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Inspiring people at a town hall meeting

'Coach Kriengsak, I want you to help me act as a sounding board for our company's next 'town hall' meeting," Khun Subin tells me.

"Khun Subin, can you tell me more about this event?"

"At the end of each month, I communicate to 300 staff about the company's year-to-date performance and the plan for the coming month. For the past nine months, the message has been the same — we're below our target, so next month we want everyone to work hard in order to catch up."

"How have the staff reacted in recent months?"

"The response hasn't been very encouraging, I have to admit," says Khun Subin.

"What do you want to achieve at your next town hall meeting?"

"I want to inspire people."

"Okay, what usually inspires your people?"

He's quiet for a moment. "I'm not sure. I haven't really thought about it. In the past, I guess my message was about what inspired me."

"Khun Subin, let's do some thinking about this. Perhaps we could look at your people in terms of demographics. How do you categorise them?"

"Seventy percent of our people are in Generation Y, 20% are baby boomers, and the rest are a mixed group."

"Khun Subin, in this town hall meeting, who is your primary target when it comes to communicating?"

"The Gen Y group is the majority, so I need to reach them effectively."

"How would you describe the character of your Gen Y staff?"

"They're young, energetic, they work hard and play hard. They want to express their opinions. They're tech-savvy. They want to do the work in their own way. They're less formal and work with passion. They're always looking for career opportunities but don't place much value on a long-term career in any one workplace."

"You seem to know a lot about your people. Khun Subin, how do you normally run your town hall meetings?"

"In the past, we did a 60-minute presentation, starting with 10 minutes on year-to-date performance. Then we allocated 10 minutes each to the marketing, operations, finance and HR departments to discuss their plans for the next month. The final 10 minutes were for the chief executive's speech."

"If you want to inspire people, what do you think the outline of the meeting should look like?"

Khun Subin is quiet for a while and takes some notes, then tells me: "Coach, I think I'll change the approach. The old way might have been OK for the baby boomers, who are more comfortable with just listening. But considering the profile of most our people, I think the old outline is obsolete. I want to create more engagement.

"Here's my plan: we'll devote 10 minutes to the performance update, five minutes to goals of the next two months, followed by 30 minutes for brainstorming. Then we'll close with a 15-minute debriefing session."

"Can you elaborate more?"

"Coach, I want to update them as we did before. People need to know where we are in terms of company performance. Then we'll move on to the plan for the next two months. These two topics will help the baby boomers, as they like to listen and be informed.

"For the 30-minute brainstorming session, I propose dividing our workforce of 300 people into 30 groups. We'll ask each group to answer this question: 'How could we do things differently in order to achieve the plan and have fun at the same time?'

"During the brainstorming session, I'll walk around with four senior executives and listen to the various ideas. We'll select some ideas to share with the whole group in the last 15 minutes."

"You seem excited by this new approach."

Khun Subin nods and smiles back.

"What could go wrong?" I ask.

"The brainstorming might not be effective," he says.

"How can you solve that problem?"

"I'll spend a few minutes talking about some brainstorming tips. There are some really good ones in The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelly and Jonathan Littman:

Playful rules. Basically, make the discussion more fun, encourage wild ideas, go for quantity. Get more laughs in the meeting room.

Number your ideas. This will help the team to refer to each idea more easily.

Build and jump. Try building on an idea. Encourage another push or introduce a small variation.

Cover all the walls with paper for writing. Use colourful markers and Post-it notes. Make ideas as visible as you can.

Stretch your mental muscles. Ice-breaking is recommended.

Get physical. Move a lot. Bring materials to build models of concepts: blocks, foam, tubing or duct tape."

"That's good. What's next?"

"I'll consolidate all the ideas, and then our senior leadership team will take a look and try to implement the ones that are applicable and actionable."

"All right, Khun Subin. Let's stop here and follow up in our next session."

Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under TheCoach brand. He can be reached at Daily inspirational quotations can be found at Previous articles are archived at