Planning a Meeting for Participation and Involvement

For a company with homogeneous products markets, customers, processes, and technology and with common problems and opportunities, it is easier to plan the priorities of topics to be covered in a management meeting, to summarize results against plans for the past year, and to develop strategies and tactics for the coming years. For a highly diversified conglomerate with relatively little intermingling of people, a different strategy is required to insure effective communication on a common ground.

It is a must to discuss the corporate strategy and operating tactics in terms of objectives, organization and manpower strategy, financial and investment strategy, plans for growth and acquisitions, market strategy, and the day-to-day fundamentals which need to be executed with precision to insure realization of business results.

Priorities are reaffirmed-for example,

(1) Avoid catastrophe,

(2) Improve profits,

(3) Plan for growth.

The reporting of the preceding year results against planned goals is another must. This includes all operating divisions and groups as well as key staff executives. The manner of reporting can of course differ, and liberal use should be made of high-quality visual aids which can be seen clearly from the rear of the room. Each president gives a brief synopsis of his financial results along with a brief commentary on the nature of his business, its problems and opportunities, and what he is doing or intending to do about them. These presentations are unusually well received.

To assure a base of common interest, top line and staff executives are selected to give individual presentations - eight minutes- each in the form of a panel discussion and are urged to bring out principles that are applicable to all businesses. The subject matter is developed accordingly and divided among the panel members. Dry runs are held at which most senior line and staff executives are present to critique and comment. A few questions are prepared to assure the start of a stimulating discussion in each group, These panel discussions are enthusiastically received, and many matters of policy are set on the table for subsequent follow-up.

Meetings are kept positive, yet the reports are not sugar-coated. A hard realistic look is taken at all phases of the business to insure the best practice of business fundamentals so as to be poised for future growth and improvement.

To seek improvements in subsequent meetings, a questionnaire is drawn up and sent to all who attends the meeting. The forms are to be returned anonymously so as to encourage frank comments. Questions are asked about the quality, length, and conduct of the meeting; reactions to the presentations of division managers; reactions to panel discussions; the benefits derived from the meeting; suggestions for future meetings; the adequacy of time, facilities, and accommodations; and the planning, organization, and running of the meeting. An open-ended question is added soliciting comments.

To insure that the benefits of the meeting will be fully realized, the company president asks each participant to send him a listing of the four most useful business fundamentals which will come out of the meeting. In addition, each division manager and top corporate staff officer is asked to hold a follow-up meeting of his own with his people within three months of the conference. The human resources executive is made available to provide assistance and guidance in planning, setting up, and running these meetings.

Typically, the field meetings are prepared for and conducted in this way. Letters are sent to all participants in advance of each scheduled meeting urging that they prepare to participate and be involved. Meetings are held off company premises and lasted two to four hours each. Meetings are set up in round-table fashion with pad and pencil, name tags, and 3" X 5" cards at each place. The division president opened the meeting by explaining purpose, objective, and format. Each participant has been sent an agenda in advance of the meeting. Good and bad practices are stressed, but the comments ended on a positive, reassuring note.

Panel discussions are held by division marketing, manufacturing, controls, and human resources executives. There is a great deal of preparation beforehand, including a dry run. A secretary takes minutes not only of presentations but of the active, lively discussions from the floor. The division president concludes and summarizes the meeting and asks all participants to send him a note stating how they intended to improve the practice of business fundamentals in their operations during the coming year. Subsequent meetings are held at lower levels in each division.

Reactions are highly favorable and numerous expressions of appreciation and requests for similar future meetings are volunteered. The effect is to significantly improve the total organizational climate by providing a better understanding of each other work and by opening up areas for further improvements in communication and working relationships. People became attuned to common goals.

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