back to basics for running effective calls

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I'm often amazed by the apparent lack of professionalism some people demonstrate in running calls, especially with sponsors, customers, prospects, senior management...

I wonder if some of the basics we learned early in our careers have not been forgotten. In my case, I learned these when cell phones, instant messaging, tweets... did not yet exist, and also  at a time when telecoms costs were much more significant than Today. This may explain why some of these basics may seem a bit outdated. However, I personally still find them very very relevant in my day to day communications. I think that they also are a display of my respect towards the person I'm calling and for the time he or she dedicates to discuss with me.

Given time that Project Managers spend on calls, I thought that it could be useful to share how I always try to structure to be in good position. It is quite simple:

1. greet, introduce and relate: if I speak frequently with the person, it is quite simple to find « small talk » topics to break the ice. If I do not know the person very well, I'll try to refer back to my notes from prior interactions, or perform a quick Google or LinkedIn search. And, if the person is referenced on the intranet directory, look at her information and picture to put a face on the name.

2. position: confirm the purpose and objectives of the call

3. confirm timing: confirm until when you have for this call and then do not overrun unless requested by the person you call

4. communicate plan: provide a rapid outline of the topics you'd like to cover during the call. It avoids surprises, it helps to structure the call and also it gives a way to check progress versus time allotted for the call.

5. listen/probe for agreement: confirm with the person that this plan is OK and ask if topics should be added or removed in their opinion.

6. run the call following the above plan and constantly probing, listening and confirming my/our mutual understanding

7. summarize the call: This step allows me to check my notes, verify that all topics we wanted to cover have been. And, if it's not the case agree to a follow up call. Repeat my understanding of what has been said.

8. listen/probe for agreement: Take the time to check that my understanding is correct and verify that I haven't missed any point.

9. propose actions: Now it's time to double check that we have a common set of agreed actions.

10. listen/probe for commitment: This is to confirm our respective commitments to conduct the above actions

11. thank the person for their time and contributions and for accepting some of the above actions.

Then, I try to never forget to follow through on the actions we agreed.

Michel Operto

I've been leading IT projects for more than 20 years at telecom and computer manufacturers: Thomson Sintra, Digital Equipment, NCR, Nortel Networks, Orange Business Services. My passion is Project Management and leadership and I run a blog on the PM best practices at http://dantotsupm.com/