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Want a Culture of Innovation? Curb Those Emails & Meetings

Want a Culture of Innovation? Curb Those Emails & Meetings

We’re all aware of how valuable an organization’s culture is, but culture is not colorful walls, beanbag chairs, or ping-pong tables. Those are the aesthetics of culture and they’re not a substitute for meaningful work. Your culture is actually defined by the work your people do every day.

As CEO of an innovation-training firm, I engage audiences all over the world on the topics of change and innovation. When I ask them what they spend their day doing, I hear the same answer: meetings and emails. From leaders to frontline employees, everyone is so mired in these two tasks that there’s zero time for strategic imagination, creativity, or high-value work.

If emails and meetings are what hold us back from creating a culture of change and innovation—and I’m convinced that they do—how can we reduce their role in our workday so we can make room for more meaningful work?

Make small changes to our existing habits around emails and meetings

  1. Kill stupid meetings like Sprint did. Upon review of every meeting held in 1 year—from standing and weekly status meetings to events, off sites, and team gatherings—Sprint eliminated 30% of them. Conduct your own meeting audit and do away with meetings that don’t add value or have outlived their original objective.
  1. Start meetings with goals…and end with action items. Require that every meeting agenda includes the meeting’s goal and is sent to invitees in advance. Similarly, require that next steps be defined at the meeting’s conclusion.
  1. Just say no. After performing a meeting audit to determine the cost of time and resources for all of its meetings, professional services company Accenture empowered its managers to decline meetings without guilt or fear.
  1. Stay on your feet. Stand-up meetings are less comfortable for attendees, which typically reduces the meeting’s length.
  1. Institute Meeting-Free Wednesdays like Airbnb did to encourage uninterrupted time for valuable work.
  1. Limit cc recipients on email to 3 people inside your company, which is how Ferrari got its employees to “talk more, write less.”
  1. Pick up the phone to resolve any topic that isn’t decided after 3 emails.
  1. Applaud no-scroll emails. Ask employees to summarize key points or action items for recipients in the body of their emails. Lengthy or dense information should be relegated to attachments only.
  1. Utilize NNTR. For email topics that are FYI and don’t require a response, type NNTR (No Need To Respond) in the subject line. By utilizing this tactic, a business unit at Merck reduced email volume within its group by 20%.

By applying a few or all of these proven tactics companywide, we can measurably reduce the time everyone spends on low-value tasks. And when we use that newly freed-up time for meaningful work, we are cultivating a true culture of innovation.

Want more real-word tips like this? Email me ( for a complimentary PDF of our brainstorming tool, futurethink’s 27 Tactics for Brilliant Ideas.

Lisa Bodell serves as a global council member of the World Economic Forum; and has helped thousands of senior leaders ignite innovation at Bloomberg, Pfizer, Lockheed Martin, and many others. She has been rated as a top speaker at Google’s client events and is the author of the best-selling book Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution, which won the 2014 Axiom Best Business Book Award and was voted Best Business Book by USA Book News and Booz & Co. Her new book, Why Simple Wins, will be released October 2016. Lisa is an advisor on the boards of the Association of Professional Futurists; and Novartis’ Diversity and Inclusion Board in Basel, Switzerland. Among her many academic activities, Lisa has taught innovation and creativity at both American and Fordham Universities.

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