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Improving team productivity with Carl Pullein

The biggest problem is, the biggest problem in team productivity comes usually down to communication. That if the leaders buy
in and the leaders are doing it then it trickles down. Once you’re very clear on
what it is you want to achieve then the how becomes much easier. Welcome everyone to this week’s edition of Loop Email podcast; today we’ll be talking about
team productivity; I’m very happy that I can say hello to you Carl Pullein. Carl is
a well-known productivity expert; you coach around the world; around the team
productivity and time management and you’ve been working with many teams
worldwide helping them get their stuff done quicker, faster and better and my
understanding is, you live in Korea. I do. Hello and thank you for inviting me.
Simple question first; why Korea? Their beer is very cheap and it’s a funny
story there, there is a story. I have actually studied law and then practiced
law for about two years so in total of six years and it was during the day I
was working at law nighttime I was studying law and I just needed a break
and I looked around Asia, because I thought that’s far away from the Europe. Europe
totally different culture and it came down to Hong Kong, Japan, Korea or China
and I don’t know what it was but I just saw the beer prices and I don’t know how
I did that and I thought okay definitely South Korea. Because it was less than a
pound a pint. Wow that’s much cheaper than England I knew that. Now, talking about team productivity, let us talk about your experiences while working world wide. What’s the typical type of team you encounter and when somebody comes to you and asks you for
advice around team management what’s the problem he’s
really trying to solve, what is the theme he’s looking to solve, what is he looking
for? I think a lot of it is actually, it’s quite individual but most of the
problems I’ve come across is, although they’re not aware of it; it’s the way
they’re communicating their outcome. I’m all about the outcome, the tiny details
to me are actually less important than what is the actual outcome. And the
biggest problem I find is that leaders and senior managers are not
communicating the outcome clearly enough. Because we have many different types of
people in each team, we have you know the way that we understand things is kind of
different, we got visual learners we’ve got auditory learners, kin-esthetic learners
and they all need that message communicating it may be a slightly
different way but the manager or the leader generally communicates in their
preferred style. Some get it, some don’t, some need clarification and then we have
other problems where they’re too shy to ask for clarification, they don’t want to
look stupid, so when you break it down and you look at where the biggest
problem is, the biggest problem in team productivity comes usually down to
communication. And communication is the number one problem but people don’t really
understand that maybe that’s where the problem is. How do you sort of get them
from how they, you know start talking with you and then figuring out that, you
know, you’re right, communication is the thing that they should be solving! I do one little trick, I do, and I become very annoying because I start asking the question:
What’s the outcome, what’s the outcome; what’s the outcome? Almost everything
they say, when I’m trying to do this, and say, well what’s the outcome here? What
do you want, what’s the end result, what will make you happy? And you know after a
few sessions of that they get it because then they start thinking in terms of
okay this is the outcome. You know I work with a lot of pharmaceutical
companies for example, if you’re working with like the
department they would call it is market access, which generally means they have
to get approval from the government first. And you know they’re saying oh
we’re gonna do this, we’ve got to do this and got to do this. Oh ok ok stop stop
stop! What’s the outcome here? We’ll get
approval! Okay well how’s that, you know focusing there,
how is that gonna get the approval? Well that’s what we’ve always done and then
and we started looking at the process of doing anything. Well, why are you doing
that? You did that ten years ago. The government has changed their process now
so why are you doing this document. Well, you know we start going, but when we
start with that; the first question, what’s the outcome? what do you really want to
get achieved here? Then we can get down to where the problems usually come and
it’s following old processes it’s not being aware of how they the market might
have changed; you know I I know from my own experience with social media. You
know social media marketing, it changes every month. If I’m doing what
I was doing in February you just feel outdated already. It’s just an anomaly you
know by working in so many different countries and so many different
industries. Do you see a pattern? You know is an industry versus industry; is it always the same pattern for you just solving so going through the same or do
you see you know something happening Korea that’s very different to if you
were having something in France or in Europe or the states! In Korea, well particularly Asia in general harmony is very important, how many
within a team is very important. Now a classic example and I have no insider
knowledge of this but I can guess what happened with the Samsung Galaxy fold
phone you know the foldable, bendable phone, I can guess what happened there
is that somebody lower down the hierarchical ladder, knew that it wasn’t
good enough but instead of upsetting anybody instead of wanting to upset,
they didn’t say anything. Now this and you probably had a leader in the team who’s saying this has got to be sent out
to all the media on such-and-such a date. So you know somebody knew that phone
was not good enough to go to the press but they didn’t call it out because in
Asian cultures harmony is very, very important. They didn’t want to upset
anybody, they didn’t want to as we say tread on anyone’s toes. The beauty of
Samsung for example is, they learn very quickly from their mistakes that they’ve
done that many times and they learn fast so it’s not disrespectful to Samsung, I
can guess what happened, I have no idea if it was that, but that’s an Asian thing,
harmony is very important and most of the time that works very well. I remember
when I first came over to Korea and I was watching construction workers
building apartment complex, is not huge one’s just maybe three or four floor
apartment complex; you know I would come into work in the morning when I was
teaching English in my first few years here and the building was standing by
the time I finished at line three four o’clock in the afternoon it was gone.
