Should senior management be in the room during a session to identify the company’s strengths and weaknesses? That’s a question we’re asked quite often when we facilitate business planning sessions.
So here’s our point of view – and if you don’t agree with it, feel free to leave some comments telling us why not.
1. It’s an “all or nothing” question.
Regardless of who raises the question – the senior management team or the employees invited to the meeting – it’s often accompanied by the suggestion that management “leave the room at some point”.
That may seem like a fair proposal. But is it? Or is it just a way to make a difficult situation seem better?
How do you decide when management should leave and when they should come back? Because how does leaving and returning address the real issue – which is that the people invited to attend don’t believe they can be frank when the senior management team are present?
Management should either not be there at all or should be there all of the time. And the only way to make that choice is to tackle the real issue.
2. The real issue is………
The question is really about trust. The attendees don’t want to say certain things for fear of either not being understood and/or believed. And yes, there’s also the fear of some form of retribution – from being considered negative to being branded a troublemaker
We usually encounter the question when we work with companies whose revenues and profits have been dropping. They may even be losing money and have been through a period of “right-sizing” (according to management) or “downs-sizing” (according to employees). Or in companies where there has been a change of owner.
Both are examples of situations where change has caused uncertainty or where the management team thought that communication was regular and thorough – but the employees didn’t.
3. So how do you tackle it?
It is best done with a mixture of openness, logic and an outside perspective.
Everyone has to agree that the lack of trust exists.
The management team typically understands the value of the employees input and participation. But they also have to know how to act. They have to listen actively; comment only when appropriate; and watch the tone and language they use when responding to employees’ comments.
The attendees can usually be persuaded to suspend judgement until they are convinced that the management team is listening; not dominating the conversation; and not simply forcing their views on the employees.
If the meeting isn’t managed carefully all input/conversation will die. But if it is, then both the employees and management team will learn and trust will grow. Using an external facilitator can help
Logic and common sense dictate that, regardless of whether senior management attends the session or not, they are going to see the output. And they are unlikely to use it to develop a strategy without editing it. That output will only form a strong foundation for that strategy if everyone is in the room for the discussion and there’s been a frank assessment of the company’s strengths and weaknesses.
As a third party we can, for example, point to the investment being made in the session and that it is the first step in developing a growth strategy to secure the future of the company.
4. Final words.
The management team must be in the room. But they have to understand that when the culture is changing most people are confused and uncertain. And when they’re uncertain they usually avoid anything they consider risky.
The attendees have to understand if they don’t speak up they have to take responsibility for not giving management the chance to act on their thoughts.