Information…or Punishment

Business and project reviews are good opportunities for leaders to get a view into the business on how it is performing. They need to be scheduled often enough so that topics and trends can be identified before they become issues, and not so often that they become onerous and drain time and resources away from the business in preparing for them.

How often should you have them? Monthly? Every two Months? Quarterly? I think that it depends on the actual cycle time of the business. By cycle time I mean the amount of time that must pass before the results of an action can be recognized in the business’s financial reports. Hi-tech business cycle times are normally on the order of months.

However, we have all been in organizations where managers have uttered the immortal phrase “We will have weekly reviews on this issue until it is resolved…” It is good to let the team know which topic is a high priority and what is not, but a leader should not take this approach for several reasons.

If you are truly committed to this approach you have to be prepared to attend every one of these reviews. As soon as you fail to attend, or send a delegate, you are communicating to the team that the issue is no longer as high a priority to you. The team will also take that into account as they set and work their own priorities.

The other aspect of this action is, what are you trying to achieve? If you understand your business’s cycle time, and you know it is longer than the periodicity of the reviews, what do you hope to gain, or learn from the more frequent reviews?  It is in this area that information transfer becomes perceived as a punishment.
You are in effect telling your team that you did not like the information that they provided you, and that you will hold repeated reviews until they provide you the information that you do like.

A better approach is to take and assign action items at the initial review. The action items can and should be specific and should have response and delivery objectives that are well in advance of the next regularly scheduled review. That way changes and actions can be taken quickly, feedback can be obtained in advance of the next review, and enough time can be provided to recognize the financial impact of the changes.
In this way you can communicate the priority of a topic, the actions that you feel need to be taken, assign time lines and monitor progress, without turning what should be a useful communication session into a perceived ordeal and punishment.

Remember, if you are perceived as punishing people for bringing you what you feel is bad news, they will stop bringing you the issues. By taking the action item approach you can encourage the early discussion of potential issues and help work to avoid them. The team will appreciate the leadership.