What should small companies cover in all-hands meetings?

Published 25th April 2018 by Investors In People

All-hands meeting definition

An all-hands meeting, otherwise known as a company-wide meeting, is open to everyone employed by the organisation. They are often limited to those employed directly by the organisation, so excluding freelancers and contractors, although for smaller companies in a single location it’s often those co-located at the time of the meeting that end up attending.

All-hands meetings: why run then?

Organisations will have different motivations for running all-hands meetings, often falling into one or more of these categories.

Facilitating information-sharing

It’s hard to get people to read emails and if you put updates on the company intranet, some people will inevitably miss them. All-hands meetings offer a direct route to pass on information to the majority of employees (some may be unable to attend).

This information includes things like a change in strategy, a key hire, a market trend that needs responding to or financial results and any associated actions. Leaders know that everyone will hear the information first hand, which is especially useful for more sensitive announcements.

Strengthening employee voice

We’ve written before on the importance of employee voice to engagement and competitive advantage.

All-hands meetings give leaders a platform for visioning in ways that boost alignment, such as running through company roadmaps.

Provided employees feel empowered to speak freely and openly in all-hands meetings, these are great places for leaders to gather useful information on everything from strategy to employee benefits and anecdotal customer feedback.

Answering questions in an open and constructive way also helps build rapport with employees and gives them confidence that leaders are really listening and taking feedback on board.

Boosting alignment

Visioning is an important leadership behaviour that helps keep employees focused on tasks and actions that align with organisational goals.

All-hands meetings give leaders a platform for visioning in ways that boost alignment, such as running through company roadmaps, showcasing three-year plans and reasserting organisational values.

Leadership visibility

One of the most common criticisms of small organisations, particularly as they grow, is that senior leaders become invisible to employees, no longer ‘walking the floor’ or knowing people by name.

All-hands meetings are a good way to reconnect employees with senior management, a relationship that can easily break down when cascading down of information is the only mechanism used to align the very top of the organisation with the front line.

The direct link between the top and bottom of the organisation which gets established and nurtured through all-hands meetings engenders trust and keep lines of communication open.

Celebrating wins

Wins are extremely important to the lifeblood of organisations because they are proof that personal and organisational success is possible for employees.

Strong all-hands meetings showcase successes that have helped achieve organisational objectives, highlight the behaviours and actions that led to these successes, point out how collaboration and teamwork played a factor and also provide use cases on how other teams and individuals can emulate the success.

Recognition schemes can be linked to these parts of the meeting.

Highlighting learnings

Positively highlighting ideas or initiatives that haven’t worked can be an important part of all-hands meetings: these help employees develop growth mindsets and also show that failure is something to be tolerated if it leads to better outcomes in the future.

Strong all-hands meetings showcase successes that have helped achieve organisational objectives and highlight the behaviours and actions that led to these successes.

It’s a fine line between genuinely highlighting learnings from mistakes and putting the spotlight on individuals, but if you can do it well, it’s great for your culture.

All-hands meeting format

Product engagement manager Gokul Rajaram suggests that all-hands meetings should be 60% on alignment with mission, strategy and priorities, 15% on celebrating people and achievements and 25% on providing a safe and active space to ask and answer questions.

The ideal mix will depend on the company. For example, if an all-hands meeting takes place following a change in strategy, more time might be needed to cover off the changes and ensure everyone is aligned. Conversely, the end-of-year meeting may be dominated by celebrating the ‘best of the best’ successes from the previous year.

All-hands meeting: who should speak?

Diverse voices are really important at all-hands meetings, not only because good ideas and wins can come from any part of the organisation but because showcasing diverse voices helps build an inclusive culture.

People should be allowed to speak in the way most comfortable to them – some like PowerPoint, for example, but some hate it.

Having a diverse set of voices also sets the tone that everyone is welcome to speak up at the discussion at the end. Make sure that people across all levels of seniority get to speak, as well as a broad demographic mix.

All-hands meeting agenda

The length of your all-hands meeting will depend on how often you run them, company size, the difficulty in getting all employees in one place (are people traveling from multiple sites?) and what needs to be covered.

Once you’ve decided on the timings, here is a template agenda you can use for your own all-hands meeting:

Introduction: welcome from the CEO

Part 1: Alignment

  • Revisioning of existing strategy and priorities
  • Revisioning of expected behaviours and actions
  • Reminder of organisational values
  • Any changes to existing roadmaps or strategy
  • Organisation-wide projects that are new or have hit milestones

Part 2: People & Successes

  • Introducing new starters and a bit about them
  • Achievements and successes of individuals
  • Achievement and successes of teams
  • Updates on smaller projects that showcase skills and expertise
  • Recognition and reward

Part 3: Discussion

  • Feedback on what has been discussed
  • Feedback on anything else not discussed at the meeting
  • Questions sent in advance
  • Ad-hoc questions

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