Have you ever done something… have it seem like a complete fail… only to realize later that it was actually a building block to something bigger or better?

I launched Project “Cut 1” in January 2016.  Being new to Boeing, it was important for me to meet and get to know my team. After face-to-face chats with 85% of my team (others had to be done virtually), a common complaint emerged: too many meetings. The leaders and managers in the business and in the HR space had meeting cadences that my folks were either required or felt obligated to attend. Better than 60% of their week was spent in meetings and random ad hoc tactical requests. Very little time was focused on strategic or high-impact projects.

You’ve got the power!

In the spirit of empowerment, I told my team: I heard you… and… I am giving you the authority to “Cut 1.” If meetings share redundant information… don’t attend. If there is no value in you attending (you aren’t presenting something or are needed to provide HR process insights or guidance)… stop going. I’ll give you top cover. Another way to think of it: you have the  freedom to cut your meeting schedule in half.

You are still responsible for getting your projects completed. You are still expected to provide high service/support levels to your business partner. The only real change is, you get to decide how to manage your time. I trust you to prioritize and effectively contribute to the business.

Wait… you don’t want the power?!

All goodness right? Uhhh… not so much. A handful of folks (Laura, Jonathan, Amanda, and Jojo come to mind) got excited about the idea and immediately set out to whittle down their meeting schedules. The majority (and a few particularly vocal ones) initially seemed excited… only to go down a bunny trail that surprised me. I started hearing questions like: so if I don’t Cut 1 will I be fired?… what if I only bring my meeting schedule down by 30%?… and… what exactly do you mean by “Cut 1”?!?

Didn’t you tell me you wanted fewer meetings?

Didn’t I just give you the authority and autonomy to make that happen?

How did my good intentions get twisted into (for some) a maniacal scheme that was actually intended to get a bunch of people fired?!?

I got sucked in…

I wish I could tell you I nipped this behavior in the bud and got everyone back on track. Yeah… no. Instead I got sucked in to non-productive discussions: no… I’m not trying to fire anyone / I really do trust you to make good decisions about how to use your time / I told you I’d run top cover… if your business partner has an issue with this have them come directly to me.

I found myself defending Cut 1 rather than driving it. Ultimately that resulted in only incremental decreases in the meeting schedules of my individual teammates. #fail

To be fair: for those who jumped on the opportunity… cool things happened. They found more time to spend on impactful projects. They learned that every meeting didn’t require their attendance. They felt empowered. And we began to build trust.

Part 1 of this 2-part story ends as a bummer. I had high hopes for what Cut 1 could/would do – but no such luck. It took many months for me to see the goodness that came out of this #fail. But that’s a story for another day… stay tuned Part 2 is coming soon!

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