Why your agency needs a quarterly All-Hands meeting

Written by: Karl Sakas

Holding an agency All-Hands meeting in the near future… or wondering if you should start having them?

All-Hands meetings can be a great way to build agency unity and get everyone on the same page. But if you do it wrong, you’ll confuse people… or even make them want to quit.

Fortunately, there are plenty of best practices to consider! This post is the first in a three-part series:

I’m a fan of All-Hands meetings, if you do them right. Why? Read on!

What is an All-Hands meeting?

An agency All-Hands meeting is a live meeting of all agency employees. Typically emcee’d by the CEO, agency leaders share updates and answer employee questions about the agency’s business. If some people aren’t there in-person, they participate in real-time via a high-quality video connection.

What’s the point of an agency All-Hands meeting?

As a leader, this is your opportunity to get everyone on the same page. You generally can’t control how people act on the information, but you can control what everyone hears.

Beyond the updates, it’s an opportunity for you to answer questions from employees (if they choose to ask), clarify misconceptions, and remind people about your Mission, Vision, and Values.

Although most owners don’t share 100% of everything that’s going on, an All-Hands meeting forces you to track key metrics, in order to share them with your employees. This is especially helpful if you don’t have a formal board of directors.

And if you need to share bad news that impacts the entire agency, an All-Hands meeting is the best way to share the bad news. I’ll share more about bad news in two weeks, in Part 3 of this series on agency All-Hands meetings.

What’s different about an All-Hands vs. town hall vs. department meeting vs. leadership retreat?

An All-Hands meeting and a Town Hall meeting are similar, in creating an agency-wide forum. But an All-Hands tends to combine both a presentation and Q&A, while a Town Hall leans more toward informal Q&A.

A department meeting would be a single department or team, instead of 100% of the agency. Technically, a quarterly department meeting might be a department-level All-Hands. Larger agencies (100+ people) may coordinate them to happen back-to-back—a full-agency All-Hands meeting, followed by smaller meetings in each department for more in-depth Q&A with department heads.

A leadership retreat won’t include all employees, and the retreat tends to be focused on strategic planning, brainstorming, and problem-solving. You definitely should get your team’s input, but the leadership retreat is not that place.

Why your agency needs an All-Hands meeting every quarter

I’ve identified seven reasons why you benefit from a regular All-Hands meeting—ideally quarterly. In summary:

  1. Camaraderie: Build camaraderie across teams, to strengthen your single agency culture.
  2. Enlistment: Enlist employees to support corporate initiatives, regardless of whether they’re directly involved.
  3. Accountability: Stay accountable on long-term corporate initiatives, rather than letting things coast.
  4. Prevention: Head off problems and fix misunderstandings—and share any bad news in your own words—before things potentially get worse.
  5. Celebration: Take time to celebrate wins, instead of careening off to the next client engagement.
  6. Unity: Remind about the basics (e.g., Mission, Vision, and Values [M/V/V]) to help keep everyone on the same page.
  7. Transparency: Show you care about transparency, by living it instead of merely talking about it

Let’s look at why I recommend quarterly, and why I recommend repeating the basics.

Why quarterly?

For most independent agencies, a quarterly All-Hands is the “just right” cadence.

Monthly isn’t inherently wrong, but consider your agency’s ROI on time. You’re interrupting 100% of your employees for 2+ hours (and may not have made much progress on strategic initiatives). Although monthly can be a match when your headcount is lower, I wouldn’t do monthly unless you and your employees see consistent value.

Yearly is too infrequent—especially when you’re growing fast. A new employee might be there for 6 or 9 or 11 months before their first All-Hands.

Why repeat the basics?

Feel like you don’t need to repeat basic things like Mission, Vision, and Values? Think again! Consider former GE head Jack Welch’s comment that even when he focused the enormous company on a single corporate initiative (e.g., quality management, services, etc.), he found it took three years before it trickled down to every employee.

You aren’t running an enormous company—or, I hope, facing GE’s current financial problems. But just because you’ve heard it 20 times in executive meetings doesn’t mean every employee has heard it—or internalized it—too.

Further Reading: How to Plan Your All-Hands, and Delivering Bad News

Want more? In Part 2, I share my advice on how to organize your All-Hands meeting, including how to avoid common mistakes. Then in Part 3, I share what to do if you need to deliver bad news at the All-Hands.

Question: What will you do differently for your next agency All-Hands meeting?

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