In an early stage company, the all-hands company meeting is the most important means of communicating. In my experience, it is the best opportunity for management to be assured that important information is highlighted and discussed with employees.
In small companies, managing and teaching managers how to manage is often a low priority. It is especially important, therefore, that the boss communicates frequently with the employees to make sure that the message she wants is delivered.
Here are essential elements to incorporate into company meetings:
1. Conduct a Management Committee Meeting before the company meeting--Being on the same page with your management team is critical before addressing the whole company. Let each manager know that they will be speaking for 5-10 minutes during the company meeting and give them a chance to tell their peers what they will be discussing. Often, they will engage among themselves about initiatives that cross departmental boundaries. Let them know in advance what you will be covering so that they are not blindsided and so they can make suggestions. The meeting cannot be your monologue-- employees want to know that the person to whom they report is respected and given an opportunity to talk.
2. Prepare--Think about what you want to say days in advance, especially the over-arching theme, so that you can make everything serve the theme. Try to leverage something topical that will appeal broadly -i.e movies, news items, or sports. Let employees see that you prepared by having notes. This tells them that you are in their service and you respect them enough to want to put on a good show. Work the room--call on employees to help you finish your thoughts; they love being engaged publicly and having the right answer. Admit when they have thought of something germane that you hadn't--humility is a wonderful thing! The company meeting should exhaust you--it should drain you of emotional energy because one of your main goals is to inspire, energize, and give employees a(nother) reason to believe in you and the company. You should be nervous, and even let the employees know that you are.
3. Keep it to one hour--Be complete, but disciplined. Share lots of information as very little in a company is truly confidential. If you want employees to feel engaged, think and act outside the box, and fill voids, you must inform them of what is happening throughout the company. You want cross fertilization. Employees can concentrate and stand in place if you stick to an agenda, respect time limits, and entertain them with different speakers and topics. Educate them without being pedantic--give them something that expands their minds and makes them reflect.
4. Perfunctory and inspirational - Much of the content necessarily will be mundane, e.g. enrollment period deadlines for health plan announcements, stock trading windows, need for employees who have not completed mandatory training to do so, employee departures and introductions of new hires, warnings about stealing toilet paper, etc. Also, have honest discussions of business performance--Wall Street perceptions, targets not attained, changes that are required because of lack of performance--must be discussed. Of course, good performance should be shared and celebrated. Awards to employees who went above and beyond, and elaborating on how exactly their behavior moved the needle, perfectly embodied certain company values, led to an undiscovered opportunity, or enhanced business performance and morale is simply a must. Begin and end the meeting with something inspirational or a challenge to employees--tee-it-up at the beginning, allude to it throughout, and bring it home with the punch line at the end.
5. Break bread afterward--Immediately following the meeting, provide lunch. The Italian in me prefers pizza but Chinese food, works, too! Seeing people interact at the buffet line or making room for others to sit, helping a colleague clean-up a spill, or commenting on the food fosters camaraderie and allows those who would normally not have a reason to interact to speak to each other. Seeing fellow colleagues in a different light reminds everyone that we are humans with the same needs and wants; this serves as a subtle reminder of the value of partnership and support. It also gives them time to discuss the events of the meeting, particularly the inspirational, amongst themselves. Let them have their moment. Little companies are a lot like families--those that eat together, stay together.
Take your company meeting seriously and you will see enormous direct and indirect benefits.
What you put into it, employees will take out.
Joseph V. Gulfo, MD, MBA, is author of the book, Innovation Breakdown--How the FDA and Wall Street Cripple Medical Advances, and a member of the Life Sciences Council of Springboard Enterprises. He is a serial biopharmaceutical and medtech entrepreneur and CEO. He teaches graduate courses in Cancer Biology and Strategic Innovation Management. Dr. Gulfo is passionate about removing obstacles to breakthrough innovation, managing start-up companies, cultivating young managers, and developing products that can make huge difference in the lives of patients and individuals. @josephgulfo