Michael A. Hughes
Open Door, Open Book, Open Mike
Millennials (and really everyone) want to be kept in the loop and want easy access to senior leaders.....
I have seen several levels of leadership communication over the years. The traditional leader will keep her cards close to her chest and share information on an "as-needed" basis.
More modern leaders have learned the art of the Town Hall, where they will speak (usually uni-directionally) to the masses of their organization. The majority of participants, while generally happy to hear some information, can find it difficult to engage, ask questions and have real dialogue in these settings however.
Then there is the one-to-one meeting. Definitely an opportunity to have quality conversation, set direction and give and receive feedback. The challenge becomes time. These meetings are often rescheduled or cut short. They are typically restricted to direct reports and possibly mentees and while an essential part of any healthy organization, this realistic time challenge limits the magnitude of their organizational impact.
So how does a busy leader impart her wisdom, gauge the health of the organization and manage her time effectively?
Thirty Minutes with 10 to 20 individuals from a natural work group, in a closed, comfortable setting, where every question and topic is encouraged.
The Meeting Dynamics
It really is not complicated. Keeping the numbers to less than 20 helps keep the conversation flowing and generally enables even the more introverted in the group to get engaged. Unless there are team dynamic issues with the team's leader, it is best to include the team leader in the session - this eliminates the fear that the senior leader is stepping on toes or undermining the leader. The setting should be private and comfortable to encourage open conversation. I generally stay away from meal times or providing food for these sessions as you want full engagement and attention and food can be a distraction. I have found the frequency of once per quarter for each time is ideal....keeps new topics fresh but is not overkill of information. It is always good to have a topic to start with to help break the ice...this might be a deprecating recent personal story or family insight, or start with a forward focused question for the group (e.g. "Tell me what your most proud achievement is for the past month"). I consciously pick out the non-talkers in the group for these types of questions, just to drive engagement and capture everyone's attention. From that point it is open to any questions, most of which revolve around the business situation. I am very transparent and honest about where the business stands, what areas need more focus, where we have had success. I wear my passion for the business on my sleeve which appears to generally energize the group. I am conscious to tie what I talk about to the company's Mission and also to the specific KPI's that the team are responsible for. I also ask open-ended questions about the morale of the team and how I can do better as a CEO. If I get a specific help request, I work the solution aggressively to help ensure the team knows that they are listened to and that I am there to serve them. I always end with a compliment to call out what I have been most impressed with the team (focusing on what the team does well has a bigger impact than pointing out their failures, particularly at the end of the meeting....it is also a strong signal that their good work is noticed, I get as specific as possible).
These interactions are typically the most energizing events of my day
I have been doing Open Mike's for over 6 years now and I know I will be doing them until the end of my career. I designed the concept to help efficiently answer questions our teams had in a setting they were comfortable in. My objective, at first, was to retain and engage our millennial leaders, but I quickly found that this was beneficial for all employees. I have found it to be the most effective platform to tie the company's mission to the team's contribution....a critical concept to drive engagement (note: I also do a lot of 1:1's and Town Halls). Sharing financial information during these sessions also helps the individuals better understand how their actions contribute to the top or bottom lines. This knowledge is also key in driving engagement and discipline into potentially mundane everyday activities in the workplace. The final major benefit I have seen is the efficiency the Open Mike enables in keeping my finger on the pulse of the organization. If people are enabled to truly open up, you can learn a lot about what is working, what is not and where the pain points are for your teams. This allows you to target your servant leadership energy towards the issues that will have the biggest impact.
Open Mike during COVID
The pandemic has certainly created logistical challenges with Open Mikes. We have switched over to a mostly Zoom based approach. And while this meeting is not quite as effective as being able to read body language, getting everyone on video certainly helps a lot. I would argue that these type of meetings, with all the same elements described above are even more critical as we are less able to interact in-person.