Turn Gripe Sessions Into BrainstormsThe first thing I did when we bought Warner Music was to fly to every major location and hold town hall meetings. I introduced myself, told them why we bought the company and what our vision was. I followed that up with regular town halls.
I also have what we call employee roundtables, where every other month I'm meeting with 15 or 20 junior-level employees, and we hold completely confidential two-hour sessions. I've held them in New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, London, other European cities, and Hong Kong. I usually start them off with a 15-minute soliloquy on where I think the company is headed and what I want to accomplish from the meeting. Once the discussion starts, it's very free-form. Everything that happens in that conference room remains confidential within the group. So if people have criticisms that involve a more senior person in the company, nobody gets threatened, which is both informative to me and also builds a feeling of trust between the employees and their senior leadership.
It's a little like going to an AA meeting. You make a pledge and ask them to honor their commitment. As it turns out, because you give people that freedom, it doesn't turn into a gripe session. Instead they give us ideas about how to make the company better. There are waiting lists now for these roundtables.