David Hankin – Why it’s essential that you honor the good – and the bad – as you move into the new year

The “opening bell” for 2014 has rung and the new beginning it represents demands a conversation between company leadership and individual contributors — a conversation to celebrate the achievements of 2013 and look forward to 2014.

At the Alfred Mann Foundation, we have found the all-hands meeting effective in not just delivering a consistent message, but in engaging various employees in leading this conversation.

Additionally, we engage employees unrehearsed in banter that is seemingly intended to fill in critical details, but has the additional benefit of establishing the employee as the “subject-matter” expert in front of the entire company, not just his or her own peer group.

The conversation enables leadership to highlight achievement in an uplifting way. No department gets left behind — every employee walks away from the meeting with a pat on the back and the perception that he or she contributed in 2013.

One tip that I’d like to note is presenters must avoid simply reading a “laundry list” of what took place. The interactivity suggested above is meant to turn the presentation into an actual discussion. Pictures and video vignettes that can be embedded into a presentation personalize the acknowledgement and can be a tremendous source of inspiration and fuel interactivity. It’s amazing what source material can be found on a smartphone or in past presentations.


Identify the gaps

The group session also presents opportunities to address concerns. The conversation enables leadership to highlight a problem that the organization had to wrestle with and demonstrate the systems, processes and organizational behavior utilized to solve the problem. We can honestly assess which of our processes worked and which fell short and need refinement.

For example, we faced a mechanical engineering problem with a medical device we were developing. The obvious fix was to make the device larger, but increasing the device size undermined our market objectives. The team went to work on the problem and within a few weeks, proposed several potential solutions. The team selected the best solution, planned the redesign and executed on the plan.

In our conversation, not only will the project leaders and individual contributors be acknowledged, the organizational behavior of systematically attacking the problem will also be highlighted.

While we all hope to achieve all our organizational goals, the fact is that every organization has room to improve. The mere planning for the conversation requires leadership to honestly assess the prior year and own the performance gaps.

This has two potential effects: First, leadership is well aware of the challenges ahead and can effectively communicate the gravity of these challenges during the conversation. Second, an initial exchange of ideas can begin that will help fill the gaps. Our goal is to generate infectious enthusiasm to address these gaps.


Keep it fresh

Instead of communicating organizational goals, we like to introduce a few new ideas or concepts to our employees. The ideas or concepts may be a course correction, a system change, a change in the org chart, a change in a benefit plan, etc.

This year, among the concepts that we are introducing is a proposed alternative workweek. This will generate considerable discussion among leadership and our individual contributors in spirited off-line conversations on real issues that affect all of our work lives.

Best wishes for a prosperous 2014!


David Hankin is the CEO of the Alfred Mann Foundation, a nonprofit medical device company that develops groundbreaking medical devices to address serious medical conditions. For more information, visit www.aemf.org.