Editor’s Note: Alison Davis is presenting “Transform Town Hall Meetings to Engage Every Employee: Revamp Your Format to Create Motivation” at the PRSA Connect 15 Conference on Monday, May 18. Register to attend the conference to learn more about Alison’s session.
If you are in charge of managing a leader’s town hall meeting, you know the drill: Every quarter or so, you sweat and struggle to create an agenda, pull together content, and run the session so it all goes smoothly.
But afterwards, you’re often left with the suspicion that the town hall was a bit lackluster. Your post-event survey indicated that employees appreciated the effort, but they weren’t brimming with enthusiasm. You wish you could get inside employees’ heads to find out what they really think.
I’ll tell you: Employees view most town halls as nothing more than “meh.” How do I know this? My firm has conducted hundreds of surveys and focus groups, so we’ve been able to get employees’ unvarnished feedback about town halls. Yes, employees think it’s valuable to interact with senior leaders. But there are many things they hate about town halls. Here is the top 10 list:
10. Technical/logistical difficulties. “We were at a remote location, and we couldn’t hear everything.” “People at the back of the cafeteria couldn’t see the speakers.” “With the money they spend on these meetings, you’d think they’d figure out how to fix A/V.”
9. Bad PPT. “I can’t even read all that detail.” “You’d think they could do better than those ugly, dense slides.”
8. Poor time management. “One speaker takes more time than he’s supposed to, then the others have to rush through their slides.” “The meeting’s supposed to be an hour, but it always runs long.” “When I don’t get back to my station on time, my supervisor gets cranky.”
7. Boring! “So many facts and figures!” “With all those charts, time moves soooo slowly.” “I stopped going to the actual meetings and started attending remotely so at least I can multi-task.”
6. Over our heads. “To be honest, I quite frankly don’t understand a lot of the stuff the CEO is saying.” “It’s all MBA-level content, as if the boss is presenting to the board, not employees.”
5. Same stuff, different day. “One town hall meeting is pretty much the same as another.” “The format doesn’t change from quarter to quarter, and the content’s not very different either.” “I feel like I heard it all before.”
4. Meaningless content. “I guess what’s covered is important for the company, but I don’t know what it means to me.” “Am I supposed to do anything differently? It’s not clear.”
3. Fake questions. “They ask for questions ahead of time, but when the facilitator reads the questions, they seem very packaged.” “People raise their hands to ask questions, but it seems like that was all prearranged.”
2. Not participative. “The town hall seems very one-way: They talk and we have to listen.” “The CEO says he wants questions, but the presentation always runs long and we end up with only a few minutes for Q&A.” “It doesn’t feel like it’s really safe to speak.”
1. Uninspiring. “The focus is on bad news, so town halls are a downer.” “It’s like listening to a lecture. Am I motivated? No.” “What do I feel when I leave the town hall? Mostly relief that it’s over.”
Ouch! Although the truth hurts, it does not have to be this way:
You have the power to improve your town halls. Start by asking employees for their candid feedback. Then address the issues that will make the biggest impact.
Alison Davis is the founder and CEO of Davis & Company, the award-winning employee communication firm that for 30 years has helped leading companies, such as BASF, Ingersoll Rand, Johnson & Johnson, Nestlé and PepsiCo, reach, engage and motivate their employees. Davis has written or edited these groundbreaking books: “49 Ways to Improve Employee Communications” (2013), “The Definitive Guide to HR Communication” (FT Press, 2011) and “Your Attention, Please” (Adams Business, 2006).