Saturday, April 2, 2011

Retreats, Summits, and All-Company Meetings. Oh My!

But first an update.

I write about the value of failure a great deal, it appears. If you haven't gotten the overall message yet, it's this: Marketing is the art of managing failure. And failing is only really failing when you fail to learn anything from it.

Supporting this belief is a short article on HBR, which is more about prototyping than failing, but is still worth reading.

And now back to the blog post already in progress.

Retreats, Summits and All-Company Meetings. Oh My!

We've all attended these sessions and many of us have been "fortunate" to attend all-company meetings for more than one company. But the question is: What have we learned that we still put into action today?

This is no random question. This is why you have retreats, summits, off-sites, or whatever you call them.

This why is often lost in the planning effort, if it's ever included at all. And I would argue, from having the "pleasure" of attending many such events for a wide range of organizations, that if you do not defend this why with all your might, then you should take all the money you plan to spend (multiply everyone's hourly costs and add that, too) and donate it to a single charity. At least someone will get real benefit from all the time and money spent.

But let's add to the why.

Because why is only the starting question. Let's add a how and a when, a what or two, and, most critically, let's add a small who and a big WHO.

Complete this simple questionnaire before you even set a date for your session:

1. Why we are having this session: (Be specific.)
2. What will the long-term results of this session?
3. By when do we expect to start seeing these specified results?
4. How will we measure these results?
5. What will we do to add needed structure and continually reinforce the why post-event?
6. Who describes the vision & value at the event? (This is the small who.)
7. WHO will be responsible for creating the structure, supporting the day-to-day needs, measuring, and reporting successes and failures to leadership? WHO actually owns these results? (I.e. WHO will be rewarded or punished accordingly?)

Now that we have our questionnaire, here are the two key reasons why retreats are often one-and-done events:

• No post-event action plan.
We call these "legs." Without legs, your great Rah Rah session won't survive the first fire-drill back at the shop. Once you have your why, spend time figuring out the hows. Set dates and metrics. Work with the right people – before the fact – to develop the long-term plan and milestones.

• The wrong people are in the room. Or, more correctly: The right people are not in the room.
I believe this is the #1 reason why summits and retreats create plenty of temporary flash but dissipate as soon as the tables are cleared and golf scorecards are tallied.

Your ego says, "I only want my senior people there." Your wallet says, "Having everyone there is expensive." Your clubby nature says, "I want to spend time with my peers. This is also a time to bond and enjoy the company of my equals."

For these reasons, you leave the people who will execute and measure the impact of your vision behind. They hear nothing, they are disconnected and, often, they are told after the fact that they even have a role.

It's amazing to me how many times I hear soaring rhetoric and motivating visionary plans and then look around the room to see that the actual owner, architect and/or general contractor for this great bridge to the future is not in attendance. Often, this person has no or little clue what is being discussed or that she has any post-event role for ensuring the bridge gets built.

Whether you give this person an active role at the session or not (you should), or whether or not you include her in the bonding sessions afterwards (fifty-fifty on this one), disincluding her before and during the event is a near guarantee you will never see your bridge built.

Look back at the last five company retreats, summits, whatevers. Do you even recall the themes? Can you point to the specific ROI you are still receiving from the money and time you spent? Can you point to the new structures that were built based on the outcomes of those sessions? If so, congratulations. If not, what makes you think your next one will be any different?

Happy bridge building! See you on the other side.

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