A few weeks ago, I had an online Q&A session with a senior executive following a keynote presentation I did for her company’s annual senior leadership summit. Like a lot of organizations, this company has a senior leadership team conference at the beginning of the year – either fiscal or calendar – to lay out their themes, goals and plans for the next 12 months. The point of meetings like this is to get the leadership team aligned with the goals and position them to excite and engage their functional teams for the coming year.
When done well (and this one was), kick-off meetings are a great way to get the year off to a fast and exciting start. And, all too often, the air slowly leaks out of the excitement balloon as people get immersed in the day to day friction of actually getting things done. The recognition of this dynamic led to a really great question from the executive I was doing the Q&A with. “What, she asked me, do the best companies do to sustain their momentum on their annual plans in the months after the leadership kickoff meeting?”
I gave a two-part answer to her question and the second part lit up the chat thread with virtual shouts and huzzahs of online agreement. With that kind of encouragement, how could I not share my response with you, my faithful readers?
Part one is that the best organizations have an annual management calendar that drives planning, assessment and accountability. They place big milestones on the calendar that prompt systematic engagement by their leaders throughout the year. Typical elements include the goal setting process, budgeting, talent management planning and reviews and quarterly business performance reviews. All of that is pretty standard stuff. It worked for my company when I was a Fortune 500 executive and it works for lots and lots of others.
And, at the same time, it often doesn’t work as well as one would hope in sustaining the enthusiasm and excitement that comes out of the initial kick-off meeting. What often gets lost along the path of dealing with so much content throughout the year is the emotional connection that the leadership team kick-off generated with the aspirations of the plan and with each other. That led to the second part of my answer in the Q&A. The best organizations bring the leadership team back together six months or so after the kick-off to get off the dance floor and up to the balcony to reconnect and ask each other questions like:
- How is it going?
- What’s working well?
- What’s not working so well?
- How are you doing?
- How can I help?
And here’s the part of the answer that lit the chat board up with joy – no slide decks allowed for that six-month check-in meeting. Way too much of the time, corporate leadership team meetings are preceded by weeks or even months of preparation of decks with a few dozen slides full of charts and graphs and information jammed in with fonts so small you can’t even read them if you put your nose against the screen and squint. No one really gets anything useful out of those decks and hundreds and hundreds of people hours are wasted and lives are upended in preparing them.
Not every meeting needs decks and especially ones that are focused on simple but highly important and deep questions like how’s it going and how can I help. The decks are about content. The questions are about connection. Generally speaking, senior leaders are intelligent and accomplished people who can retain information in their heads. The requirement for the mid-year check-in meeting should be to bring what’s in your brain and your heart, come ready to learn and to help and leave the deck at home. A successful mid-year leadership team check-in will require solid meeting design and facilitation but should not require the participants to do anything other than show up with positive intent.
That is more or less the rant I delivered that generated so much virtual applause. Leaders already have way more to do than bandwidth available to do it. Let’s not waste their precious time and attention by compelling them to gin up a bunch of materials that are going to be quickly forgotten if they’re even absorbed in the first place. Let’s focus, instead, on helping them sustain their momentum and engagement by giving them periodic low-friction opportunities to reconnect on what’s working and how they can help each other.
What say you? What are your best practices for sustaining your team or organization’s momentum throughout the year? If you’re reading this through LinkedIn, please share your ideas in a comment or if you’re reading this directly on the Eblin Group blog, please send me an email.
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