When I’m running a planning session at a company, I sometimes pass out slips of paper and ask employees to write down their number one complaint about their jobs, anonymously. Then I’ll collect them and, more often than not, I’ll read out the same phrase over and over again: “poor communication from the CEO.”
Nothing turns the boss’ face red more quickly. In part, that’s because many CEOs think that if they’re receptive to ideas and responsive to problems, that’s all the communication their company needs. But successful companies have a regular, internal rhythm to how they communicate that keeps everyone on target, and reinforces a culture of accountability. If you need help finding your own meeting rhythm, start with these five beats:
1. Set an agenda.
Bad CEOs love to jump on the nearest soapbox and talk, if for no other reason than to remind everyone who’s in charge. Those kinds of meetings accomplish … what exactly?
Good CEOs know that a meeting has a purpose: Who needs to be present? What are we talking about? What do we need to achieve before we adjourn?
Type up these key points and circulate them at the start of every meeting. Even if it’s only a couple lines long, a clear agenda will set the rhythm for the meeting, keep the conversation on point, and get everyone back to work as soon as possible.
2. Set the tone.
Your employees are going to take meetings as seriously as you do. Don’t be late, and don’t let the meeting run late unless it’s absolutely necessary. Don’t monopolize the floor. Don’t try to multitask – no emails or texts while someone else is talking. And when you are addressing the room, be mindful of the Three C’s of Communication: be Clear, be Concise, and be Compelling.
3. Get these five meetings on your calendar.
Here is an outline of a meetings calendar I’ve used successfully for many years to get a communication rhythm going:
Annually – State of the Company address. Share where your company is going and what it will take to get there. Review the past year, identifying positives steps towards your Huge, Outrageous Target (HOT) and acknowledging potential areas of improvement. Recognize employees who went above and beyond, and rev up everyone for the coming year. At the end, open up for questions, and be very transparent.
This meeting is going to set the tone for your company’s entire year. Working through the Crystal Ball Exercise to hone your vision before you present it to your team is a great way to prep.
And of course, you must do an Annual Planning Meeting with your senior leadership team. See here for details on how to conduct an effective one.
Quarterly – Planning session with leadership team. Don’t just ask tough questions – keep asking tougher questions until you get to the bottom of your successes and your struggles. Examples:
- What went right this quarter?
- What went wrong?
- What have we learned?
- Did we do what we said we would do?
- Where did we miss, and why?
- What are the biggest opportunities that have come up this quarter?
- What are the biggest challenges, and how are we dealing with them?
- What new goals should we set for the quarter, and how can we ensure they are aligned with our annual plan?
Monthly – Leadership team update to its staff. These meetings are a great opportunity to incorporate employee recognition with updates on the business. You should:
- Share how the company did compared with how it expected to do, and then talk about what went right and wrong.
- Share your plans for the coming quarter, and discuss what initiatives will be pursued.
- Recognize people who made a difference.
- Celebrate service anniversaries and birthdays.
- Introduce new team members.
Weekly – Working session with leadership team. Some CEOs think checking in with their leadership team via email or a quick phone chat is sufficient. I don’t. The less structured the conversation, the less granular it’s going to be, and the less effective. You and your top team members need to discuss and review progress on initiatives every week. Your focus here should be on the strategic initiatives identified at the quarterly meeting as most important in achieving the company’s goals, not the issue of the day.
Daily – Huddle with each management team. The leader of the group calls the members together to touch base, discuss any urgent issues, and clear the deck so everybody can go about their day without frequent interruptions. These should be short, perhaps 5 – 10 minutes. Some of my clients even do them standing up to send a message that we’re not wasting time.
4. Grade every meeting.
Set aside two minutes at the end of every meeting to go around the room and have everyone grade the meeting. Ask anyone who grades it less than an A what would bump up their grade. This simple process will help your whole team recognize the factors that impact the success of the company’s meetings, and motivate everyone to do their part to make the next meeting an A.
5. Leave your door open when you can.
Once your company has the meeting rhythm down, make sure your employees feel comfortable adding their own feedback. Embrace and encourage feedback outside of the meeting schedule. If you’ve been smart enough to hire employees who are smarter than you are, listen to their own huge, outrageous ideas, and mine them for the next big breakthrough. If an employee brings a problem to your attention that can’t wait for the next scheduled meeting, then get everyone in the conference room ASAP to put out the fire before it bursts into flames.
Communicating freely and frequently with your team is one of the best ways to center your company’s culture around your vision. Making your employees feel like their input matters is one of the best ways to ensure everyone buys in. And the more your company is talking about your BIG goals, and holding itself accountable, the sooner BIG will happen.
About Mark Moses
Mark Moses is the Founding Partner of CEO Coaching International and the Amazon Bestselling author of Make Big Happen. His firm coaches over 150 of the world’s top high-growth entrepreneurs and CEO’s from 17 countries on how to dramatically grow their revenues and profits, implement the most effective strategies, becoming better leaders, grow their people, build accountability systems, and elevate their own performance. Mark has won Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and the Blue Chip Enterprise award for overcoming adversity. His last company ranked #1 Fastest-Growing Company in Los Angeles as well as #10 on the Inc. 500 of fastest growing private companies in the U.S. He has completed 12 full distance Ironman Triathlons including the Hawaii Ironman World Championship 5 times.