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How Leaders Can Use Q&A sessions To Build Trust And Engagement

When there is a lot of internal and external change happening, companies must engage with their employees as much as possible to ensure there are open communication channels and transparency. An increasingly popular tool is to host Q&A sessions where the leadership interacts directly with employees.

In conventional, hierarchical companies, middle managers act as the connecting points between leaders and employees. However, there is no way to ensure that communication from the top goes through different levels of middle managers and reaches employees on time and without too much filtering.

The Power Of Being Direct
Besides, many of them conform to conventional management practices and are often not very comfortable with being replaced by technology that lets employees connect directly with the top leadership. If a company has a large Millennial employee base, this would not be a great system as they expect to connect directly with their bosses and don’t care much for opaque hierarchies.

Hosting a short Q&A session regularly, where employees have direct access to the leaders, is a low-cost, high-return mechanism. It allows leaders to build confidence to engage directly with their employees, while employees feel there is greater transparency to get their pressing questions answered by the right people.

A Case Study From The Indian IT Sector
In an Indian IT services company, there was a lot of change happening and transformations were happening both inside and outside the organization. It was critical that the top leadership connected with the ground.

This is how they started with the live leadership connect sessions using their internal online collaborative platform. The company’s C-Suite leaders would be available for an hour-long online session, where anyone from the organization could plug in and ask any questions to them. Here, employees across the globe could type in any question and the leader could respond verbally and/or type in his/her response.

Behind-The-Scenes Of Live Q&As
Examples of questions were, “We have not got new projects in a particular service area in the recent past, what’s our plan?” Or, “We are recruiting a lot of people in a particular function, what’s the reason behind it?” Typically, everyone would get an invitation before these sessions began that briefed them about the details of when, where and which leader was going to be speaking with them. The recording of these sessions was made available to people who couldn’t attend.

These sessions were planned by a team that would orchestrate the live sessions. For example, the team would inform employees about who would be talking to them in the upcoming session and invite questions to be submitted before the session. These questions were given priority when the leader went live. This helped save time and manage things more effectively.

Refining The Process And Overcoming Fears
Over time, many employees sent their questions earlier as they realized that it helped the leader to get a pulse of what’s at the top of mind for employees and they could prepare better to answer them. A few direct questions still came through during the live sessions, but a lot of the questions flowed in even before the session began, and helped avoid repetitions.

There were some initial concerns, such as the servers getting jammed in case thousands of employees joined at the same time. Or, having to answer questions which were confidential or repetitive. But, as the sessions progressed, they realized that not everyone logged in every single time.

Employees posted relevant questions and also avoided repetition. Responses were often appreciated by employees as well. They also found that remote employees benefited from these sessions as they now had an opportunity to connect with the leadership, even if they couldn’t attend the regular town hall-style sessions physically.

Learning To Answer Questions Sensibly And Openly
Leaders also learned how to tackle difficult questions, such as issues around increments or upcoming mergers, gracefully. In such instances, leaders learned how to avoid hedging, and be as truthful as they could. For example, some people asked questions like, When are we getting our increment letters?” Or, Are you going to give higher than industry increments this year?”  

Instead of having to blankly say yes or no, with no context, leaders learned to provide a sensible answer such as, “We stand by our principles of paying increments at par with the market and to link increments to performance. The rest of it, in any case, a detailed communication will come to all of you soon.” Overall, these sessions were a great hit and helped build trust, transparency, and accountability into the fabric of the company’s culture.

Becoming Comfortable With The Frontline
Making leaders regularly accessible reduces power distances - a characteristic of conventional enterprises - and builds trust and transparency within the organization. For remote employees, it provides an opportunity to connect with the leadership and other employees. Besides, it helps top-level managers improve their image and reputation among employees.

More importantly, it gives leaders the confidence to address a large group of people. With most of them being Millennials, these sessions help even conventional leaders build better bonds, receive direct feedback about what’s going on in the front lines, and make better strategic business decisions. 

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