It was just a blank space how did they do that?
You know the teamwork in Korea is unbelievable but ultimately sometimes,
when you need that hard decision-making, when somebody needs to
call something out, that’s where the weaknesses come. Taking that harmony thing, it’s interesting. You know I really embraced that, the harmony but how we sort of confront harmony, or you know, when
you change there’s conflict there’s… This need to change brings
this harmony into the equation So, how does harmony and change come
together? Well in this particular, I mean in that particular case, then the leader
has to understand that they have different diverse people in their teams
we always do, you’re not going to have clones working for you, everyone’s going
to be different and a leader has to be a to understand their team, so that they
can sell the benefit of the change and I use the word “sell”. But if they, I find a lot of companies do, is saying we’re changing
for the benefit of the company. Now employs don’t get that, I mean we like to
think our employees love the company and they will do everything for the company
but we are individual people, we have our own interests and you you need to understand it from the employee or the team members
perspective and the benefit you need to be able to tell them; this is gonna
benefit you BY and then whatever the reason is; and it takes a bit more
thought but I do find a lot of companies… Oh this is gonna be great for the
company, we’re gonna be able to grow better, we’re gonna be more streamlined,
or make better decisions. But the employee is thinking yeah-yeah, more
training courses, more meetings. You know they’re not excited about it, so you need
to be able to understand the benefit to the employee or to the team member if
you’re making changes. Thank you! I always ask, for me the number one question is,
you understand what the outcome is, you understand where you want to get a specific
team but what’s the really first step you do within the first day and the
first, you know week, when you sort of get into an engagement with the client. what’s the most
important thing you have to do within the first you know in the first few days?
Look at their calendars, I want to know how many meetings they’re
having, that tells me everything. I really need to know, because first of all what I
find in most companies that are really struggling on the productivity; All right
I have one client at the moment that’s implementing a global initiative, it is a
global company, they’re implementing a global initiative right now. They’ve been
trying to implement it for four years and they only have less than 200
employees. This should never have taken four years
but they’ve had so many meetings and uh and you can again; I actually when the
the actual HR director said I’m one in charge of this now; I said okay well
what’s the outcome here? what are you trying to achieve? And even she wasn’t
very clear on what exactly! I thought right here’s, where the biggest problem
is, but you can tell a lot of the problems by the number of meetings a
department or companies have about a particular project, because if there’s a
lot of meetings that means that the outcome hasn’t been expressed clearly
enough! The team is not sure what they’re supposed to be doing because
they’re always having to have meetings to clarify and that’s
where you can find it. So the two things I would need to do it initially is first
look at people’s calendars and then attend a meeting; because I can usually
tell them that the meetings are just talking shops and the worst kind of
meeting, the update meeting, where everybody gets into a room for 45
minutes, they’re having a chat about what work they’re doing and then there’s no
outcome, you know there’s no next actions. This is like the symptom of where you
can see productivity is not very good in a company. After you get the analysis done, how do you get a new behavior started? Getting off of meetings is sort of, it’s a behavior model of how to solve our problems and I totally
agree with you that meetings are where the cause of many much friction is;
but how do you then sort of install a new behavior? how do you sort of get
them from having this amount of meetings to more effective meetings? What is the process there? Well one of the first things I
do is usually start advising people to maximum time for a meeting is thirty
minutes, now a fundamental change happens when you change it to thirty minutes
maximum First of all there’s no small talk, secondly I noticed people are not
late; if it’s an hour long meeting people think, meh, I will be
two or three minutes late or five minutes late because they’ll just be
talking anyway; but when there is a 30-minute meeting that really sharpens up the
meetings; and also the other thing I usually make sure is, they’re doing because,
another thing that they are usually not doing is sending out any kind of agenda; so
another rule that you have to impose is – whoever calls the meeting has to send an
agenda 48 hours before the meeting, because that forces them to
think about what they want to accomplish in the meeting; that is just one of
the simple things you can do within a company to immediately see some
improvement in their productivity. Because everything sharpens up; they have
to express their opinion and move on. What’s the next
action, what do we have to do to move this forward, you know those kind of
questions they’re sharp, they’re direct and they get action moving and then
the other ones, who’s responsible for this, of course as well. And what you
tend to see is, this sort of change happens in a week, a month, what’s your
typical team size you operate with? I mean, you know sometimes it can be like, I’m working with
the general manager or a country lead or the country head and that could be like
we’re leading 60 70 100 and more than a hundred people but quite often it’s just
with the manager, he’s having really big difficulty, it could be six to 18
