Last week, I organised a field trip in Hamburg, visiting successful companies talking about innovation and creativity. When listening to the young leaders in one online startup company, one question that came to my mind there and that bothered me since then is “Why do CEO’s of large companies so seldom use staff meetings?”.
A first thing that impressed me at one startup with 300 employees worldwide was that all employees get a two day training on “giving and taking feedback” immediately when they start with the company. The idea behind this step is that the founders would keep the open and honest communication in the company as one key element of company culture even when growing. For that reason, they also kept the “Friday Meeting”. In this meeting which takes place every Friday after lunch, all employees are invited and the management team talks about the newest developments in the company. For employees not located in Hamburg, they provide a live streaming to all other offices and they record the meeting and provide the video afterwards for those who were not able to attend personally. Talking to employees it seems (beside some other great measures), that this meeting is a key to keep everyone informed and motivated and to encourage the communication across teams. Also new employees are introduced in these meetings, making it possible for them to get quickly in touch with a broad variety of colleagues in the company.
So coming back to my initial question: Why does this not happen in larger traditional global coporations? Talking to managers and board members there, I got some of the following answers:
- “Impossible to do, we are much too large and global” – Really? Why does size matter here. Most of the larger companies have large buildings or a canteen, where such meetings are organised by the unions on a regular basis. Also the technology to provide a lifestream to other places in one location or to other locations is not complicated any more.
- “Sending this all around the world is much too expensive. Think about our annual meetings.” – No! This is definitely not the case any more. Some years ago you needed to rent a satellite connection to transfer video, but, hey, today you can do live streaming to millions of people even on your mobile with apps like meerkat or periscope. And: It must not be a perfect stage with perfect lights and 4K resolution. Employees honour the information and the communication, not there perfect picture. They can differentiate if they watch an expensively produced TV show like ’24’ or if they watch a recorded speech of their department manager celebrating the 20th company anniversary.
- “But if I say something only our employees should hear and not the outside public. How can I make sure that no-one steals the video.” – This is a valid point, but also here I would have some answers to think about. First I would say, that in general you should trust your people. Normally by telling them that this information is only for them, they respect this and will not copy. If there is a high risk, that this happens, there is anyhow something profoundly wrong with the company culture and we should work on this issue immediately. And yes, there could be always some black sheep, but this risk is always there. Also if you send out an eMail to your colleagues.
- “I don’t have the time for such meetings every Friday. I have more important things to do.” – Ok, good point. But what is more important than your employees, as they do in a company of 10 thousand employees 99,99% of the work? And if you do not have the time every Friday, start with one meeting a month or share the work with your colleagues and board members.
- “And what happens if nobody will come or if those who come ask hard questions?” – Maybe all your employees will be surprised when you start something like this and will not attend. Maybe they are afraid of attending, as the company culture tells you that you should not waste your time with such meetings and do real work during the day. But what is more important than communication in a social system like an organization. So maybe next time some more will come, maybe the time after next time again some more will come when they hear that you support the attendance and think it is important. But what about the hard questions. Look at it that way: If they ask “hard” questions, it is a good sign. They see the meeting as an important event and would like to use it as an opportunity to get in touch with you directly. You don’t have to answer every question and with an open communication, people also accept hard answers. But be careful: Giving “politically correct” but untrue answers will hit back sooner or later.
- “Will I have enough topics for a weekly meeting.” – I am sure that when starting with such a meeting on a regular basis the topics will grow. With increasing trust more and more topics can be mentioned in such meetings. And if you have doubt you can fill a meeting every week, simply start with a monthly meeting.
So do you still think it is such a bad idea to think about staff meetings in your organization? Hm. Maybe you should think again. Otherwise your employee will link staff meetings only with unions, large change programs with large staff reductions or large company crisis. I would like to encourage every leader to think back to the times they were young and I would like to encourage all of them to experiment a little bit with innovations also in the management system and not only in the R&D department.
What do you think?