March 1, 2011

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Article

Escape the Daily Grind

Getting Out of the Office Can Jumpstart Your Employees

Candace Little and Heather Stewart

March 1, 2011

In the day-to-day operations of a business, so much emphasis is placed on productivity and profitability that employees often forget the broader picture, including the company’s mission statement, core values, goals and objectives. Getting out of the office is a way to build morale and discuss the company’s short- and long-term goals without the confines of the daily grind. For some companies, planning a one-day getaway or a larger retreat can also serve as a way to reward employees who have kept the company growing. Whether your company plans a one-day excursion or an upscale retreat, leaving the office behind pays off. One-day Getaway Holding a meeting or fun activity away from the office just for one day or even a few hours can be a great benefit to any company’s morale and bottom line. Rewarding employees, building teamwork and friendships, brainstorming new ideas, and providing educational opportunities are just some of the benefits of getting out of the everyday distractions in the workplace. Intrepid, a local advertising and public relations firm, has made it a priority to get out of the office. The company has several annual events, including a winter snowmobiling day, March Madness luncheon, a theater night, team golf day and Intrepid Day (which involves a one-day staff trip to a destination such as Disneyland or San Francisco. The location is kept a secret until the team meets at the airport on the morning of the event). “Getting out of the office provides an invaluable opportunity to get to know your team on a more personal level,” says Chris Thomas, owner of Intrepid. “It also provides a much-needed break and sends a message that the company cares about its staff and is committed to building and maintaining the best employees and work environments.” Days out of the office don’t have to break the bank, but Thomas says spending the money is always worth it. “Activities can be done on a budget,” he says. “At the same time, activities should be viewed as an important investment. We have found the more creative you can be, the better.” Intrepid has even helped several clients to develop a theme and itinerary. “As a company, we consider these activities an important investment and have experienced a strong return as far as enhanced team chemistry, boosted morale, retention, recruitment and other intangibles,” Thomas says. He also points out that balance is one of Intrepid’s key brand attributes and days away from the office help the company “walk the walk.” These activities have also created a tremendous bond that increases trust and helps foster collaboration within Intrepid’s team. Thomas says a meeting or activity should always have a purpose and should be a combination of training and fun. He also says it’s important to tailor the activities to the needs and interests of the group. The Ground Rules Planning an effective one-day meeting can be daunting. But if you have a clear purpose, set up ground rules and make sure the right people are active participants in the discussion, then you’ll be on your way to successful out-of-office event. Part of a successful meeting is having a purpose. Keep in mind this may be different for each person in the group, so including others in the planning process is usually a good idea. Sue Martin, owner of Co-Creative Works, helps executives and leaders plan and execute successful, creative-driven meetings. She says she will often call some or all participants and ask them, “What would have to happen for this meeting to be well worth your time?” Martin says, “This not only helps me plan the agenda, but it also gives me a sense of any hidden agendas among the group.” The more that is known about the group, the easier it becomes to have a clear purpose that relates to the majority, and will result in a more successful meeting. Setting up ground rules can be harder than it sounds, especially in a world where most people have access to “the office” via smart phones, emailing and texting. Martin says one of the advantages of being away from the office is because a different environment stimulates a different way of thinking and relating to each other. Bringing distractions from the office with you may hinder the experience. Martin also suggests other rules like “decisions will be made by consensus” or “start and end on time. “This may seem obvious, but it’s also important for the ‘right people’ to participate in the meeting.” Martin says. “There’s nothing worse than trying to reach conclusions without the key stakeholders╤those with key information and authority to make decisions and follow through.” She says many times execs leading a meeting may be less-likely to participate or may not get participation from everyone, which is why a facilitator can come in handy. “The facilitator can watch the meeting process, make sure everyone participates, and allow the executive to be part of the team,” Martin says. Don’t Forget to have Fun A hands-on group activity can foster team-building and bonding, something Rebecca Tilley, managing director of Adventure Associates, has seen happen many times. Whether it’s a high adventure ropes course, scavenger hunt through the closest major city, or something more low-key like a problem-solving activity at a park or in a conference room, these fun, out-of-office experiences lead to a more cohesive workforce as participants learn a lot about each other. “You learn about their style╤their communication style, their leadership style (whether or not they are the leader or manager of the group), or simply personality style,” Tilley says. “On the basic level there’s really that bonding of a team.” Sometimes these activities are easily forgotten after returning to the office, but Tilley says if people can identify what they learned before they leave╤that’s really helpful. “You want to reflect on what you learn or appreciate,” says Tilley. “By reflecting on it, and being able to put some words to it, then you can take that as a reflection and those words and try to build upon them.” Corporate Retreats While getting out of the office for a day has many benefits, planning a longer retreat comes with its own set of perks for your company