Best questions to ask in the annual town hall
Tis the season of the annual firm town hall. It’s the one time in the year when the firm all gets into one room (virtually) to listen to some new flashy tagline that probably cost a majority of the marketing budget. It usually entails 45 minutes of self-promotion and anecdotes about how great the firm is and some further plans about trying to become a more diverse, inclusive, funner place to work. We usually sit through these painfully because we know at the end is where the fireworks happen. Through all the annoying buzzwords, irritating slogans and patronising stories, it is always rewarding when we make it to the Q&A.
Now depending on how transparent your firm is, we’ve seen this done in different ways. The predominant method these days is via submitting questions online. On the one hand of the transparency spectrum, you’ll have a moderator heavily filtering the questions, barely letting anything “controversial” through for fear of embarrassing the managing director/partner. On the other hand (and this is the system we commend), anonymously submitted questions are brought up on the screen and the most popular questions are voted on by the audience. With this system, the juiciest questions will always be highly voted and rise to the top. As mentioned, we are strong advocates of the latter, so for anyone out there working in firms that don’t implement this system, we’d strongly encourage you to feed this back through your channels.
Questions-wise, the best ones almost always relate to two things: remuneration, and retention (which again, really just goes back to remuneration). Obviously, if your firm is going through a scandal (*cough* PwC Batgate *cough*), this will probably be the subject of many questions too. Any other kind of question (e.g. about culture, strategic direction, deal flow) are questions that we think are pointless to ask and time should not be wasted on these. Unless you work in an absolutely toxic / incompetent workplace (in which case, these kind of problems wouldn’t be addressed anyway), your firm is probably already working towards solving these.
Most of these types of questions are also probably pre-prepared by the firm because they are the easy questions for the firm to respond to with broad, generic statements like “Thanks for your question. We hear you and that’s why we implemented the AWARE Program last year, which by the way, received some absolutely stunning feedback from several people in the firm”. “Who are these people, and do they actually work here?” is usually the proportionate response.
We’ve found that the hard question(s) (and the most useful to achieving change) will almost always relate to remuneration and retention. The firm will try to duck and dodge, but at least this puts them on notice that people are not happy with (a) the pay and (b) the resourcing, which somehow always seems to be a perennial problem. In order to really dial it up a notch, we’ve put together a series of questions that need to be asked that revolve around these issues. The key is to be as assertive as you can without crossing the line – we think the below questions achieve this:
- “our competitors are paying % more than what we pay for talent, why can’t we do the same when we operate in the same market?”
- “why does the business model seem to rely on dumping work on juniors (who eventually quit from burn out) as opposed to focussing on retention by making sure that matters are adequately staffed?
- “you just said that the firm had a bumper year. How has staff compensation reflected this?”
- “our team seems to be perennially understaffed, reflection overall high attrition rates. What is the issue here and how are you addressing this?”
- “other markets (e.g. US, UK) generally make their salaries quite transparent. Why is the firm’s approach to hide this information?”
- “after taking into account inflation and the increase in the new superannuation guarantee, it doesn’t appear that wage growth has grown in any meaningful sense for a while. Why?”
We think these will make for an interesting Q&A session, and at the very least, put some pressure on those higher up in front of the whole firm. We’ve given you our thoughts but we’re sure you’ve heard some absolute clangers. If you’ve got anything that you think will inspire the masses, or just something that will rile someone up a bit, leave us your 2c below.