CEOs: Don't Blow Your Most Important Meeting!

Published by: Jeff Day

Today’s leaders are inundated with a ridiculous number of meetings. It seems at times that we are living for meetings and meeting for a living! This can’t be our best work or effort, especially for disciples of execution. And CEOs have plenty of meetings to choose from. Ask anyone who's prepared for a tough board meeting or negotiation, it can be draining and frustrating.

The best leaders find balance. In the words and philosophy of Greg McKeown, author of "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less," we need an essentialist view to meetings. It’s not about just doing fewer meetings, its about doing the right meetings. Your company’s all hands meeting should be a top priority.

At Bluewater, we live in the live event world. We’ve produced and supported literally thousands of company all hands meetings. We’ve see the best and the worst. We see what works and what doesn’t. We take tremendous pride and interest in the meeting we have the most control of: our own. I want to share with you a few ideas on what I think makes a great company all hands meeting.

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Consistency – too often, the all hands meeting is delayed or forgotten. This inherently breeds distrust on a few levels. First, your teams may ask questions like “Why is the leadership team so quiet?” or “Are they hiding something from us?” The second point is that inconsistency speaks volumes to your teams on how important the meeting and communications are to you.

TIP: My recommendation is to pick a timeframe and don’t miss it. If it means a shorter meeting, that’s cool. Just don’t miss it. I like meetings mid-month. It gives our leaders a chance to digest important things like performance, key wins (and losses), and company initiatives that can be shared in a meaningful way.

Content – what gets presented and discussed is vital. We’ve experimented with lots of different formats and content. There are a few things that are totally consistent though. Here’s my formula:

  • Solid Intro – start with positives! We’ve used “what’s on my mind fireside chats” by business leaders. We just implemented a talk show format with our warehouse director (Live with Larry) conducting interviews with new leaders or employees.
  • Celebrate the company – celebrate the stuff that makes your company great. We have rituals where we introduce new employees…catwalk style. We play music, they come dancing down the isles and strike a pose for all! It’s a great way to welcome our new employees.
  • Reward the culture – almost always skipped over. Some of the best companies out there have traditions to reward culture in a positive way. It builds trust and shows other what “good” looks like in your organization. We even have a Bluewater Royal!
  • Celebrate the customer – this is why we are in business! We highlight projects that help the company see the work that goes on beyond their work areas. It creates excitement and urgency to do our best work.
  • Performance – how are we doing? Something simple and straightforward so everyone can see where we are and what we still need to do.
  • Pep Talk – the teams need to hear from the senior leaders. What are the marching orders? How can we move right now? The meeting becomes your giant huddle. Now you need to call the plays.

TIP: Have fun! If you build a playful environment, you can earn credits for the hard times that will come and you’ll need to draw upon. Your people will be more understanding and it will provide a chance to authentically connect with others.

Balance – if the meeting is too much fun and not enough business, that can be problematic. But if it's all business and no fun, your audience is totally disengaged. The all hands meeting needs to be a place where the employees literally can’t wait to get to! Some of the best companies have clear transitions between segments. They know when to get serious and when to create different emotions. Awareness is key.

TIP: focus on the transitions. If you watch the transitions you may see opportunities to use other tools like music, videos, or pictures in compelling ways. It helps participants prepare both mentally and emotionally with what’s coming next.

Openness – the hallmark of a great town hall would be an open mic Q&A. I hope you aren’t one of those companies that script their questions. That would be the worst-case example of what I’m talking about. Sometimes, however, it may take time to get folks to open up and talk. You may need to work at this if your company’s culture isn’t ready to ask questions, or if you and your leadership team haven’t yet created a safe environment for questions to be asked.

TIP: instead of waiting for questions to be asked, you might have a few questions ready to ask others. I like to have a few soft and hard balls ready for my leaders when the Q&A starts slow. Also, make sure you allocate enough time for this. A great meeting may be 100% Q&A.

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Quality – not every meeting can be 110% on the quality front. But like many things, you get what you invest in. If you always run it low quality, it speaks to your teams and people how you feel about it. If you are speaking to your most important audience and they can’t hear you or see what you are trying to illustrate, that should be an immediate red flag on lots of things. Small and large details here matter. Think it through with deliberate intentions.

TIP: pick a few important meetings and do things that make them special. Something as simple as showing branding videos or having great music playing at the beginning can have a massive effect to move the needle. Don’t miss a chance to put the team in a good place to respond positively to your leadership messages.

The company all hands meetings are my favorite meetings throughout the year. They aren’t always easy and the messages aren't always simple. But they are the time to bring the group together to provide inspiration and direction. Your people are counting on it. Take the time to plan them carefully with your staff and they will pay huge dividends.

Want to talk about how we can help your meetings succeed? Reach out; we'd love to chat!

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