I recently connected with an old friend, and during the inevitable “I barely remember you” small talk portion of our reunion, the topic turned to our current occupations. When I explained to him that I was in the business of creating events for organizations to help them build a stronger company culture, I could almost feel the dew of disapproval dripping off whatever cell tower was relaying our phone call. My friend offered, very sternly, “I tried an appreciation party for my company. That garbage doesn’t work, and has no positive return.” Deciding to stick my toe in the gator’s mouth, I asked him how he went about planning and producing the day. “I told my assistant to put something together and not spend to much money. I even shut the place down for the afternoon and told everyone what time they had to be there. Thankfully, it didn’t cost me much money. People just stood around, staring at me as if they were waiting for me to say something. It was awkward.”
By now, every business leader has read about the importance of company culture. It’s universally debated in regards to importance to growth of a company, and quite misunderstood in regards to how to achieve and support. A company culture cannot be forced, and must first be defined before any type of event to support it is created. Otherwise, you will be faced with confused employees standing around, waiting for you as the leader to do SOMETHING, because they will have no idea why you gathered them together.
Define Your Culture
What is your organizational mission, and how do you want to shape your office environment to support that mission? A good leader will recognize that he cannot succeed alone. Everyone talks about creating a family environment, but a leader should clearly define for themselves first what they want that to mean. Once defined, every action and communication must be in direct alignment with that culture. For example, If you feel your employees will be happier, and thus more engaged to the mission, by providing a flexible schedule, you cannot be negatively commenting when employees come to work at different times, or choose to work from home. Establish the culture that you feel will best drive positive, profitable results and then be diligent about implementing and supporting that cultural vision. Culture is not written on a plaque, but rather defined by attitude and actions.
Establish the Types of Events You Want to Help Build and Support the Culture
Every organization will have different restrictions. You will have budgetary restrictions, geographical challenges for the workforce and a myriad of other concerns. Nothing is insurmountable, and should not be used as an excuse to not have appreciation events. Use these restrictions to shape the scope and depth of the event. Your workforce is scattered throughout the country? Hold one annual team meeting at a different location each year to bring everyone together. Your workforce works different shifts and seven days a week? Hold a luncheon themed event with games and entertainment that can be scheduled over multiple time frames to accommodate everyone without stopping productivity. You have a small budget? Focus more on a team building type of event with no food service aspect, or an appreciation event with fewer activities. The point of the appreciation event is SHOW appreciation, so if you create an event in the face of these restrictions, it will show your team that you care and are committed to helping them grow and be happy.
Get Willing Participants and Not Forced Volunteers (Including YOURSELF!)
I retreated to my happy place when my long lost friend said, “I told my assistant to put something together and not spend to much money. I even shut the place down for the afternoon and told everyone what time they had to be there.” If it feels like a job, it is a job and no amount of party streamers is going to make the people involved feel engaged and committed. If you completed the first part and defined your company culture, you’ve been walking the walk for awhile now and should have a pretty good idea of who is 100% engaged. Seek them out and ask them to consider being your partner in strengthening the culture. Share your ideas of possible appreciation events with them, and seek their buy in to assist you. Don’t order them to assist, or staff it out in a memo. Make it clear to them that you encourage them to seek a professional event planner if they feel the need, or whatever other resources they require to be successful. Once you identify committed folks willing to help, give them autonomy, clear goals and a clear budget….and then get out of their way. These engaged team members will surprise you with a first class, effective event because they are in tune with the current environment that is your organization, and they are early adopters of your long term cultural goal. They won’t have to be told to tie it all together – they will do it automatically.
Remember to check in, show enthusiasm for their work and offer feedback periodically. Do not micromanage, but do not disappear. If you get buy in from a team, then simply show up day of expecting to be wowed, the process will fall apart. It will be viewed as just another work assignment, and perhaps even busy work because the boss does not seem to care.
Lastly, forced, scheduled fun is just another meeting but with cotton candy. Your invitations, your planning and your communication should make it clear that you wish to celebrate your team and everyone is invited should they choose to attend. You have all kinds of personalities working for you. Keep in mind that the introverted among your team may be threatened by a mandatory day of fun. Or worse, your entire team may interpret this as a job requirement, and that will immediately wash away any good work your planning committee has done putting the event together.
Developing a culture of appreciation takes time, but is worth the effort. Whether it’s the regular placement of free coffee and donuts in the kitchen for everyone, the annual team building event among departments for bragging rights, or the full scale family day picnic, any activity will provide positive results if structured and communicated properly, with an eye on your cultural goal.