It has become increasingly common for companies to have company-wide “all-hands” meetings to make significant announcements. Depending upon the size of the company, these meetings might take place via an in-person gathering, a webinar, a traveling roadshow where executives visit each location or a combination of the above.
What constitutes a “significant announcement” varies widely. For public companies, it’s common to host an all-hands meeting to review financial results four times a year. In my experience, these meetings try to translate how each business unit’s results contributed to the overall results. Other significant events that are typically communicated include mergers and acquisitions, divestitures or staff reductions. Regardless of the topic, the objective is mostly the same: help your employees understand what’s happening, provide the underlying facts, answer questions and get in front of the rumor mill. If the employees own stock (or have stock options), they will be keenly focused on how the event impacts their nest egg.
For smaller companies, it’s similarly common to hold all-hands meetings to share quarterly business results and significant financial events like those above but also to celebrate the achievement of an important milestone or goal. In these meetings, the results or achievements tend to translate much more directly to the employees’ day-to-jobs, or how everyone, from product development to sales to finance, contributed to the success. When done properly, I’ve found that these celebratory all-hands meetings can go a long way toward building esprit de corps and enhancing overall job satisfaction. By recognizing that “it takes village” to build a successful company, each villager can take pride in the part they play. In my experience, most smaller companies have an all-hands meeting 4-6 times a year.
In my 50+ person software company, we’ve so strongly embraced the all-hands meeting concept that we hold one every Friday morning. But we have also turned the meeting on its ear: Instead of being focused upon the company’s financial performance, we instead focus upon what the individual teams are doing week-to-week. To emphasize our commitment to our clients’ success, we start each meeting with a breakdown of outstanding support cases. Often, it’s just a quick “here’s what happened and here’s how we resolved it,” but sometimes it turns into a problem-solving session where our software developers weigh in with their deep understanding of a product feature or the vagaries of the systems to which we integrate. By having the whole company listen in, we are simultaneously making the implementation teams aware of what they need to anticipate when working in a similar environment and the sales and finance teams aware that the client may be asking for a progress report on their next phone call.
From there, the marketing team usually communicates the results of the latest marketing program or trade show. They’ll present the statistics on various KPIs such as website visits, ad impressions or click-thru rates. Everyone’s ears perk up when they talk about the number of leads generated (many will soon ask for a demo requiring product team involvement) and when sharing feedback received at a trade show, which can help us set the course for the next round of product enhancements.
We then move on to product updates, with each product team reporting any new enhancements added and any roadblocks they may be encountering. Similar to the support team segment, these also often turn into mini problem-solving sessions where the more seasoned developers, and even developers working on other products, may be able to offer guidance. Where a quick resolution is not possible, a small working group is typically formed and scheduled to meet as soon as possible.
Finally, we allow for ad-hoc topics to be added to the agenda whenever anyone feels they have something to share. These topics can range from insights on a competitor to a review of our pricing model, a run-down of the latest mobile device features we can leverage in our apps or a demo of a unique use case we’re supporting on behalf of a client.
For most teams, the presenter for the team rotates each week. The goal is to let each team member take the stage and discuss (and sometimes demo) what they’re working on, making their efforts visible to all.
A weekly all-hands is not an inconsequential investment — for us, it’s an hour every Friday morning — but I believe it’s an investment worth making. We’ve been able to build and maintain a culture of collaboration and transparency (even when working remotely), eliminate the common lament of “no one told me” that can cause frustration and dissatisfaction in so many companies, and shine a spotlight on each contributor, directly connecting their efforts to our overall success.
When we first started the company, we had eight people working in a small office where it felt like every conversation was an all-hands meeting. Even then, we held a formal all-hands meeting every Friday. As we’ve grown to over 50 people, we continue to do so, recognizing that although not everyone has a chance to contribute each week, the meetings have become a core part of our culture.
Although I realize that, with growth, companies will have more people in roles that are somewhat disconnected from the day-to-day realities of building, implementing and supporting their products, consider keeping the meetings in place, whether you’re 50 people, 400 people or more than 1,000 people. Quarterly meetings are fine for disseminating information, but to build and maintain a culture, you need to bring people together much more frequently.
I believe a strong culture is a key element in attracting and retaining top talent. The proof-points for us have been near-zero turnover in a white-hot tech employment market, and perhaps a little more subjectively, it has helped make our business a fun place to work.