How Product Managers Can Leverage All-Hands Meetings to Foster Alignment

As companies grow, informal conversations and emails aren’t sufficient to ensure the entire staff is properly informed and motivated. To provide a consistent communications platform for every employee, most companies hold some form of a staff meeting on a semi-regular basis.

These all-hands meetings are usually led by the CEO and other senior executives. They’re also an excellent platform for other team members to update the entire company on important developments, whether it’s a new strategic development, how the company is progressing toward its goals, or to celebrate a new deal.

Why product updates should be part of every all-hands meeting

For product leaders, an all-hands meeting is a unique chance to present product-related information to the entire company. Making a brief product update a standard feature in the all-hands agenda should be a priority for any organization. But it becomes particularly important for larger companies or those with a large distributed or remote workforce.

Not only is an all-hands meeting the only forum where you can be guaranteed to reach the majority of employees. It’s the perfect platform for raising the profile of the product management organization and asserting its importance. So, if your company doesn’t already include an update from product management every time, it’s time to change that ASAP.

Even though product management may make up a tiny fraction of the employees as a percentage of headcount, there’s no other part of the business that touches every department quite like the product. Sales is selling it, customer service supports it, engineering is building it, QA is testing it, marketing is positioning it, and finance is counting the money it brings in.

The question shouldn’t be “why should we include a product update?” but “why isn’t product management doing most of the talking?”

Benefits of regular updates from product management

By providing a product update at every all-hands meeting, several goals can be accomplished:

  • Everyone is aligned around what the product does and what it will be capable of doing soon
  • Key product metrics are shared to let people know how things are progressing toward goals
  • Important insights and findings are widely communicated
  • The successes and achievements of the product team and its members can be acknowledged
  • The strategic role of product management is reinforced by giving the team a slot in the agenda

How to get the most out of all-hands presentations

Go beyond the ‘what’ and explain why

While anyone can give a status update, the all-hands meeting is a unique setting where the executive team and product management can explain the rationale driving key product decisions. While some employees are happy to perform their tasks without question, there are plenty of folks who really want to understand the motivations behind what may appear from the outside to be arbitrary decisions.

When she was CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer would use regularly scheduled all-hands meetings to share how and why product decisions were being made.

“We do deep dives on new products and talk about current events which are affecting the company. Overall it’s been a great communication tool, community-building exercise, and it has helped us to bring transparency to the company. One of the things that was important to me was to demystify management and the decisions we make,” she explained to Stanford University’s Chris Yeh.

The takeaway is that not everyone realizes the product team has done so much homework, research, and analysis before choosing a particular path. An all-hands is a great chance to share a bit on how you got here.

Reinforce organizational and strategic alignment

Sure, the annual kick-off meeting might have used a few bullet points and a catchy acronym to inspire the troops. But after a few weeks or months of day-to-day drama, those big picture ideas can fade into the background. An all-hands meeting can remind everyone what the big picture goals are. The product team can demonstrate how the product strategy is getting you there.

“All-hands meetings can serve as an excellent platform to get the team’s buy-in on new projects,” says Martina Cicakova of Slido. “Having all team members tuned in is a great time to communicate important updates and make sure everyone is on the same page. Take this opportunity to let people know what different teams are working on and provide updates on the ongoing projects.”

Other than executive leadership, no other part of the company is as focused on big-picture strategy as the product team. Even the most routine decisions a product manager makes are with those key goals in mind.

Solicit feedback

While key stakeholders are routinely consulted during the product development process, you never know when a random coworker will have a great idea or insightful criticism. An all-hands meeting empowers them with a view of what’s being worked on and a forum for them to respond.

“The most important communications media on the product development pipeline, however, are our all-hands Friday Demos, where the Engineering and Product teams tell what they’re working on, give updates on new features, and share early design prototypes with the entire team,” says Arto Tolonen of Smartly. “Sharing prototypes to the whole organization is a key ingredient in keeping all Smartlies informed, as well as giving everyone an opportunity to give feedback early on in the development process.”

Without an all-hands, you might never get a thought-provoking question from Alice in Accounts Receivables or Sam in Customer Support. But with an open floor and a culture that truly embraces the Q&A portion of the all-hands presentation, you can engage everyone on the payroll.
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Of course, such a broad audience represents an additional challenge for presenters, since people are showing up with a wide array of knowledge and preexisting sentiments. Catering the presentation to those less familiar with the ins and outs of product development is the safe play, even if it means repeating some information that engineering might already be aware of.

Short attention span theater

Assuming you’ve secured your slot in the agenda, you must keep your message clear, crisp, and concise. This is not the audience for droning on and on and diving into the details.

“It’s essential to constantly remind your team about your strategy. You can never do it often enough. But it needs to be crisp and memorable,” says Gokul Rajaram of Square. “Use the rule of three—not more than three items they need to remember.”

When product team presentations are a regular occurrence at a company all-hands, you’re able to give demos early and often and therefore keep them short and specific.

Select one new feature or change to highlight during your demos. Explain why it was prioritized, what the goals are for the change, and how it works, along with when it can be expected to go live. If individuals request a demo of the full product you may schedule a small meeting or one-on-one session separately.

Overcoming stage fright and sharing the spotlight

Presenting to the entire company might be daunting, but it’s important for anyone with bigger plans for their career to be comfortable speaking to a crowd. For a product leader, in particular, you must be both inspiring and confident when talking about your domain, so it’s great practice.

Of course, it shouldn’t only be the leaders who get a turn to present. All-hands are an excellent opportunity to give some visibility to individual contributors who might normally operate under the radar. Let them give a feature demo or present some metrics every now and then when their area of expertise is the focus of the presentation.

Let them know you’re listening

While there might be an opportunity for some Q&A at the end of your slot in the all-hands, the agenda likely doesn’t leave much time for feedback specific to your presentation. Always wrap things up with an invitation to contact you afterward for additional questions, feedback, and follow-ups.

Even though co-workers should always feel comfortable approaching you, don’t miss your moment on stage to reiterate your availability and eagerness to engage.

Although an all-hands meeting doesn’t replace the need for formal roadmap reviews and full product demonstrations, there aren’t many better chances to deliver a high-impact message to everyone all at once. Don’t let the CEO monopolize this forum and fight for your chance to present.