A friend of mine recently relayed a story of her employer’s attempt at their first ever company wide appreciation party. The company ownership decided to take advantage of the recent bounty of snow, and planned a Saturday family day on the ski slopes. The day was billed as “bring your entire family, enjoy a day of food and drink on us, and be our guest on the ski slopes.” A date and time was set for the festivities by company ownership in the communication, the ONLY communication, with a tag line at the bottom that read “Come Join Us. Don’t Be Left Out of the Cold!”
In the interest of full disclosure, the Simpsons picture above from the “Mountain of Madness” episode was sent to me by my friend in response to, “Well, how did it go?” In great, painful detail, she described being the only employee who attended the event. Due to a lack of planning, the food never showed up, a private room was never reserved for the group, RSVP’s were not requested by the organizers and a lift ticket was obtained only after waiting in a line that would make the Department of Motor Vehicles jealous. In a blinding moment of clarity, the company owner turned to my friend and declared, “Well, something must have gone wrong!”
In my short story, it’s pretty easy to say what went wrong. I’ve painted a picture for you in the interest of good oratory. Unfortunately, what went wrong is always clear AFTER the fact. For instance, I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time for the Seahawks not to run the ball from the one! Life comes at you fast though, and often times in trying to get the end result, you neglect the steps necessary to get their effectively. Hindsight is 20/20, but let’s put our contacts in anyway, and take a closer look at how this avalanche of mistakes could have been avoided (see what I did there??).
Plan and Engage
As business people, we hire professionals to do things outside our normal scope because we know the value of industry knowledge and experience. We also understand that we need to focus our limited time, but the importance of building a company culture demands adequate focus. However, not all culture building initiatives require professional event planners. In this case, if ownership had engaged a few more individuals to assist, the limited moving parts of this event could have been easily delegated. By engaging other parties, you create buy in for your idea. It helps convey the importance you place on showing your employees appreciation. More importantly, it brings more voices to the planning process which will allow for a deeper review of how to best accomplish your goals. Had ownership engaged my friend as part of the planning process, she could have reminded them that over 90% of the workforce either has no children, or children under the age of two. This demographic would not seem to bode well for a family event that requires folks to drive over an hour, to a cold destination, where a majority of the people will be unable to take advantage of the main activity. With this key information on the table for discussion, it’s quite likely a group of engaged planners could have devised some other activities so the event is seen as more inclusive. This same group could have handled the multitude of responsibilities that clearly were forgotten by ownership, such as procuring lift tickets in advance, and making sure there is a dedicated room for their group. For any type of appreciation event, it’s important to engage some of your constituents, and then partner with them to fully plan the event. If you have the budget, I recommend a professional event planner to assist. Hiring a professional will deliver a clear signal to your team how much you are willing to invest to make it a memorable experience.
Ownership sent out the single communication, and then neglected to follow up. A single communication is not sufficient to generate the buzz needed to engage your audience. And depending on the time passed between the initial communication and the event, it may be forgotten. Assuming you followed my first piece of advice, use your team to spread the word about the event. They should make public their intention to attend. Create a calendar with key dates to publish additional information such as where to meet, parking, directions, hours, food and beverage available and any other information. Assign one person on your team to collect their RSVP’s, and communicate the deadline for the RSVP in each piece you publish. No later than five days before the event, you should have your final numbers to share with the venue. Keep in mind, your planning committee should have long reserved the venue with guaranteed numbers, if required, and all you are waiting for is final numbers so the venue can plan accordingly. By sending out only one communication, and having no planning committee, there was no sense of inclusion created for the event. No word of mouth advertising to generate interest. And no clear line created for the employees to go to if they had questions. An appreciation event is supposed to be a thank you for the work your employees do during the year. Don’t make them work to attend.
Building a culture is not an activity you check off a list once a year. It’s admirable that ownership saw the benefit of creating an employee appreciation event, but make sure it fits within your culture year round. Follow up by getting feedback on how it was received by your team. Focus on daily actions and messages that convey the culture you are looking to build so when you do plan larger appreciation events, they fit within the framework, and continually build on the work you do daily. We have a manufacturing client that has a STRICT production schedule. Every second of an employee’s time is accounted for. Annually, they engage us to do an appreciation event with an amazing lunch and some entertainment. We assist them in scheduling this event within their rigid production schedule. The event is a huge success every year. From the outside, I’m always amazed this event does not fall flat, but it speaks to the importance of consistency in creating your culture. This organization preaches a culture of success through rigid planning, and their employees have bought into this success and culture. The organization recognizes the importance of showing appreciation, but they know it cannot be outside their daily actions or it will be poorly received, and poorly understood. Whatever culture you are trying to create, be consistent and follow up with communication and visible actions that support that culture. And follow up by measuring employee engagement through internal surveys so you know you are using your limited resources wisely.
If you want to build a successful culture, listen to the stories your employees tell. If you don’t like what you hear, the good news is you can change the stories through your actions.