members and again it’s the same process. First of all how many
meetings are they having that tells you pretty much everything you need to know
and another question you can ask is how many of those meetings are over running,
so if the meeting is scheduled from say 11:30 to 12:30
does it really finish at 12:30 or does often run to 12:45? How many
meetings finish early because there’s another sign if meetings, if companies
have got meetings that finish early that’s a sign they’re a sharp company, so
this meetings is a great way of knowing whether a company is really focused on
the outcomes and focused on their projects. When you sort these kind of engagements, how important it is, you know the team spirit, the team dynamics, how much how much is it
actually getting the discipline of having the agenda, getting people to
focus on the outcome, getting people to talk about you know the stuff that
matters and how much is it about sort of getting the dynamics of the team in
order? Is that something that you see as an important part of
your engagement or do you feel those things that then actually solve themselves
out once the first part is done? Actually the key to success with
these changes is leadership, buy-in, if the leaders are not buying into it, if
the leaders don’t even talk to me, I know it’s not gonna work because it’s a
lesson I learned when I when I first started my employment life, my employed
life, I worked in a car company, we were selling cars, the general manager there. was in the early 90s, or yeah early 90s, so we
didn’t have the digital technology we have today and we didn’t have email or
anything like that. And he used to carry around and an A4 leather-bound diary, it
was gorgeous; whenever he had a meeting he’d also have a reporter’s notebook and
if he asked somebody to do something he would write it down and the person who
saw him writing it down; three or four days later he would do like a walk
around and he would say, how are you getting on with that task I gave you? And
what I noticed and this when I was in my early 20s, at this stage, and I
noticed, wow everybody was so sharp because they knew he was going to come
around and ask you within a few days how are you getting on with that task I gave
you; so I learnt right then that if the leaders buy in and the leaders are doing
it, then he it trickles down, because it sharpens everybody up, because you know
the boss is gonna come and get you and going even further back when I was 16
years old, my first job working as a part-time, working part-time in a hotel,
the general manager of the hotel used to come in every morning, walk down the corridor with his finger on the banister looking for dust
and the housekeeper, the cleaners saw him do this every morning; I guarantee, he never
found any dust because they very quickly learned he was checking, he was following
up and he was keeping, making sure the standards were high and everyone knew
the standards of the hotel; so when the leaders buy in, it trickles down! We’ve gone through that process; and what happens and how do you see the success; what’s the definition of success? You’ve got this
engagement, you’ve got people start focusing on the outcomes, you’ve
got people starting to have efficient meetings, talking about important stuff,
following up the basics, you know if you come back into that kind of environment;
what do you see that has changed? What is the most profound
thing you’ve seen that has changed for these people? When companies are
successful with this, what I do find is they are holding less
meetings even though I reduce the time, they’re actually holding less meetings
because they’re communicating better. The messages and what they have to
do is being clearly communicated to the staff and the other thing you’ll
notice, if you walk in immediately, it’s so much quieter because people are
actually getting on with the work that they weren’t able to do before
because they were having to attend meetings or other people interrupting
them, but now they have very clear instructions, they know exactly what
needs to be done, they know the milestones, they know the deadlines and
the office will be immediately quieter. You can tell when you walk and you
think, oh it’s working just from the sound! Interesting! Do your clients ever actually have a quantifiable goal in terms of 30% less meetings, whatever productivity KPIs
they’re looking at; you know this, is the outcome actually something? Or is
it something like you said, which is, you know everything is quieter, people feel
more relaxed because they’re doing stuff they should be doing and they’re not
being constantly micromanaged. Yeah, I personally don’t suggest any KPIs, because every company
is going to be different, you know some companies are measuring, you know revenue per employee and you know as a productivity metric, you know, I always
think, well that’s really for machines and humans are not machines. But some
companies like to measure it that way and that’s usually coming from the
global head office and so I’m not going to get involved in that argument but
there are things like you can compare by the number of projects that don’t need
to extend the deadline, because usually when I get called in, is because they’re
frequently having to extend deadlines on projects they’re missing key
milestone dates and so that’s when you can actually measure whether you’ve had
a significant change because suddenly you’re not getting, you’re not having to
extend deadlines for projects, your milestones are being hit actually early,
because for some reason milestones always seem to come up on a Friday, so I
when I’m working individually with someone, I make sure you’re
finished by Thursday, because if I can get them to be focused on finishing the
day before, your Friday is party day. All the works done and that helps to
build that team spirit that you know, the more relaxed atmosphere.
