When you launch a small business, it’s easy to have a pulse on your company culture and your employees. If there’s fewer than 10 of you, for example, you’ll typically know if John is having some personal issues that are affecting his work or if Joanne is working on updating that big contract. But what happens when you begin to build momentum? As an owner, how do you maintain a pulse when your employee base begins to grow?

Promotional Consultant Today recommends this simple solution: Dine and dish.

It all started a few months ago when the owner of my company said, “We need some culture.” Well, you and I both know that you don’t just snap your fingers and—poof—your company has a culture. You need to get a pulse on the internal facets of the organization. What are departments dealing with? What are the inter-department relationships like? What are the needs of the organization based on generation groups?

It was not unusual that the owner was feeling disconnected. In fact, it made sense based on our company’s maturity level. He started the business 20 years ago, with just two employees. Now he has 120 employees across the country with 30 percent year-over-year growth. It’s impressive to say the least. But the company has grown so fast that there was little focus on internal communications.

What was the solution? Leadership luncheons with small groups of employees. The concept was to give employees from different roles and different departments a chance to ask questions and interact with leadership. It would also give leadership an opportunity to hear, firsthand, concerns and successes from across the organization.

We first named our luncheon event “Dine and Dish.” Then we sent invitations on lunch bags to a small group of eight employees. Inside the bags were index cards. Employees were invited to let their team know about the invitation and write down questions or success stories on the cards. These were submitted back to the leadership team prior to the lunch.

On the day of the event, these eight employees joined the company president for lunch in the board room. The group represented multiple departments, roles, and there was even a remote employee who joined the lunch. The president reviewed the questions ahead of time so that he was somewhat prepared to answer them. And he allowed ad hoc questions and comments during the lunch. There was great discussion around the table, and it was all captured by an executive assistant who took notes. The employees felt like they were heard, and the president gained some insight into the pulse of the organization.

Well, that’s not the end of this success story. We continued these lunches once a month for the next three months. Then, we decided to host a town hall. At the town hall, the president shared his experiences with the lunches so far, and shared some of the questions that had came up. This did two things for the organization. First, it showed a level of transparency between leadership and the organization. Second, he made the questions and responses available on an internal web page so all employees could review them. As a result, it quelled any gossip or speculation about initiatives across the organization. Employees also often discovered their questions had already been covered in the responses.

Dine and Dish is an internal success story at my company. If you are looking to build a better level of transparency and culture of open communication, try this concept, or take elements of this idea and build your own unique program.

What has worked at your organization? Share your internal communications ideas with PCT at PPB@ppai.org.

Source: Cassandra Johnson is a tech-savvy marketing communications consultant and freelance writer. She reports on the latest trends in the promotional products industry, public relations, direct marketing, e-marketing and more. She supports clients in a variety of industries, including promotional products, hospitality, financial services and technology.