Harvard Business Online

Don't Cancel That Meeting


Posted on Leadership at Work: January 5, 2009 11:00 AM

Winter is prime time for corporate meetings; these include meetings with dealers, vendors, franchisees, as well as with sales teams. These meetings are used to get perspective on the year as well as prepare for the future. But these times with tight credit and plunging revenues are hardly traditional, and from what I hear from colleagues in the communication business, meetings are being scaled back or canceled to a large degree. Scaling back makes sense; canceling meetings does not.

Now more than ever, senior leaders need to be seen and especially heard by the people who are counting on them for direction and focus. Independent businesspeople who represent a corporation's products and services need to hear how the company is planning for the coming year. Sales people and other employees need to know what they should be doing to buttress the company for the short-term. Both constituencies need to take the measure of their leaders and to discover for themselves if those at the top have the right stuff to lead. Meetings are essential. Here are three tactics to consider for staging a successful meeting:

Be focused. Meetings are an important opportunity for senior leaders to address the economic situation as well as reveal plans for how they are coping. Executives need to demonstrate their knowledge of the situation as well as their command of the situation. Not everything they promise will come to fruition, but they need to present themselves as prepared.

Tell stories. Talk about how people are coping with hard times. Share stories from the field. Cite examples of how vendors and customers are succeeding. Emphasize resilience. Veteran managers have been through hard times before. Take the long-term perspective and create narratives that share that perspective.

Hear from the field. Create panel discussions and breakout sessions for attendees. Allow for the sharing of best practices as well as detailed planning. These get-togethers can provide sales people and vendors with insights into their customers. In turn, customers need to have the opportunity to talk about how they are coping and surviving.

Meetings are far more than a collection of speeches or talking points. They are an opportunity for people of similar interests to come together and share their stories about how they are coping as well as what they are doing to increase business. Customers need to mingle with executives and employees and vice versa. People need to hear each other out.

Tough times are a great time to renew trust. When customers and employees see the leadership team standing front and center and delivering the message, it demonstrates that that management cares about them and considers them essential to weathering the storm. Cancelling such meetings, except when there are no other alternatives, sends the message that employees and even vendors and customers are expendable. Folks will remember that attitude when the good times roll. So use the down time wisely and get together with your people.

Provided by Harvard Business—Where Leaders Get Their Edge


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