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Creating Effective Virtual Leadership Meetings


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Aligning leaders around strategy when face-to-face isn't an option. An Edelman perspective on making meaningful employee connections that deepen engagement, build trust and accelerate business performance.

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Creating Effective Virtual Leadership Meetings

  1. 1. CONNECTIONSAn Edelman perspective on making meaningfulemployee connections that deepen engagement,build trust and accelerate business performance.DECEMBER 2012ALIGNING LEADERS AROUND STRATEGY WHEN FACE-TO-FACEISN’T AN OPTIONAs companies continue to scrutinize budgets and struggle to provevalue to shareholders, restrictions on business travel are now the norm,not the exception, at many companies. In fact, the U.S. TravelAssociation found that the percentage of adults who reported travelingfor business purposes plunged to 24 percent in 2011 from 41 percentin 2007 – and that the downward spiral is expected to continue.For communicators, business travel restrictions present a significantchallenge. They create a barrier to important face-to-face time withleaders and their teams, particularly when aligning and engagingleadership around strategy. In re-evaluating how we connect duringthese “no fly zone” times, virtual meeting tools, such as Web-basedinteractive video conferencing, provide a viable and cost-effectivesolution. But what are the best ways to leverage these resources to engage leaders around strategic discussions?Step one: Set expectationsBuilding effective strategy discussions requires some preparation, regardless of venue, virtual or otherwise. Ratherthan dictating the tone and content of the discussions, co-creating the agenda using virtual tools can spark greaterbuy-in from attendees and help focus the discussion on real-world issues.In preparing for a client’s major internal strategy meeting, we helped develop and host a Yammer Jam, whereleaders across the business used the internal social networking tool to brainstorm what topics and themes theyfavored for the agenda. This proved an effective way to crowd-source relevant topic ideas, and it also helped setthe stage for making Yammer a go-to place for idea generation within the company.Here are other ways to help prepare participants for the session and add fresh ideas to the mix:  Set the tone: Preface the session by posing a challenge that ties to agenda topics. Perhaps develop a teaser video where the CEO and a few subject-matter experts introduce the meeting’s themes by giving attendees a handful of questions to weigh before the meeting. Then, devote a section of the agenda to opening the floor for this discussion.  Grease the wheels: To help prime participants for an engaging discussion, assign some pre-meeting homework. For a client’s recent global virtual leadership meeting, we developed an interactive workbook with a series of preparatory exercises, provocative prompting questions and relevant case studies to provide context for meeting topics. Questions such as “What are the top three concerns you know your teams have about the recent operational changes?” and “How would you address each of these concerns if you had to today?” encouraged leaders to consider the tough, but necessary, questions. As a result, participants attended the virtual meeting armed with personal insights to discuss with the group. 1 1
  2. 2.  Establish ground rules: Common challenges with virtual meetings concern distraction by workplace surroundings and the temptation to multi-task. Instruct attendees to treat this virtual session as they would a live, in-person meeting. That means turning off phones, closing all other online distractions (including email), and setting work aside.  Scale back for success: To enhance participation and preserve the meeting’s effectiveness, limit virtual sessions to a two-hour window and cap the attendees to no more than 50 at each session. This may require hosting multiple sessions by time zone or region.Step two: Make it interactiveJust because leaders aren’t in the same room doesn’t mean virtual Role call: The four people everystrategic discussions must sacrifice interactivity. Consider these ways to virtual session should havepromote two-way engagement: Executing a virtual meeting should never be a one-person show. Each  Turn the spotlight away from the CEO: Don’t limit message session should include these four delivery to the executive team. Encourage relevant participants roles: from across the organization to take part in the meeting. Rather than scheduling an executive team member to talk about 1. Host and timekeeper: This individual product strategy, arrange for the product manager and members kicks off the meeting, sets the of the product team to talk about their experiences, challenges ground rules and outlines what the and successes in launching the product and what they envision interactive segments will encompass. They also keep the ahead. Then, have a VP summarize the discussion and lead the presentation on schedule, virtual Q&A with attendees and presenters. preserving the time allocated for two-way dialogue.  Put a face to a voice: Most virtual tools offer a video component 2. Presenter: This person’s only so take advantage of it. Keep in mind that many of these tools obligation is to deliver an engaging limit the number of live video feeds. Use them strategically. and informed presentation. It Consider grouping presenters in the same room to leverage doesn’t mean handling the video feeds. technical aspects. The presenter should be coached to ask for questions from participants.  Break it up with working sessions: Encourage participants at 3. Administrator: This individual each location to gather in a conference room to join the session manages the virtual experience by together. Then use those local groups to host short breakout advancing the deck, executing polls working sessions to focus discussion on an assigned topic or and monitoring online chats and challenge. Pre-assign someone to lead these discussions and Q&As. The administrator works in report back findings to the larger group. tandem with the host to ensure feedback is addressed during the meeting.  Talk less, listen more: Use the 70/30 rule – devote no more than 4. On-hand technical expert: Even with 70 percent of a meeting to presentation and the remaining 30 the most thorough preparations, percent for two-way discussion. It’s always a good idea to break something’s bound to go wrong. up this discussion throughout the session. Make sure a technical expert, ideally someone from IT, is present before,  Mix it up: Give people options to engage during the meeting. during and after the session. Provide moments to open the lines for two-way discussion, but also invite attendees to pose questions throughout via virtual meeting features such as the chat function. Address chat questions as they come in, when appropriate. 2 2
  3. 3. Step three: Keep the conversation going Just because the session ends doesn’t mean strategic discussions must end too. Here are ways to keep the conversation going:  Provide a clear call to action: Whenever possible, give attendees clear direction on how they can start applying the insights and knowledge gained from the session. For a client’s virtual leadership meeting, we helped identify several follow-up exercises in workbook format. Tasks like “Based on today’s discussion, list three things to tell your teams at your next update session” helped get leaders thinking about how to cascade relevant information within their teams instead of sitting on it and forgetting about it. Leaders were held accountable for having these discussions with their teams by reporting back the outcomes to their supervisors.  Provide a go-to library: Capture all meeting materials, take-away notes, responses to most frequently answered questions and workbook materials on a shared internal resource, such as a SharePoint team site. Consider recording the session and posting it on the portal for future reference by leaders.  Assess and revise: Feedback surveys after a virtual session can provide valued insight into how to adjust future sessions. A recent client’s post-event survey revealed that while the polling and interactivity were received well, participants wanted more time to think about their responses and an opportunity to discuss the results. Those two items have been incorporated into the next virtual session. Also, have the virtual meeting administrator (see sidebar) capture any meaningful statistics during the session to help measure engagement during the sessions. These might include the number and type of questions asked, number of attendees and total responses to online polls.CONCLUSIONVirtual meetings can provide a viable alternative to face-to-face sessions when engaging leaders around strategy.But they must be dynamic, well planned and must provide ample time for meaningful two-way interaction. Crowd-source meeting topics, set ground rules, seek nontraditional presenters such as employees at all levels, encouragedialogue and develop pre- and post-session exercises to keep the conversation going.ABOUT USEdelman’s Employee Engagement experts helps organizations accelerate business performance, delivered by highlyengaged and trusted employees. We do this by making meaningful, trust-building connections — connectingemployees with the company, connecting employees with each other, and connecting employees with the outsideworld. We have a global network of employee engagement specialists who can develop engagement strategy; deploythe tools and processes to deliver it; create the multimedia channels and content that support it; and design theinsight mechanisms to measure it. For more information, visit us at follow us on Twitter at @EdelmanEE. 3 3 For more information, please contact Edelman Employee Engagement at