One question about sort of, a little bit more generic; going back to
sort of the individual productivity versus team productivity, you know if
there’s one one-liner in your learnings up to now is, where do you say, where do
you think it begins? Does it always begin with the team and the leader and how to
get a team working? Or is it sometimes getting the leader in order and then
sort of getting the team in order? Where do you
really start the story? Well essentially what I want if I’m starting with a new
client, I really want to know what does the leader want, you know, how is the
leader going to measure success in what I’ve been asked to do, because every
leader is going to be different, everyone wants a slightly different outcome. It
goes back to that word outcome; if I’m working with individual people which I
do a lot of coaching with individual people on productivity; again it does
come back to that question, as I say becomes very annoying, but what’s the
outcome you want to achieve here? Because if you don’t know that, you’ll probably
end up going round and round in circles. But once you’re very clear on what it is
you want to achieve whether you want to become a millionaire, like goal-setting
really, once you’re very clear on what it is you want to achieve, then the HOW
becomes much easier and so you can’t really move to that; HOW are we going to
do this until we know what exactly what is they want to achieve. There are other
things on a more personal level; on a one-to-one with an individual, the
why also is very important but on a company level the WHY tends to move more
towards their mission statement; why are they in business?; but on an individual
basis, why do you want to be a millionaire or you know why do you want
to start your own business? Yeah, that question is very important but from
team-based productivity it always comes back to what is it that you really want
to achieve here, what’s the outcome you want and from there you can figure out
the HOW. You know, we started with, ended with the what and
actually you know my podcast normally finishes off by asking you, what is it
about you? What is your story? What is your why in the world?
What is your outcome? What’s the things that make you? What’s
the stuff you like to do and create and your
life, your business life? What’s your outcome? What is the stuff you
actually thrive on and where is that special moment where you come back
and you say, you know this is it? You’ve got the cheaper beer, you’ve got a
couple teams and all that, but where is the little thing? That we all have that makes it special for you? What is that thing
you’re looking for? For me it was actually, it’s a little bit of my back story, as I
said before, I trained as a lawyer, I what my intention was to become a lawyer, I
thought hey that’s the cool thing to do, but after six years of studying it and
then working it I just needed that break but this was at the end of my 20s and
when I came to Korea, I started teaching. I went oh my god this is what I love, I
love teaching, it was completely random, I never expected it but at the end
of my first year the language institute said; do you want to renew your
contract? Okay. Second year – okay; by the end of the third
year I thought I’m not gonna go back, I could, I just knew, I was just loving
teaching, the productivity side though came in, when I was
probably a teenager; I used to draw out on pieces of paper when we
had exams, my revision timetable and I was brilliant at making these charts
because we didn’t have Excel or anything then, it was pen and paper and pen and a
ruler and I it was beautiful I loved doing it; I was terrible at doing the
revision but oh I was great at making a schedule and I discovered I like
productivity books and those time management books and I just read every
single one I could get; I’ve been fascinated by it since middle school but
so it’s a it’s one of those weird things it’s like the connection suddenly
happened when I was about 31 teaching. And productivity brings the two together
and I’m in heaven! And it helps, Korea’s beer is very
cheap! Carl, it was really an unbelievable
experience talking with you, I will remember very much, you know, what’s
a good selection criteria when you try to figure out which country to go to; to the question that always should be on every managers mind; which is sort of
you know what’s the outcome and forget everything until the outcome is and then
work hard on reducing the number of meetings, by being focused on so it was a
really I think, a valuable thing, especially not only for us, but everybody
listening and that’s why it’s so important to also understand where can
our listeners and viewers connect? You can connect with me through my website; com; all details are there; Facebook, Twitter
Instagram all that; so is my Youtube channel where I pull up videos
out every week, I also have a podcast that comes out every Monday morning
Korean time, so Sunday night for most of you. I write a blog every week,
so it’s all on my website; Thank you very much, an unbelievable
experience; thank you viewers, we’ve been listening to Carl the meeting
expert working in Korea, but working with companies all over the world. Thanks again, it was an unbelievable exchange. Thank You Carl! Thank you for the invitation!

Reynold King

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