done with the time you have, avoiding procrastination, and being more efficient. We separate the hype from productivity tools and talk about ways to use your email and task list to become more productive. If you’re interested you can subscribe on iTunes.

Don’t Let Automation Destroy Your Authenticity

One of the most effective ways to become more productive and manage your time is by automating low-value, repetitive tasks. Every week new apps are released that will connect to your online accounts and do some work for you. I’m a huge fan of this progress, however, I get concerned about these services having an unintended effect of trading some of your authenticity away just to save a little time.

There is a growing popularity of automation tools like Zapier, If This Then That (IFTTT), and Microsoft Flow, and it’s becoming easier and easier for average people to build their own personalized automations.

Even easier are tools like dlvr.it which will monitor sites and automatically post to social networks on your behalf. I’ll admit that I’ve tried dlvr.it for a couple of months and it has saved me time because I don’t need to remember a laundry list of sites that I want to further discuss on Twitter (it does the posting for me). Unfortunately, things got weird for me when people re-tweeted and responded to my tweets about articles I hadn’t actually read yet.

That crossed a line for me. As informal as social media can be, people do react to tweets, posts, and shares in a very personal way. As a result, I recently stopped using this automation and decided to find a middle ground I am comfortable with.

This made me reflect on the ways automation can impact the perception of your authenticity. As I weighed the arguments, I expected that my opinion would change if I considered it from the perspective of an individual (e.g. my personal Twitter account) vs. an organization (e.g. my company’s Twitter account). To my surprise, the answer stays pretty similar for both situations.

Be careful which kinds of human interaction you automate

Every year around the holiday season I get greeting cards from friends and family. I also get them from companies that I do business with. I’m never impressed with the generic holiday greeting cards from my insurance agent. It’s a great concept, but I can see that they were printed in bulk (with a mail-merge), include a laser-printed message and signature, and were sent from another state. How many people receive this kind of card and feel warm-fuzzies?

I like my agent, and I don’t think he’s even directly responsible for the cards (it’s the parent company that sends them out). Sadly, the card that’s being sent out on his behalf actually serves as a reminder that I’m not getting a personal card/call/email to wish me happy holidays.

I get plenty of other impersonal mailings from the insurance company, ones that I don’t mind at all. Who in their right mind would expect their billing statement to have a personal touch? The non-personal, but personalized, holiday greeting card is a perfect example of the wrong kind of interaction to automate.

Set appropriate expectations to maintain your authenticity

Take a moment and think about something as simple as an order acknowledgment email for a purchase you make online. Few people today would expect this to be personally crafted and sent by a live person. In fact, for me, and many others I know, that email should be in my inbox right away. It’s a tangible thing that makes me feel satisfied that the order I just placed is real.

However, 10-15 years ago (or maybe even less than that) most people wanted to know that there was a human being looking after their order. Why is this?

Expectations changed.

They may have changed for something like an email that confirms an order, however, the prevailing expectation I see on social media is that people expect (and believe) that posts are coming from real people hitting the Post button. Make sure your authenticity is not compromised by over-automating this kind of interaction.

Setting these expectations grows increasingly important “bots” become more mainstream. Bots (a.k.a. chatbots) are growing in their ability to handle requests for information (through a request from somebody) and automatically respond with an answer (or with a request for additional details or context).

In my experience I’ve seen bots with very wide differences in how successful they are–but little irks me more than a website offering me a live chat with an agent…but then it turns out that the agent is actually a bot.

Final Thoughts

I’d like to reiterate that I am by no means speaking ill of the services provided by dlvr.it, IFTTT, Microsoft Flow, or others. These are very exciting tools that can improve the productivity of individuals and organizations alike. There’s a line when it comes to communication, though, where automating for productivity could compromise your authenticity–and I highly encourage that you take the time to ask yourself where that balance is for you.

Do you automate communication tools like email or social media? Do you think I’m overreacting? Sound off in the comments below.

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