Town Hall Best Practices
There are many articles and websites offering tips and advise on how to hold successful a Town Hall meeting with senior executives (which are also referred to as All Staff meetings). Several of the best or most interesting of these sites have been included for reference below. In addition, three case studies detailing lessons learned and best practices by larger companies with town halls have also been included. The first includes tips from several companies. The second focuses on Square's best practices. The third recounts how Trello hosts meetings.
This response will synthesize best practices from both the literature and the case studies and list eight of them below. A brief conclusion will follow. All references refer to Town Hall meetings held be senior company leadership members.
1) First best practice: spend the time to prepare
As several articles, and General Cable's director Communications and Marketing note, especially for larger businesses, preparation for Town Hall meetings is key. This includes planning the events well in advance, sending employees topics and key information a few days beforehand, and including multiple people in preparation. It also includes site planning and scouting. This is one the best ways to ensure consistent messaging, and ensure your meeting runs efficiently.
2) Second best practice: Limit the scope of your agenda
Another way to ensure consistent messaging is narrow the focus of meetings, and be as concise as possible. At Square, they have about 5 main topics, which seems somewhat standard, but other sources recommend as few as two. What almost all the advice recommends is to have a written agenda and stick to it as much as possible. This ensures not only that the meetings do not run over time, but consistency of messaging as well.
3) third best practice: find ways to include your regional and remote employees
This is another topic of near universal agreement is the need to find ways to accommodate employees who can't physically present at meetings. Trello specifically has a 'remote first' policy, which means considering the needs of offsite personnel before on-site ones. Square recommends finding the best time for the majority of staff. Especially with larger companies, ensuring they all your employees can participate is crucial. It also has the added bonus of being easy to track participation for remote attendees
4) Fourth Best practice: involve the audience
In order to counteract the boredom that can accompany Town Hall meetings, many companies try to generate and encourage participation with a variety of tactics. These can include simple strategies such as lengthening the Q and A sessions, providing food and music or having guest speakers. It can also include having things like social media responses and online polls during the meeting itself. The latter has the added benefit of allowing precise participation tracking. Trello, with its online meeting board, has something similar to this in place.
5) Fifth Best practice: Encouraging questions
One of the biggest hurdle at these type of meetings is employee's fear of asking questions. Questions are one of the best ways to get honest feedback and participation, but many employees are afraid to ask. At one chemical company, the CEO changed the format from lecture to a discussion about issues. At Trello, they allow anonymous questions to be submitted, which is a general recommendation as well. At Square, they ask for questions in advance and allow voting on the top questions. These and other techniques both allow executives to see what key topics employees are concerned about, and (in some cases) track who is participating.
6) sixth best practice: focus on the positive and the individual.
At both Trello and Square, they build in significant time to focus on individual employment and company achievements, from celebrating anniversaries to the company's success. This helps build company morale and loyalty, as well as demonstrates that the company is aware of individual contributions. It also has been seen to increase participation and attentiveness at meetings. Finally, it's a good way to allow other sections of larger companies to be aware what different teams are doing.
7) seventh best practice: Tell your employees what's happening, honestly
Another key buzz word in good town hall meetings is transparency. This means telling your employees, as much as you can, what is actually happening with the company in a clear way. At Sikich, they do this through snapshots and a state of the union type message. At Square, they have a specific process where they first explain the why of company actions, second the overall strategy, and third specific initiatives. But the general idea is the same: make sure you give clear, honest answers to your employees about the state of your company and its upcoming projects. Not only does this prevent rumors and gossip, it should ensure consistent messaging across multiple town halls.
8) eight best practice: collect as much feedback as possible.
This last piece of advice may be the most important: Always collect feedback. Almost all of the guides I found listed this as a major priority, as does Square and Sikich. This feedback is usually gathered through anonymous surveys and often have quantitative and qualitative questions. Quantitative would involve metrics and ratings based questions, while qualitative would be more open-ended. This is the best way to find key topics for follow up, as well as way to track participation. Just make sure your employees feel they can answer honestly.
While each company has different needs and priorities for their town meetings, the advice above should give your company a place to start planning. Preparing for Town Halls; keeping the agenda focused, transparent and consistent; and ensuring employee participation are all keys to a successful town hall by senior leadership. Further, by focusing on company successes and individual achievement, loyalty and participation can be encouraged. Finally, learning from each meeting and using it to improve the next one is extremely important. These are best practices I have discovered and should allow for consistent messaging, participation tracking and learning key topics for follow up.