Thursday, January 14, 2010

Transforming Town Halls

Every year at this time leaders across the world engage in an annual ritual - the Employee Town Hall. For leaders who like doing these talks, it can still be an obligatory chore. For leaders who hate them, it's root canal without novocaine.

If you manage a large organization, the Town Hall may be the only chance all year for some of your people to hear you and interact with you. Why waste the opportunity by doing it the same old way everyone else does it.

Done well, Town Halls make memories with messages that stick. My old boss was so good at them, people would quote his lines back to me a decade later. Detail divers hated them because he didn't sate their need for numbers, charts and graphs. The rank and file loved them because they had an open forum and an empathetic ear for their concerns and needs. He talked with them, not at them. People notice the difference.

Done poorly, employees can't remember the leader's lines an hour later. The leader spends a week or two fretting about every bullet point in their 30-slide data dump and they forget that a Town Hall is not merely an opportunity to transfer information.
It's an opportunity to transfer belief. Belief that the goals are the right goals; that the strategy is well-designed and achievable; that the resources are sufficient for success; that the leader cares about all the people in the room; and that management knows what the hell they're doing.

A few tips for leaders to lessen the pain and increase the gain.

  • Send an email invite with what you'd like to cover
  • Let them email in questions with no limitations
  • Answer them as best you can in the Town Hall - and after
  • Before the day, talk to people at every level to get a pulse
  • Use ten slides or less. Slides are a crutch. Less is more
  • Make slides clean and visual - pictures usually beat words
  • Don't put directs in the front row. It makes you look weak
  • Start by standing front row center with nothing but a smile
  • Give a 3-minute 'hook' and state your intent for the day
  • Go through slides and talk to the meaning of each slide
  • End by standing front row center to take questions
  • End with a 3-minute 'hammer' to nail down your theme

A few last thoughts:

Don't make promises you can't keep

Start with realism - end with optimism

Don't hide ugly truths people need to hear

Leaders speak in broad bold themes, not details

Press the flesh - it makes a difference when you do

Rehearse in the actual venue - make it your home court

Praise your people - they're a big reason you have the job

No podium. Stand in front - no notes - just a mike and clicker

Make your Town Hall leader mantra "how can I work the room?"

Don't present - talk and connect. Don't just power through slides

You may not agree with this, but give it a whirl. What you lose is a boring brain dump. What you gain is new connectivity with the people who make you great.

No comments:

Post a Comment