Association Congress

Monday, 30 May 2011

Why event organisers have to be involved in the staff away day

In my last Blog I discussed the huge potential Staff Away Days offer organisations, and conversely what a waste of time they can be if they are not run by event professionals.

Well, this is an extract from a staff away day that Gallus Events recently put together for a client. The full case study shows what can be achieved and the process you need to implement to get your there. This short section will allow you to see that good objectives are; very outcome driven and big and bold enough to impact the whole organisation. Now that’s the power of events, and that’s the value event experts can add.

Making the most of the staff away day

To set the scene, an organisation was undergoing a transformation process which would affect the organisation at every level. Their executive, of around 90 staff, were taken away for a day to address the issues.

The first important point is that for the away day to be a success, it has to be viewed as a part of the transformation process. I often see the most fantastic objectives for ‘away days’. Remember it’s only a day, and have realistic objectives. They can be big, but they have to be achievable. To make sure we could all agree on the direction and to ensure success we had to:

1.       Set measurable and achievable objectives for the day;
2.       Understand that the event is only part of a process;
3.       Not use the event solely for dissemination of information; and
4.       Support the event before and after


Measurable and definitive. Personal objectives measured on the day “How did the event match your expectations?” The following week the objectives were measured by a staff survey focussing on “What did you learn and what can you do that will affect your job?” Three months later we did another survey with certain individuals interviewed by the Transformation Team. To give you a flavour, here is an example question:

“One of the objectives was to demonstrate that we can achieve a lot in a shorter period of time. Everyone has been instructed to hold shorter and less meetings. How successful has your department been:

a.      A lot, b. Quite good, c. Not much, d. Not at all”

So how about that for an objective of the day? To shorten meetings and to make everyone more efficient? What a wonderful thing to come from an away day. The programme demonstrated that with the correct structure we were able to have much shorter sessions which led to significant outcomes. The client wanted this to be reflected by internal meeting. This was only one of several objectives all of which were achievable and had a significant impact on the organisations. Doing in fact what an away day should.

Does your staff away day look like this?

Does the example above look like an objective that you have set for your next or your last away day? It’s unlikely, and that’s why I believe we have such a massive opportunity as an industry to help organisations with these very valuable uses of their time.

So if you are in the event industry, start talking to Companies and help them with their away day. If you run away days ask an Event Organiser to help you. Let’s prove, and let us prove, we can add significant value to their organisations.  

This is a short extract from the full case study. Please email if you would like to see the full case study.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

10 reasons why the staff away day always goes wrong and how to avoid them

Almost every organisation has a staff away day, which by my reckoning makes it the fourth post popular event in the world; after weddings, birthday parties and funerals. It’s understandable why the other three aren’t organised by the ‘event professional’, but it’s not so clear why the staff away day isn’t: the sheer number of these events doesn’t explain the paucity of the event professionals involvement.

And here we meet the problem and the opportunity. There is no other example when the events industry can better demonstrate its skills and show why we are so important to business. And as such it’s going to be the focus of my next two blogs.

So why are we not more involved and engaged with these types of events? Don’t companies see the direct expense; the opportunity cost and the positive impact that a great event can have on the success or otherwise of their organisation? If they don’t it’s our job to show them or at least offer them some help.  

We all have a story to tell about an away day

Let’s face it, you will find more horror stories than tales of joy, when we all recite an anecdote from a staff away day. From tales of the most nervous girl in the office being dressed up as a princess in role play and told to hold court in some kind of “it will be good for her” staff-diagnosed- physiological nonsense, to the Event Agency staff away day being organised by the Chairman’s PA: she who has as much event planning skills as elephants have feathers. And perhaps my favourite, the organisation who added wine tasting to the programme (a great idea) and then asked staff to say how each wine reflected the organisation (bad idea; it’s OK to just have wine tasting you know!)

Staff away days are littered with mistakes that any worth her salt orgnaiser would spot. But in order to help some organisations avoid them here’s where they tend to go wrong:

1.       Not view them as a crucial element of their interaction with their staff;
2.       Not view them as an ideal opportunity for some genuine staff development;
3.       Have a set of very mixed objectives (learn a lot, meet new people and get very, very drunk);
4.       See them as a short term event and have no pre or post engagement with the content;
5.       Not use them to showcase the organisation to its’ staff;
6.       Try to make un fun things fun; (it’s OK to be serious you know);
7.       Never set or fully understand their objectives;
8.       Expect them to deliver the undeliverable;
9.       Have someone who isn’t an event organiser in charge (perhaps HR / Secretary / person who draws the shortest straw);
10.   Book the venue (a classic mistake) and then decide what the day should be like

And in general most organisations don’t treat these events like the real business that they are. And like any true event they need an event organiser involved.

Please pass on the list of mistakes in the hope that organisations will realise that the expert has to be involved.

And please comment on your staff away day nightmares!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The importance of having good objectives

Great objectives lead to great events. Wow! That’s a big call for the first sentence of a blog. But organising events and blogging about them is about being bold, being gallus. And it’s about saying that there are a few simple things you can do to make sure you get the most out of your events.  And the first and most important is that you make sure you set - or are given - proper, definite measurable objectives.

Event Managers are often charged with not delivering on the event. And of course this happens, but more than not it’s because the right objectives weren’t set in the first place. So send your client or your commissioning stakeholder back to the drawing board if they do any of these five things:

1.       Say, “can you organise the event along the same lines as last year”;
2.       Tell you to “not change anything, because delegates / guests / attendees didn’t say there was a problem”;
3.       Don’t discuss financial targets with you at the objectives stage (and remember making a loss can be a justifiable target if there are other important objectives to achieve);
4.       Don’t engage the expert, YOU, in the objectives setting process or
5.       Don’t realize the real strategic objectives that events can achieve (YOU the expert do, so make sure you tell them)

When I sit down with any client, or stakeholder (so that’s with an internal or an external customer) I adopt the same process. I hope you find it useful:  

Firstly I ask them to consider if an event is actually the best, most cost efficient way to deliver their objectives. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that occasionally we end up with a totally different plan to achieve those objectives, that doesn’t involve an event.

So make sure you start with a conversation about their objectives, rather than about their event because you aren’t at the stage to be talking about an event; that comes after YOU the expert have decided that an event is in fact the best way to achieve their objectives.

Once you agree, then, and only then, you can start to talk about the event. So next is to get a rough idea of what the objectives of the event are. You know, how can the event deliver the revenue? Make the PR point? Engage with suppliers / clients etc.

Thirdly and finally, to make sure you are given the right brief at this stage ensure you get good detailed answers to these three most important questions:

·         What are the objectives of each separate section and the event overall?
·         What will a successful event look like to you (the organisation) and the customer?
·         How will we be able to measure the success or otherwise of the event?

To end as boldly as we started, if you engage the client / stakeholder on objectives at the earliest stage, in a structured manner, you have a much higher chance of making the most out of your event. Discussing objectives is more important than choosing the right venue; the right caterer; using the latest marketing techniques or charging the right price. In fact it’s the most useful thing you can do. And you will be amazed how often clients and event managers don’t engage on this level. 

I cover stuff like this on my May 27th training course in London “Running More and Better Events” and here is the link and in my new book "Successful Events for Not For Profit Organisations", details of which can be found here: