Monday, June 4, 2012

Meeting planning using Microsoft Outlook

I'm a great fan of Microsoft products and Microsoft Outlook is one of my 'can't live without' tool for now.  I use it for email communication, keep track of all my tasks, view meetings and plan my daily activities through the calendar function.  Its a great tool if you are practicing Time Management.  I have come across several ways of planning and organizing meetings and there is 'NO' single source that gave me a comfortable view on how to most effectively plan and handle Outlook meetings.   The product is so vast and sometimes it is really overwhelming for the beginners.  Please be aware that this blog does not cover all the aspects of Outlook and I've compiled how I manage meetings through it.  

This post, a combination of some of the best ways to use Outlook and few tips on the Invitation etiquette's,  is intended for the basic users or beginners of Microsoft Outlook to help effectively plan meetings.  There are no detailed description given since the intention is to keep it simple.  Refer to Microsoft Outlook help documentation to learn more.

  • What are the key meeting invitation contents?
    • Meeting Attendees
      • Include the correct email addresses and ensure you are inviting the right participants 
      • Include the name of the conference room resources to make reservations.  Re-plan the meeting venue if the conference room is not available
    • Time
      • Outlook allows you to specify the Start Time, End Time and also an option to mark as all day event  
      • Use scheduling assistance to view the availability of the participants  
    • Place
      • Clearly mention how and where the meeting will be held
      • Check the telephone / communication mediums
    • Meeting mode
      • Live meeting - choose the Live Meeting as a meeting mode if your Outlook is already configured to have one.  Generally works well if the participants have to connect from outside the organization.  Live Meeting also provides you an option to record the meeting.
        • Remember to identify the 'presenters'
      • Communicator call - choose the Conference Call as a meeting mode if your Outlook is already configured to have one.  Generally works well within the organization.
      • Telephone Conference - do not forget to mention how the 'screen' will be shared.
        • Share the conference details
      • In person - do not forget to include where the meeting will be held
    • Meeting options
      • Mark your meeting as 'private' if you don't want anyone to view the meeting contents even if your calendar is shared   
      • Marking 'private' also hides the contents of the meeting if the meeting is viewed from a public calendar like a 'Conference room'  
      • Set recurrence - Add the attendees names only after you confirm that the recurrence set by you is accurate.  If the recurrence is wrong then there will be multiple email invites sent by Outlook which is very confusing and annoying to the multiple recipients
    • Agenda
      • Clearly write the Agenda of the meeting - this will help the invitees to get prepared for the meeting or suggest any other key topics to be included
    • Expected outcome of the meeting
      • This is another very important topic.  Along with the clear agenda mention what to expect from the meeting
    • Attachments / links and references
      • Include file attachments, links and references for the participants to read and get prepared before attending the meeting
    • Preparations needed / by whom
      • Include if you want someone to come up with any research before the meeting.  You don't want to plan for another meeting if the preparations are important
  • How to handle the various responses you received to a meeting?
    • Accepted
      • Optionally you can thank the person for accepting by a return email
    • Declined
      • With reason
        • Not the right person
          • Approach different person or ask for the right person
        • Agenda is not appropriate
          • Change and propose new agenda or ask for recommendation
        • Timing is not correct
          • Change the time (ideally the person declined should have used Propose Alternate time)
        • Location is not convenient
          • Change the location to mutual one
        • Meeting communication mode is not convenient
          • Change the mode of the meeting
      • Without reason
        • Ask for reason
    • Propose alternate time
      • Accept if the new time is acceptable to you
      • Propose a different time if the proposed time is not acceptable to you
    • Tentative
      • With reason
        • If the person is unclear about his / her availability
          • Propose a different time
        • Unclear about the agenda
      • Without reason
        • Ask for reason
    • No response
      • Send a gentle reminder
        • Send an email about the importance of the meeting
        • walk up to the person or call that person to remind
        • Leave a voice mail
  • What do you do during the meeting?
    • Use the Linked Meeting Notes to capture your meeting minutes in OneNote.  Its very effective and you can organize all your meeting notes in one place.
  • What do you do after the meeting?
    • Send the minutes of the meeting to all participants.  Additionally you may CC to your manager
    • Clearly write the action items along with the identified owners.  Follow up if required
    • Thank everyone for attending and contributing to the meeting
    • Send the invite for the next meeting 

Happy organizing meetings!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Professional Blunders

I decided to share few blunders that I've done in my professional life.  Its not that I have suddenly decided to appear so stupid in front of everyone.  I feel its very important that I share my experiences with an intention to help you to be cautious about them in the first place.  The list is certainly long but here are few stand at the top of the list.

Emotional email

I made an important observation when I visited an overseas office in my company.  I also sent an email to my immediate supervisor to appraise the situation.  I wrote about what I saw and my own interpretations, along with few lines of my frustrations about how trust was broken by one of my business counterparts.  For over 5 months, I spent a lot of quality time in building relationship, delivered more than what was promised, built confidence and re-established a very smooth relationship with that account team.  I suddenly felt betrayed.  On the same day, I confronted the person to learn more about the situation but in the mean time the email that I sent was forwarded to escalate the situation through multiple levels in my business unit.  Sadly, it also ended up in the mail box of the same person, on the same day, against whom I had written the mail about.  One can imagine what could have happened after that.  The email actually caused a Tsunami attacks and counter attacks and my business counterpart had to go through a tough time of answering very difficult questions by his management.  

This was followed by several months of hatred and unprofessional behavior displayed to me.  Ultimately the focus of the problem completely got shifted from professional mode to personal mode.  The original problem was never resolved.

I learnt an important lesson through this experience.  Never write or send an emotional email about anything or about anyone in the professional environment.  Even if there is a compelling situation to write such a mail think 100 times about what would happen if the person in subject has to read the same content.  It is also wrong to expect that your email will never get forwarded even if its sent with "do not forward restrictions".

Failure to recall an Email

Once I had to share some information about a team outside my department to a bunch of my colleagues.  I decided to learn more about the team structure in Microsoft Outlook.  I typed the name of one of the persons in the CC field and used the Outlook to view team structure.  After sometime I sent that email.  I generally have the habit of reading important mails from the 'Sent' box just to ensure the contents were in order even after reviewing them several times before sending them.  I was shocked to find that I did not remove that persons name from the CC field. I immediately started sweating.  The first thing I did was to turn off the wireless connection and shut the laptop monitor with a hope to believe the mail was still in my outbox.  After few minutes I opened the laptop screen and to my shock the email had already left my inbox.  All my desperate attempt to recall the message through the Outlook recall option had failed.  To my despair Outlook returned messages saying "Your attempt to recall the message was unsuccessful".

On that day, I learnt another important lesson.  Never rely on the "Recall" functionality in Microsoft Outlook.  It works only when the person, the recipient is online, and has his Microsoft Outlook is open when the mail was received.  The recall is again useless if the person has already read the message on his mobile device and the recall never deletes the messages already delivered to a phone device.

Finally, I had to send an apology email to my supervisors for this blunder.

More to come...

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