Tips for Filling Seats at All-Hands Meetings

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Call them Town Halls or All-Hands, large group meetings which physically unite front-line employees with senior leaders are a tremendous opportunity to build bridges and improve relationships.

Having one platform whereby hundreds of associates or more – from diverse departments, locations and functions – can jointly learn more about their organization’s goals, performance, struggles and successes is a glorious gift.

Yet, Dulye & Co. research shows that most Town Hall Meetings are less than successful. So much so, that associates avoid attending them.

Why?

The biggest barriers are logistics and engagement. Here’s how to overcome both:

Barrier – Logistics

Logistics captures the physical experience of the session—seating arrangement, chair selection, room size, audio and visual capability, room temperature, ambient noise, and even the timing of the session. If the meeting is too challenging from a physical standpoint, attendees will check out—mentally and emotionally.

Creating an action team of front-line employees – the actual end customers of the meeting – to plan and manage all logistical angles, is one of the best fix strategies that you can implement. Give the team decision-making responsibility to plan, manage and continuously improve on the logistics of the meeting.

Additionally, include logistics-based questions on meeting evaluation forms that participants complete. That steady stream of data about the physical experience will keep the team focused and active.

Dulye & Co. Research On Barriers To Effective Town Hall Meetings
Research of more than 1,000 Fortune 500 employees conducted 2008


Barrier – Engagement
Responsibility for getting associates into seats and engaged with the meeting doesn’t belong solely to the leader behind the podium—or the Communications or Human Resources Department behind the scenes. Being there – physically and mentally—has communal ownership.

Unfortunately, that is rarely practiced.

Getting associates to attend – to actually want to attend with some degree of curiosity and interest – is a responsibility of front-line, middle and senior managers in the associates’ department or division. Managers, at all levels, benefit from the information exchanged at an All-Hands. The high-level business overview complements the local perspective that they communicate with team members through staff meetings and huddles. Widening the perspective of associates improves their understanding of operational and organizational decisions and initiatives. It mitigates associates’ paranoia of “what’s going on” and gives answers to the important questions about “why.”

Here’s one approach that Dulye & Co. has successfully implemented with our clients to step up the ownership and involvement of managers and improve Town Hall Meeting participation. These actions should start well in advance of the meeting—for example, at least 4-5 weeks before a quarterly meeting.

  1. Identify front-line and middle managers from departments at the location where the meeting will be held. These managers will become a key connection to front-line employees and encourage their attendance at the meeting.
  2. Define the purpose for the upcoming meeting and set a participation goal (of at least 90%). Develop a personal message from the senior business leader who is hosting the meeting about the meeting purpose and goal.
  3. Hold a face-to-face or teleconference briefing session between the senior leader and department managers to introduce the purpose of the upcoming meeting and the participation goal. Explain the meeting’s importance, canvas for key topics to cover at the meeting, and identify a process for fielding, in advance, unfiltered comments and questions from associates to be shared during the actual meeting. 
  4. The senior leader should also meet with his or her direct reports, communicate a similar message with them and task their support for ongoing reinforcement of the importance of the meeting. They should also assist in the canvassing of advance questions to keep the content real and relevant.
  5. Senior leaders, in turn, now use their staff meetings and informal communications practices to promote the meeting’s importance and the relevancy of content. They validate the openness of advance feedback collection practices to uncover real questions that associates want answered.
  6. One week before the meeting, task front-line and middle managers to supply several questions from their employee work groups to a feedback collection tool that has been established for the meeting. Web-based methodology comes in handy here to create an easy way for participants to provide feedback. This methodology can also be anonymous if, as in many organizations, there is a fear factor in the company’s culture.
  7. Finally, involve front-line and middle managers in the actual meeting. Have several managers from different departments ask several of the advance questions. Dulye & Co. research shows that live question-and-answer segments in Town Halls get a performance boost when they are preceded by 5-10 minutes of an exchange of advance collected questions being asked by front-line managers, using straight talk. The candid exchange signals the green light for sensitive issue or questions to be aired live.

 

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