Tag Archives: change management

Cure for the common town hall meeting.

So here’s a curious question. If you don’t have a town, can you still have a town hall meeting? I mean, if it’s only a company and not a whole town, and if the top person at the head table is hired by a board instead of being elected by “citizens,” what’s the point?

Okay, so we all know what’s really going on. Somewhere along the production line, someone got the notion to call what usually amounts to a series of droning management speeches something warm and fuzzy like a “town hall meeting.” That way, the company and its executives would seem more real and more…well…transparent – sort of like the emperor’s new clothes.

Let’s Get Real
If you go back in time, you’ll find at least one striking difference between colonial days when town meetings were the real thing and the feeble attempts of companies today trying to duplicate the effect. When they opened the floor for discussion, it created true dialogue. Sure, employees are usually invited to ask questions at corporate town hall meetings, too. But few step up to the microphone to ask anything probing or provocative because they don’t feel comfortable talking in front of lots of people. What’s more, the responses are seldom substantive because it puts senior managers on the spot to come up with answers off-the-cuff.

Make it Meaningful
Once you get clear on that idea, here’s one way to make town hall meetings more energizing and meaningful for employees:

  1. Start with the goal to create substantive engagement, understanding that acceptance and behavior change occur more from conversations than presentations.
  2. Break everyone into groups of 8-10 people.
  3. Pose a question for small groups to discuss for 10-15 minutes, and ask them to come up with a list of responses; if you have multiple topics and limited time, assign different questions to different groups.
  4. Ask a spokesperson from each group to give a 90-second report on their top three ideas.
  5. Have the person facilitating the process give a brief response, acknowledging input from each group.
  6. If the group is too big for everyone to do a report, select a manageable number, and request that remaining groups submit their answers in writing for later review and response.

Reinforce with Follow-up
What matters most, though, is what happens next. Nothing worth talking about can be sustained from one quarterly meeting to another. Without a systematic follow-up processes to embed the conversations deeper, the impact will quickly fade.

At least two things should happen. First, all employees should receive a summary of the meeting with the input that the small groups gave to the core questions. Second, departments should continue discussions on topics from the meeting to ensure they are assessed and addressed at micro levels of the organization. Be sure to do it in group conversations, though, not by management edict. That way, employees will feel more like involved “citizens,” and not just an audience.

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Learn more about Landes & Associates and our unique approach to employee engagement.

Avoiding the persuasion trap.

Few communication goals are more alluring than trying to persuade (a.k.a seduce) people to embrace new ideas and behaviors. It’s one reason organizations continue communicating with employees as an audience to be directed with messages instead of a community to be engaged through conversation.

Not “Outside-In”
But it’s a trap. As with other forms of “seduction,” people usually see through it…and often resent it. That’s especially true if they get a whiff of being manipulated by the well-known “trust-me-this-is-going-to-be-good-for-you-even-if-it-doesn’t-look-like-it” sell-job. What’s more, even if they DON’T object to the message, that kind of “outside-in” approach to communication seldom creates a sustainable sense of responsibility and ownership among employees. Instead, it comes off like a pep rally that pumps people up just long enought to cheer for the next game.

Insights from two thought-provoking communication specialists illustrate the hazards of the persuasion trap – and how to avoid it.

Let Employees Persuade Themselves

In 7 Steps to Becoming Invaluable, an interactive development program, Dale Furtwengler identifies counterintuitive thinking as a key to effective leadership communication. One way to develop that capability is to avoid the “myth of persuasion.” He asserts that people rarely can be persuaded to believe or do anything they aren’t already inclined to believe and do. “The best we can do,” says Furtwengler, “is to shine the light on new information, allow others to process it, validate their conclusions with their own experiences and persuade themselves.”

Perhaps even more disconcerting for would-be persuaders, studies show that even if it appears people have been persuaded to change, they often haven’t – and their behavior will show it. As one old saying goes, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

“Normal” Communication Won’t Work

So does that mean we should stop trying to reach employees in an effort to foster change? Hardly. In his book, The Secret Language of Leadership, Stephen Denning offers an approach that, once again, is somewhat counterintuitive. He describes the “familiar trinity of steps” in communication as:

1) defining the problem,

2) analyzing the options and

3) recommending solutions.

It’s the “normal” way of communicating that’s been part of the Western intellectual tradition since the ancient Greeks. “But if you’re trying to get human beings to change what they are doing and act in some fundamentally new way with sustained energy and enthusiasm, it has two serious problems,” says Denning. “One, it doesn’t work. And two, it often makes the situation worse.”

Stories of Engagement
Denning provides another three-step model for engaging employees in change:

1) Get people’s attention – with captivating, authentic stories acknowledging current challenges and negative conditions

2) Stimulate desire for change – with positive stories of possibility and hope that move people to action

3) Reinforce the desire for change – with reasons told through neutral stories that explain what, when, how and why

Beware of changing the order, though. Interestingly, Denning’s experience shows if you move it around, it’s likely to backfire. So give it a go, and see how well you connect with people.

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