At their best, most meetings are a waste of time. Instead of inspiring and enabling, way too many of them actually drain participants’ willingness and ability to do real work. Yet QlikTech has found a way to turn its annual corporate summit into a positive, culture-building and culture-reinforcing event that everyone looks forward to.
When I spoke with QlikTech CEO Lars Bjork for a previous column, he told me that he is “absolutely convinced that (their annual summit) is one critical element to their having been able to sustain a 50 percent Compound Annual Growth Rate for five years.”
With that claim in mind, I eagerly accepted QlikTech’s invitation to attend this year’s summit as their guest. From the first drumbeat and emotion of the opening session stories, it was clear that this was no ordinary meeting. QlikTech’s head of brand management, Pelle Rosell, has put together each of the 13 summits that QlikTech has had, from the first ski trip with 40 employees to this year’s gathering of 1,100 employees in Cancun, Mexico.
Pelle says the event itself is not important. What matters is the “brand experience.” Each gathering is the “starting point of every year’s journey.” For Pelle, enduring branding requires an intersection of organizational values and brand values. He says branding is about belonging. Customers and employees don’t so much buy a brand or work for a company as they join it.
Culture as a Journey
For QlikTech, the summit is one critical element in that journey, but just one element. I asked QlikTech’s Chief People Officer Paul Farmer about the other elements:
First and foremost, you have to believe what you’re saying.” This company believes from top to bottom that, “being values-based will deliver performance of people and business.”
When a company starts, its culture is its founder. As it grows, people watch the founder or CEO and follow his or her behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values and environment. At some point, growth means more people, functions, geographies and complexity across all sorts of dimensions. Along the way, the transmission of culture becomes less personal and more systemic. As Bjork put it, “I used to be able to greet everyone by their first name in the morning. I can’t do that anymore.”
Hence the need arose for a chief people officer and a related team to focus on maintaining, evolving and strengthening QlikTech’s winning behaviors not by controlling all the details, but by putting up “guard rails.” In particular, Farmer says it’s important to embed the company’s cultural preferences in core processes like recruiting (values-based), onboarding (leveraging the Qlik Academy), performance management, development (including the annual summit), succession planning and decision-making. The more they can do this in a natural way, the more things will stick. This is important because culture is the only truly sustainable competitive advantage.
Rosell likens it to Swiss cheese. As he describes it, culture starts at the top and becomes real in the behaviors of the people on the front line. Middle management is there to transmit ideas and help (inspire and enable). Middle management needs to be a conduit for communication, just like the holes in Swiss cheese are conduits for air. You need to make sure the holes are big enough to allow the important information to pass through, which brings us back to meetings as one of the main conduits of information flows. Therefore:
5 Steps to Effective Meetings
- Context. Understand the meeting’s place in the broader journey. It’s not about the meeting itself, or even the meeting experience. It’s about how the meeting moves its participants forward along the path and fits with everything else.
- Objective. Set an overall single objective for the meeting and clear expectations for learning, contributions, and decisions by agenda item and attendee in order to align with the single objective and with the meeting’s place in the broader journey. (Follow this link for more on the “learn, contribute and decide” model.
- Prework. Make sure to get appropriate pre-work and pre-reading to people far enough in advance for all to learn/contribute to their fullest potential.
- Delivery. Manage meeting participation and timing to optimize learning, contributions and action-oriented decisions.
- Follow-through. Get meeting notes out promptly to memorialize decisions and actions, kicking off the preparation for the next meeting and implementation of decisions and actions.
Everything communicates. You can either make choices in advance about what and how you’re going to communicate or react to what others do. It is important to discover your own message and be clear on your platform for change, vision, and call to action before you start trying to inspire others. It will evolve as you learn, but you can’t lead unless you have a starting point to help focus those learning plans. Identify your target audiences. Craft and leverage your core message and master narrative. Monitor and adjust as appropriate on an ongoing basis.