Ask Me Anythings (AMAs) are a must at every organization – even frontline ones. After all, nobody likes being kept in the dark, least of all frontline employees. In fact, according to The Deskless Report, 40% of workers are hungry for more company updates. Your staff values transparency from management in nearly everything – including company successes, failures, and future plans.
This kind of transparency matters. In a recent study, Paychex found that 84.2% of employees were satisfied with their jobs when their employers were transparent, while only 54.4% claimed to be satisfied when employers were not transparent.
This thirst for information is partially why Ask Me Anythings are becoming so popular among companies. Formerly the province of Reddit, Ask Me Anythings are being adopted by executive leadership as a means of having live, authentic conversations with their employees. Essentially, AMAs provide an opportunity for employees to submit questions to leadership in advance, and leadership provides candid, honest responses.
The online nature of Ask Me Anythings makes it an excellent communication channel for frontline organizations whose workforce is scattered across different locations. It completely sidesteps the need to assemble employees in a single physical venue, and even offers opportunities to collect and even answer questions asynchronously, which works well for navigating various employee schedules and time zones.
If you would like to explore the idea of running an Ask Me Anything, but haven’t ever run one before, don’t fret: we’ve tapped Brennan McEachran, CEO and co-founder of management support software platform Hypercontext (and avid AMA advocate) for a few insider tips!
On to the tips!
1. Use a practical Ask Me Anything format
Consider your staff’s needs when deciding how the AMA will be conducted. Frontline employees are often shift workers, which means you need to be mindful of timing when collecting questions, and sharing the answers.
Rather than collecting questions verbally, over email, or in a dedicated meeting, the more practical option might be to use a forum for staff to share their questions (psst… you can do that in Nudge!).
When it comes to answering the questions, live-streaming the AMA may be convenient for office workers who have ready access to a laptop, but it will be much more difficult for frontline workers to participate. A recording might make more sense, or even having senior leadership answer the questions right in the forum, which makes it easy for staff to comment further or even refer back to the answers over time.
2. Crowdsource top questions
McEachran advises, “If you have the right tools in place, you can collect questions and items to address during the Ask Me Anything prior to the actual meeting. Leading up to the AMA, your broader team can vote on what their most burning questions are for senior management.”
Using a forum like we mentioned above means you can encourage other employees to comment on or upvote their favourite questions. This is a great way to ensure you’re answering the most popular questions, rather than only favoring those who feel more comfortable speaking up.
3. Make a plan
“When it comes to running AMAs,” McEachran says, “it’s important that you use an agenda and stick to it. It’s easy for these conversations to go off-kilter, so you want to ensure that you’re using your time productively. Be sure to use a meeting agenda that everyone has access to prior to the AMA.”
Sharing an agenda in advance also prepares your staff for which questions your leadership team will answer. Be clear about why you’ve chosen those questions – i.e. they were upvoted the most, they had the most comments on them, they’re closely related to the company’s roadmap, etc.
4. Allow for anonymity
“Give your team the opportunity to ask questions anonymously,” McEachran suggests. “It can be incredibly scary for frontline workers to bring up problems to upper management because they might fear being punished for bringing up concerns (that’s a whole other problem in itself). Remove as many barriers for feedback as possible.”
If you’re not keen to build anonymity into your Ask Me Anything, focus on building psychological safety with your team to help build rapport with your staff and alleviate any worries around repercussions.
5. Create an Ask Me Anything policy document
Just because Ask Me Anythings include the word “Anything,” doesn’t mean employees can say or do whatever they like.
A policy document can help guide employees in how to best format their questions, and help them understand any topics or language that are off-limits. The document also lets you lay out expected standards of behavior. This is especially important considering that frontline employees may be working under a great deal of stress, and could see the AMA as an opportunity to vent their frustrations.
6. Prep your leadership team
Don’t just brief the executive who will be running the Ask Me Anything. Brief the rest of the leadership team, as well. Every department head should know that they could be called upon to answer difficult or topical questions.
Those who have never seen or run an AMA before would benefit from one or two coaching sessions so they can get used to how questions are presented, how to answer in a timely fashion, and the tone they should adopt when talking to employees.
7. Follow up
Ask Me Anythings usually have a finite end time, and there isn’t always time to address all of the questions. Be clear about how and when leftover questions will be answered, and any next steps that will be taken on the insights provided.
After the event, post updates on issues and action items that were discussed during the AMA so that employees can see the company is making progress. If you don’t post these kinds of follow ups, the employees may think that any promises made during the AMA are mere lip service, which will lower morale and reduce trust in management.
Ask Me Anythings can be an effective way for company management to engage with a deskless workforce at scale. It establishes a clear line of communication that executives can use to keep employees up-to-date on important issues and gives you insight into what’s important to your people. Making AMAs work for your frontline organization just needs a bit extra planning – and the right tools.