HUDDLE UP!

MEETING I NEVER MISS: The Morning Huddle
WHO: Morris Panner, COO, OpenAir.com Inc.
E-MAIL: mpanner@openair.com
PLAYERS: About 25 members of the company’s staff
FREQUENCY: Every day, 9:30 a.m.
WHY I NEVER MISS IT: “Coming to this meeting is the motivational spark that gets my day going.”

Want to know more about your customers? Call them up. When OpenAir.com Inc., a Boston-based provider of professional-services software that customers access online, launched its Þrst product in June 1999, staffers quickly discovered that they only connected with customers who approached them with questions, usually by e-mail. But what about the rest of the client list? “It’s vital that we make contact with everyone who comes to the site,” says co-founder and CEO Bill O’Farrell, 38. So the company instituted a simple policy: Within 24 hours of learning that a new user has registered on the site, an OpenAir.com staffer calls up to say hello. Because between 100 and 200 new users sign up daily — the number of registered users has grown to more than 50,000 — just about everyone at OpenAir. com spends some time on the line every day. “These aren’t telemarketing calls,” says COO Morris Panner, 38. “There’s no script. It’s designed to be a bonding effort between us and our customers.”

Then there’s the follow-up. At 9:30 each morning, the staff gathers outside O’Farrell’s ofÞce for the “morning huddle,” a big water-cooler event in which everyone gets to share a few anecdotes about his customer calls from the day before. The point of the exercise, explains Panner, is to share information — fast.

Guiding Principle The organic þow of information. “The process starts out in the customer base and then drives into our staff — Þrst to individuals and then to the entire company. The meeting is now the information backbone of OpenAir.com.

Best Practice No chairs allowed. “A couple of us come from big corporate settings where the Þrst thing people do in a meeting is tune out. They sit down in a chair, and they have that passive mentality of ‘Now I’m going to receive information.’ The stand-up meeting is both a discipline — nobody can talk too long because people get antsy — and a way to get a jump on the morning. We huddle, then someone says ‘Break,’ and off we go.”