When the Boardroom Is too Small for Big Agendas

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Barry Horwitz shares a few tips on how to improve communication between the front line and top executives when the organization is large, the problems are complex, and the stakeholders are diverse.

In her book, “Seeing Around Corners,” Rita McGrath notes that insights at the “edges” of an organization — close to the customers but far from the executive suite — can take a long time to reach the top of the food chain, if they get there at all.

This can be problematic for a number of reasons, but it’s particularly troublesome when it relates to the development of a strategic plan.

Here, communication in both directions between the front line and top executives is essential. Not only does this ensure that everyone feels engaged and part of the process, but it also uncovers critical information that may be otherwise overlooked, while limiting the likelihood of important stakeholders being surprised by the final plan.

All fine and good. But when the organization is large, the problems are complex, and the stakeholders are diverse, it may be easier said than done. It’s not like you can fit everyone into a conference room and hammer out a strategy over lunch. Under these circumstances, the “Town Hall” meeting format can be especially effective.

Direct Participation at All Levels

As the name suggests, the idea of a business Town Hall meeting originated in American politics as a way for political leaders — who were literally standing in a town hall — to speak to, and more importantly, hear from their constituents on current issues. During the Jack Welch era, General Electric was well known for using the concept to connect its senior executives to groups of employees for the same purpose.

I’ve used this approach as well in my work. For example, during the strategic planning process for a state university, we were able to successfully engage nearly 1,000 people using this format. This was an organization with many diverse stakeholders (faculty, staff, students, alumni, etc.), and the Town Hall gave participants a chance to have unfiltered, firsthand knowledge of what was being discussed and considered and, if they chose, to have direct input into the overall strategy.

But it does take some planning and an appreciation of the fact that these are not simply meetings to inform about decisions already made. To be most effective, they need to be interactive and informative, with senior leadership in particular genuinely open to feedback and input from all levels of the organization.

Key points include:

  • Setting the stage
  • Responding to challenges
  • Post-meeting input

 

Read the full article, How to Run a “Town Hall” Meeting, on HorwitzandCo.com.