Helping CEOs Add Value

The CEO of a Fortune 200 company had regular town hall meetings with his employees for years. When we conducted focus groups with employees to learn what they thought of the meetings, they liked what the CEO said during the town halls but when the meetings were over employees didn’t know what they were supposed to do differently as a result of the CEO’s message.

“We want to help but don’t know what to do differently,” one employee said.

Were the CEO’s town hall meetings adding value if nothing changed as a result of them? Not if you subscribe to the lean definition of value–any action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for.

I know many people who would say the CEO’s visibility and willingness to communicate information about high level strategy added some measure of indirect value. To some extent I agree. On the surface, he didn’t do any harm.

But to a larger extent I disagree. Resources were spent on the town hall meetings. Employee downtime added to the cost. But work didn’t change. And because work didn’t change, results didn’t change.

So the effort was a pure investment with no short or anticipated long term gain.  Try as you might to make a thoughtful gesture equivalent to adding value, it isn’t. Is it safe to say that the CEO town halls were actually draining value from the organization?  If the CEO is getting paid to increase shareholder value, did the town hall meetings reflect an activity that was counter to the CEO’s goals?

I believe so.

So, should the CEO stop conducting town hall meetings. No. The company should supplement the town hall meetings with other activities that interpret the CEO’s message to the people in the organization. Business unit and department leaders need to interpret the CEO’s message. They need to explain:

  •  How company goals relate to our business unit of department goals.
  • Here’s what we need to do to drive corporate success.
  • And then relate this to the various people in the organization.

The sales person in the field, the brand manager at headquarters, the R&D people in the lab, the inventory manager, the machine operator, and the folks in shipping and receiving all need the information custom tailored for each area.

Leaders at all levels then need to make sure that everything they say and do are consistent with the CEO’s message. They need to make sure people have the resources they need to get the job done. Then leaders need to get out of the way.

The CEO’s town hall message adds value only when it gets translated and communicated throughout the organization.

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