How to Be a Fly on the Wall: The Dos and Don’ts of Sharing Executive Discussions

Sep 10, 2013

A sure way to drive employees crazy is to never share what executives discuss or decide until a new mandate lands on the organization’s collective head. While senior leaders should expect some privacy in decision-making and debate, they should also expect to openly hold themselves accountable and to make sure their employees know where the organization is headed.

One way to offer that clear accountability and communication is by keeping people apprised of what happens in important executive meetings, even as those meetings are happening. Here are a few things you should and shouldn’t do.

Do plan to cover meetings in which topics important to many, if not all, employees will be discussed and related decisions will be made. Don’t cover a meeting simply because executives will be there — they have to attend a lot of meetings, and many don’t interest them, much less everyone else.

Setting Expectations about Coverage.

Do all you can to ensure that everyone, including the executives themselves, is aware that the discussion will be documented for employees. Don’t assume that one memo or a mention at the weekly senior staff meeting will make its way through the agency.

Do set explicit expectations about what and how will be covered in the meeting, including the sort of information that will be shared and the media used to share it. Execs need to trust you, and employees will define trust of execs through your coverage. Don’t make employees think they are going to get sensitive info before it’s ready to be shared, and don’t surprise your leaders with a video camera when they think you’re keeping written comments.

Analytics: Measure Your Live-Blogging (or Other Coverage) for Internal Communications.

Do find a way to measure participation, whether through web metrics software looking at your executive blog, email delivery services, or the other analysis tools. You can also poll employees about whether they followed the coverage and why. Don’t assume that everyone will stay glued to your coverage all day (remember, they’re at work) or that attention is the same as assent.

The Writing: Good Material, Clear Messages.

Do keep the voice and tense of the coverage clear and consistent, and time/date stamp your posts. Don’t make employees have to think about who’s writing the updates or when they were supposed to be written.

Do pay close attention to what’s being discussed so you can pull out the best material to share. Don’t check your email, write that proposal you’ve been meaning to get to, or browse for jobs while you’re supposed to be covering the event.

Do make quotes, paraphrases, and attributions crystal clear. Don’t leave out important contextual information that leaves employees wondering what on Earth these overpaid clowns are thinking.

Make It Live for Better Internal Communication.

Do strongly advocate for live or near-live coverage to ensure that the discussion is captured and the word is out. Don’t agree to a process through which meeting notes are approved and scrubbed clean by every cook in the executive kitchen — if this happens, you might as well not cover the meeting.

Managing Comments and Participation While Live-Blogging for Internal Communications.

Do come up with one or two good questions to ask individual leaders during breaks or at the end of the event. Don’t ask them a question that would put them in an awkward position with their colleagues (“So, why do you think Brenda’s programs keep getting cut?”).

Do gather and consider how to handle incoming employee comments during the event, whether through email, blog comment section, or otherwise, and bring up good ones during breaks or when asked. Don’t raise your hand to read out feedback every time it comes in during the meeting.

Originally published on the Federal Communicators Network Blog.