5 Steps for Planning a Killer All-Hands Meeting

Recently I picked up my son from his Sunday school class and asked him what they talked about in class.  I wasn’t expecting chapter and verse but I was hoping for a little more than “oh, you know, the regular stuff.”  This got me thinking about other gatherings and how much and how long people retain the salient points.  I did a bit of advanced research (I asked three people last week about their last all hands meetings) and I found out they must have been in my son’s Sunday school class because their answer was the same … “oh, you know, the same old stuff.”

Most leaders don’t start planning their meetings with the objective to present the same old stuff to the same old crowd and hope for the same old results, but somehow that is what ends up happening.  Many of us get in a routine and don’t put the time to think through what we really want to accomplish in an all-hands meeting.

Start by answering this question.  What is the one thing you want people to remember and take action on as a result of this meeting?  Not ten things, not five things, not even three things.  Just one thing you want people to remember and take action on.

OK, I hear you screaming “But I have tons of stuff to cover this month!”  The new forecasts are due, we’re releasing a new version of the software, we’re closing our Paducah office, we’re making changes to our comp plan, our benefits plan, our bonus plan, and on and on and on!  These are probably all important items and you have to find ways to communicate each and every one, but when you are asking your entire staff, or division or company to come together, use that time wisely to move the company forward, don’t just tread water with the same old song.

When you are thinking about your all-hands meetings and that ONE thing, plan out an entire year.  Think of it as your editorial calendar.  In January, we are going to stress customer intimacy, in February we are going to stress goal setting, in March our theme will be process improvement.  And then each meeting, your team will leave knowing the most important issue of the month and something specific they can do to improve the company’s position.

Here are the 5 Steps to planning a killer all-hands meeting:

1. Pick 1 Thing.  Build an editorial calendar for the year with the major issue you plan to build your meetings around.  Support the all-hands meeting with other related communications throughout the month.  Come up with sample “call to action” suggestions for how the staff might have an impact on that issue or challenge.  During the course of the month and then specifically during the meeting, make it obvious what the “1 Thing” is.

2. Tie that 1 Thing to the Corporate Direction.  One of today’s most significant leadership challenges is battling the WIFM and LICD cultures we live in.  WIFM stands for “What’s in it for me” and LICD stands for what is the “Least I can do.”  When you tie that “1Thing” into your corporate higher purpose, folks will begin to understand that the “1 Thing” is more than a trivial exercise, it’s the creation of a line of site that links what they are doing everyday with the purpose, direction and success of the company.  They will eventually begin to understand that doing that “1 Thing” is good for them AND the company and that the MORE they do of it, the more successful they and the entire organization will become.

3. Compete for their Interests.  In the case of an all-hands meeting, you are competing with all sorts of conflicting priorities.  I could write a book with all the excuses I’ve heard over the years for why people missed meetings, but in general it boils down to this.  “It is not a priority in my life and I found something I’d rather do with my time.”  Since this is the playing field you’ve found yourself in, you’ve got to bring out the heavy artillery.  Find out how you can first motivate your staff to willingly attend, and then motivate them to take action.  Think of yourself as a director with a major network.  Why would people want to come to your meeting rather than watch American Idol?  Sure, you can make them come, but the stick will only work as short-term motivation; the carrot will produce long and lasting results.

4. Plan an Event.  Think of these meeting as “Events” and not just meetings.  Plan out your event in detail. Start with your objective or the “1 Thing” and work backward.  Make it a welcoming environment.  Get people to interact and you’ll find the energy will go through the roof.  If Wal-Mart can greet people at the door, why can’t you?  Make them feel welcome in their own company.  Know their names, where they work, their customer or project issues.  Feed them, but don’t just feed them pizza and snacks; feed their inner being.  At one time in their relationship with the company they were excited, really excited about being with the company.  There is no valid reason why you can’t rekindle that on a regular basis.  There is no valid reason why people shouldn’t circle the all-hands dates on their calendars and view them as can’t miss events.

5. Delivery. I heard a speaker recently whose credentials and knowledge on the topic were second to none but about half way through his presentation, I began to tune him out.  He was speaking down to his audience.  A bit condescending.  People don’t really care how much you know until they know how much you care.  If you hold all-hands meetings, you probably already care about people.  Show it.  Look for ways to make your delivery come to life and really speak to people.  We once had our CFO dress up like a clown because we discovered that we paid the clown we had hired for the summer picnic more than our average billing rate.  I once tattooed my arms with our goals for the upcoming year.  I’ve seen music and videos used creatively.  I’ve seen skits and costumes that convey a theme.  I’ve seen executives sing, dance and even play an instrument.  It all serves to humanize the company and build relationships that are person to person and not person to company.

So there you have it.  If you only remember “1 Thing” from this blog … good!

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