Cancel your next town hall

Town halls are a lot of work. All that effort—planning and wrangling leaders and managing logistics and encouraging employees to participate—is exhausting. Sure, when town halls are effective, the effort is worth it. But when leaders are lackluster and employees don't seem engaged, you might wonder if you should just abandon the whole effort. 

So let’s take a moment to contemplate the role of employee town halls by considering 6 reasons NOT to hold a town hall session:

  1. No news. We’ve conducted focus groups for several companies this year and heard employees say this about town halls: “I rarely learn anything I didn’t already know.” If you don’t have unique, interesting or surprising content, why hold the town hall?
  2. Information overload. The flip side to #1 is when town halls are used simply to disseminate large quantities of information. Repeat after me: Town halls are not data dumps! Employees can’t absorb hundreds of facts during an hour session.
  3. Lack of purpose. What are the objectives of your upcoming town hall? What will employees learn? How will you impact their beliefs? What do they need to do differently as a result? If you don’t have clear outcomes, skip the session.
  4. Not enough interaction. Town halls originated in ancient Greece as the first form of democracy: The Greek assembly was where citizens gathered to discuss and vote on issues. So participation is in the DNA of town halls. If your objective is just to present, use a different form of communication.
  5. An unbalanced experience. One of the biggest mistakes organizations make today is to bring employees people together in person (usually at headquarters) and have others “listen in” by phone. Talk about sending a signal that some people are more important than others! If you can’t create a consistent experience, reconsider the whole format.
  6. Too rich. While I don’t believe budget should be the only consideration in whether to hold a town hall, I have also experienced far too many sessions that cost far too much (especially given the value created). Try this exercise: Calculate not only the out-of-pocket costs (like conferencing and facility fees) but also the staff and leader time required to organize and run a town hall. Then ask yourself: Was it worth it?

Town halls can be a valuable form of leader communication. But you get the picture: They need to be designed to be fresh, lively and meaningful.

 

 

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