I’ve been doing my own not-so-glamorous version of jet-setting lately (New Jersey! Florida! California!), talking to clients about how to improve their employee town hall meetings.
During one recent meeting (right before lunch), it suddenly occurred to me that two main problems with town halls can be expressed using these meal metaphors:
The poorly organized potluck
Potluck events are fun: John brings his famous onion dip, Jenny whips up a big bowl of curried chicken and José shares the delicious empanadas made the way his mother taught him. But unless someone manages the menu, you can end up with a mess: too many starchy side dishes, for example, and not a vegetable in sight. The result? Indigestion.
The same principle applies to town hall meetings. Try to cram too much content in and the agenda becomes an unmanageable smorgasbord of information. Employees leave overloaded, not enlightened.
My aunt’s Thanksgiving dinner
She’s a lovely person, but my aunt is also an unimaginative cook. Every Thanksgiving dinner is exactly the same as every one she’s hosted since 1967: turkey with gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and those mushy green beans with the fried onions on top. Even though the food’s not bad, it’s not very stimulating. Is that why I feel so sleepy afterwards?
Too many town halls take their cue from my aunt: the same every time, quarter after quarter. There’s a financial report, business highlights, an overview of key initiatives . . . you get the picture. The best thing you can say about these sessions is that they’re predictable. The worst? Oh, sorry, I must have nodded off there for a minute.
What gets me about town halls (or menus, for that matter) is that they don’t have to be poorly planned, information-laden or boring. It’s so easy to make a positive change. Just leave the can of sweet potatoes on the shelf and try something completely different.