and employees. But there’s no getting around it╤corporate retreats are enormously expensive. With airfare, lodging, food, entertainment, activities and supplies, the costs add up fast. Because of that, many companies have scaled back╤or eliminated╤large-scale retreats. However, if properly planned and organized, retreats still offer an unequaled opportunity to unite the workforce behind company goals. More than a Party A lot of people assume that retreats are simply a great excuse to party on the company dime. Far from it, says Jennifer Colosimo, chief learning officer for Franklin Covey, which offers training, consultation and speakers for corporate meetings and retreats. After the recent economic meltdown, companies no longer have the money to throw lavish parties and retreats simply for the sake of building morale. Instead, companies are getting back to business and using retreats to educate and engage employees in new ways. For example, a company might use a retreat to unveil new products or procedures, to bring together the company’s top thinkers and creators to brainstorm solutions to challenges, or to motivate workers to reach specific goals. “If you’re going to make the investment to bring everybody together, you better make sure you are getting a great return on that investment,” says Colosimo. Retreats offer a unique opportunity to gather a large group together to focus on a specific outcome in a setting that is much more conducive to group interplay than mass email exchanges or webinars. Even if the desired outcome is stronger morale and better teamwork, a few days of fun won’t adequately do the job. Colosimo says companies have to do the nitty gritty work of addressing the causes of poor teamwork and morale, bringing in relationship experts to get underneath the festering problems. “Sometimes the purpose of a retreat is simply to reward hard work,” says Colosimo, “and in that case, you would bring everybody together just to have fun.” CHG Healthcare Services, for instance, rewards top performers with a “President’s Club” retreat every year. To earn the retreat, salespeople much reach “stretch” performance targets, and support staff can be nominated for the retreat by their peers. The President’s Club retreats are held at “fairly exotic locations,” says Michael Weinholtz, CEO of CHG. Previous retreats have included cruises to Honduras, Jamaica and Cancun. “The retreat is a show of appreciate for their efforts,” he says. “It’s three days of leisure and entertainment capped off by a formal awards dinner and celebration.” Of course, CHG does not benefit directly from activities at the retreat╤it’s the hard work that salespeople and other staff members put in throughout the year in order to earn the retreat that bolsters the company’s bottom line. The stretch performance goals are not easy to meet, and they push workers to achieve greater and greater success. On the other hand, the President’s Club retreat does bring together employees from divisions across the country, helping to build greater cohesion in the company. Weinholtz points out that it also gives top performers a venue in which to share best practices with each other. Find Balance Once companies have established the purpose of a retreat, it can be difficult to find the right balance of business and entertainment. For Colosimo, it’s not really about balancing work and fun╤it’s about finding ways to maintain employee engagement for the duration of the retreat. “If you don’t add fun in, by the second day you’ve lost everybody,” she says. “Sometimes it can be very, very hard work. It can be mentally taxing. If fun isn’t built in, why would you bring everybody together, instead of just having a WebEx?” Colosimo suggests simple strategies like playing high energy music and showing inspirational videos. Make sure healthy snacks are available during the breaks, rather than the typical high-carb treats. Give participants a chance to stretch and move. “I’ve seen people take jogs around the hotel or provide yoga sessions in the morning,” she says. Cost is always a consideration when planning retreat activities. This is another area where companies are cutting back╤instead of taking the employees out for a day of scuba diving, for example, the fun may be scaled back to a party by the hotel pool. “You can let employees know why the fun is being cut,” says Colosimo, and they will more than likely understand. However, take full advantage of breaks and mealtimes to introduce entertainment elements, like reality TV-themed competitions along the lines of Dancing with the Stars or America’s Got Talent. CHG Healthcare Services made a decision early in the recession to keep investing in retreats. Twice a year, the company brings together all the leaders in the company╤approximately 200 people╤for a Leadership Summit. The summit is an educational forum to focus on leadership training and corporate messaging. “We consider it an investment we make in our people,” says Weinholtz. The Leadership Summit takes place over the course of two and a half days, and in total, one day is devoted to activities and entertainment. Last year, the participants were treated to an afternoon on the ice, learning the sport of curling. “We’re going to make those investments in leadership regardless, so we may as well do it in a way that is fun and rewarding,” Weinholtz says. Inspire Action In the end, retreat participants should come away having committed to take specific actions, says Colosimo. She explains that every retreat should contain an element of “head, heart and hands.” It should provide information and education, build commitment and emotional involvement, and then spur action. At one retreat Colosimo participated in, employees were given postcards to fill out. These postcards were sent back to the participants a few weeks later as a reminder of the commitments and goals they had established at the retreat. At CHG, continued investments in employee development have paid off in many ways, both tangible and intangible. Stretch sales goals have certainly added to the company’s success, but Weinholtz believes workers appreciate the opportunities for growth, camaraderie and, yes, fun. “We have outperformed our competitors for the past decade and we think it’s because of our continual focus on our people,” he says.
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