CEO Gripe Session?

ImageRecently, I had a conversation with a CEO of a local organization and he was sharing with me that one of his ideas to spark innovation had really fallen short. Several years ago, he started a once-a-month meeting that was open to anyone in the organization where they could come bring issues/concerns for making their jobs better to him directly.

Over time, it has evolved into a gripe session where people complain about everything from parking to the TP selection in the restroom.

How did this happen?  How is it that the CEO is now fielding questions about toilet paper? What seems like a great approach to innovation has somehow morphed into dealing with petty issues that regular management should have been dealing with all along.

Here are a 3 ideas to make sure your innovation meetings don’t turn into Gripe Sessions:

  1. Make certain that people know the purpose of your meeting. Not only is this a good idea for any meeting, it is absolutely essential that you let people know that the meeting is specifically to bring an idea to the table. This isn’t to have the “airing of grievances” that George Castanza made famous, but it’s an opportunity to improve something or try something new and have the CEO’s backing.
  2. Make sure your processes match up with your goals. In this case, an email goes out the day before requiring people to submit anything they want to discuss a minimum of 1 day before the meeting. While I’d argue for agendas for almost any meeting, this sends a conflicting message to the staff that someone has to approve what’s discussed ahead of time.  Why?
  3. Don’t be afraid to course correct. If you’ve set a purpose for a meeting (innovation ideas) and it starts to drift away from your purpose (like turning into a gripe session), verbally remind attendees of the purpose and that you’ll be glad to address other concerns individually but don’t want to waste everyone’s time since you’ve called this meeting to get new ideas.

ImageThe reality is that people generally want the upper management to know what’s going on and given the opportunity, many will use any face time they get to tell them the bad stuff. Make sure you give an avenue for that but it’s not here.

What other thoughts do you have?  Should the CEO just scrap the plan entirely or just refocus the effort? I’d love to hear your ideas…Ideas only, no griping.


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