5 Agenda Items for Company-Wide Meetings
BY Peter Cohan
Don't waste everyone's time. Here's how to get the best out of every company-wide meeting.
Your start-up is growing. You used to be able fit your entire team around a conference room table. But as demand for your product increases, you’ve hired more people. And you can’t run those all-company meetings the way you used to.
As your venture grows, you can’t do it all yourself. In fact, it becomes more and more important for all your employees to understand the company’s values, goals and strategy and encourage the people closest to the problems to take the initiative to solve them.
Doing that well means that you must maintain the same level of transparency when you have 150 employees as you did when you had only 14. To do that you’ll have to use new technology while keeping the same five items on your all-company meeting agenda.
It’s crucial to hire new people who share your passion for the opportunity your start-up is pursuing. But it’s also critical that your team acts according to a clearly defined set of shared values.
You should kick off your all-company meetings by repeating those values and picking one or two employees to tell stories of actions they’ve taken that exemplify those values.
For example, Axcient, a company that helps companies back up their computer operations and restore them in the wake of an emergency, goes out of its way to make it culture clear to everyone. As CEO, Justin Moore explained to me, Axcient values “getting results, integrity, teamwork, building inspired products, and putting partners and customers first.”
While values provide a valuable context for what people do, your all company meetings must be grounded in the articulation of key goals.
As I described in Hungry Start-up Strategy, your start-up must articulate three kinds of goals. The first is a broad mission. One CEO who does this is Gary Flake. His company, Clipboard, aspires to be the world’s leader in “helping people save and remember things they find online.”
You should also make it clear how you expect to realize a return for your investors. Generally, entrepreneurs don’t emphasize an IPO or an acquisition to their employees. Mike Olson, CEO of big data analysis firm, Cloudera, wants his company to “build a great product, grow consistently, delight customers, and achieve long-term renewable customer subscriptions to its services.”
Finally, your start-up must discuss the short-term goals that it needs to achieve in order to realize its mission. Your all-company meetings should review the progress of the company in achieving these short-term goals and set new goals as circumstances change.
Goals are important, but without a strategy, how will you get there? In order for each member of your team to take initiative, they must understand the strategy. Therefore, your all-company meetings should focus on its five elements:
Arenas. Here you have to explain which product(s) you plan to sell, which customer groups your venture will target, and which countries you plan to sell in;
Vehicles. Let potential investors know whether your growth will come from partnerships, internally-developed products and services, or acquisitions. For each of the relevant categories, give specific examples;
Value proposition. How are you going to convince potential customers that the benefit of buying your product far exceeds the price you charge, the risk of dealing with a start-up and the value propositions of all your venture’s competitors?
Economic logic. How will your start-up earn a profit--charging a high price for a unique product or the lowest price in the industry--with even lower costs?
Staging. Once you have the capital, what exactly will you do first, second, third and so on?
If you are hiring many new employees, it may make sense to repeat this at every meeting. But if your staff is not growing as fast, just focus on the key elements that have changed--if any--since the previous meeting.
Next, your all-company meeting should highlight progress being made on the two or three most important initiatives your start-up is taking to achieve its goals.
You should ask the leaders of these initiatives to discuss their progress since the previous meeting, what they plan to do in the weeks ahead, and any challenges they are encountering.
These reports will help your company to understand what you think is important and help others think about ways that they can pitch in to make these strategic initiative a success.
Finally, your all-company meetings should discuss results. You can decide what details you want to present to your employees--sales versus targets, the number of new customers signed, competitive wins and losses, cash flow, number of employees, and the status of new products under development.
You should also encourage people to ask questions about any of the topics. And if you are having trouble getting people to ask questions, you could pick people to ask what you think are the key questions or ask and answer them yourself.
And as the company grows, you are going to need to use technology to make these meetings work. You could require all offices to operate video conferencing, broadcast the proceedings live over the Internet, and video tape the meetings and post them for later consumption.
As your start-up grows, it is vital that you maintain the same level of transparency and open communication that you had when it was small. Keep these five items on the agenda and your start-up will be better poised to seize new opportunities and defend against evolving threats.
Strategy consultant, start-up investor, teacher, corporate speaker, pundit, and author PETER COHAN has invested in six start-ups, three of which were sold for a total of $2 billion. Before founding Peter S. Cohan & Associates in 1994, he worked with HBS strategy guru Michael Porter.