When did Away Days become a chargeable company gimmick with no trackable ROI?
I think the only way to start off this blog post is to say what does ‘duck herding’ have to do with business? A day in the country seems to think there is a strong connection between building business teams and duck herding. White Rhino also provide ‘Duck Herding Team Building’ as an option on their Website.
Company Away Days seem to have gone in a direction which essentially renders them as useless in achieving true Away Day objectives? Being in the position of a Director and responsible for a team I do understand the need to bond with fellow colleagues but is Duck Herding the answer? I understand that Duck Herding allows everyone in the group to work together to make sure the Ducks end up in their respective pens and that yes this would of course be a great laugh, but then why are we calling it an Away Day activity, why don’t we just call it what is ‘A fun day out for the team’. I feel like Duck Herding (and other similar ‘Away Day’ activities being marketed today), falls into the category of ‘Away Day Mutton, dressed as Away day lamb’.
So what is an Away Day supposed to represent for a company: According to Google the definition of the term Away Day is:
‘A day on which employees meet at a venue away from the workplace to plan strategy or to discuss a particular issue’ Google.co.uk
I would be interested to know how Duck Hurding realistically fits into this definition.
In fact I think the core problem here with Away Days is that companies simply want to organise a ‘Fun day’ in which employees can do silly things together in a weird sort of bonding ceremony – in fact they might be better termed as ‘Frat party day’ as the things being sold (and bought) by organisations under the banner of Away Days are not really working towards ‘planning strategy or discussing issues’ and in terms of team building – it might effectively work for the day in question (e.g when everyone is Duck Herding together) but the long lasting team building value is almost definitely not worth the long term investment.
Open Genius for example titles its Away Days as ‘Serious Fun with Serious Results’. I am a fan of their work and their website, they have managed to combine interest, business sense and achievement of objectives, with activities that will generate good results. Well done OpenGenious I applaud you!
Team building solutions on the other hand are all about the Fun.. with team building solutions involving food, walks in the forest, treasure hunts and so on. I get this is fun but where is the strategic value and where is the real teambuilding for long term working relationships? I can see how foraging in the woods one day with your colleagues would be great fun but really? Is this what we need our employees to do in order to work together better? Also I could imagine some employees in the team could think of nothing worse than having to balance a balloon between their chin and a chin of a colleague in order to ‘bond’ with them.
Some activities just go too far in terms of patronising and almost forcing employees to undertake activities which they more than likely don’t want to do and feel very uncomfortable about. In fact it could have negative impacts as no one wants to appear the ‘party pooper’ of the group. Passing balloons from one chin to another seems more to me like a crazy fraternity ritual? Something I would definitely not be interested in doing with my fellow colleagues!
The Core problem with Away Day planning in today’s business world.
I think the core of the problem with most companies today is that we have lost the focus on what we are wanting to achieve, the focus on ‘it must be new’ or ‘it must be innovative’ is at the forefront of the Away Day planning process that the planning team forget about the fundamentals. Big events for what are being called ‘Strategic Away Days’ often turn into mini employee circuses in which we get our employees to do things they
A: Are not going to engage with and,
B: are not going to gain value from and,
C: are going to put them in embarrassing and compromising situations that they may not want to do.
For example I think the worst Away Day event idea I had the misfortune of witnessing was when, at a corporate Away day to discuss strategy with senior managers and directors, the facilitator asked everyone to start doing cartwheels and push ups to showcase ‘team and individual strength’. Now this might have seemed ok but the problem was that all of these individuals were of a certain age, were all very intelligent people who run multimillion sectors within the organisation and more importantly were all dressed up in business clothes! It was the worst example of Away Day activity planning I think I have ever seen. Needless to say, there was a mass ‘I am not doing this’ response to the activity and the event quickly moved on.
Top 8 Things you need to consider when planning your Away Day:
It seems to be that so many organisations assume what their team needs to bond and assume that is ‘a day out on a boat’ for example. Organisations have stopped seeing their employees as individual customers and seeing them as a ‘mass audience group’. The following outlines the top 8 things to consider and all are based on the core Principles of Marketing and Internal Marketing.
1: Create a profile of your audience group: This does not just apply to customers. When we truly want to engage our customers we spend thousands on researching their needs and wants, habits, lifecycles and anything we can to help us build a profile of who they are so we can provide them with exactly what they need. Employees should be treated in the same way. Next to customers, employees are a key customer group / stakeholder – without customers the company would not exist, without employees the company would not exist. They are as important as each other. However we spend much more time and consideration on nurturing our customers then we do our employees. So next time your planning your Away Day activity build a profile of those who you are wanting to ‘engage with’. Profile information might be:
‘1: Position in the company, 2: current issues and concerns about their role, 3: Difficulties they face in their personal life which is impacting their working life (yes this is as important!), 4: Activities they enjoy (hobbies, interests), 5: activities they don’t enjoy, 5: What they like about the company, 6: The average Age of those attending (this is really important as most ‘Fun’ Away Day activities are aimed at or relevant for 20 year olds).
Getting an in-depth profile on your employees will allow you to create an engaging event which will impact individuals at a deeper level as well as help to achieve the objectives the organisations needs to achieve from the event. Finally this approach will provide a longer term return on any investment made.
2: Get the audience to participate in the planning: And not just the event planning team. Ask key individuals (not senior managers or CEO), but individuals from the team that people look up to, or who have achieved great things in the workplace. Invite them to be involved in the process or to run a session or speak about their experience. Those within the room will engage so much more if one of their peers is speaking to them then they will with the senior management team or the CEO (individuals who should be involved but should not hog the centre stage for the whole event). Let those who attend really feel like they are part of the strategic process or the achievement of the objectives.
3: Remember employees are smart individuals: This might sounds like a ‘no brainer’ but actually you would not believe how many Away Day planning teams forget this. Forgetting this aspect is why business society is offering up gimmick after patronising gimmick in the hope of engaging and exciting our employees (and doing the opposite).
4: Really take time to think about your SMART objectives: This again might seem like something most Away Day planning teams consider. But surprisingly the objectives are not SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely). Objectives need to consider short term and long term objectives (so your Away Day activities should incorporate longer term communication and exercises to be implemented post the Away Day). The core objectives should be linked with company objectives or a recent issue (or issues) which have arisen and need to be discussed. Employee bonding should factor but if this is not the core issue for your company then it does not have to be the core focus. Resolving a problem or achieving future objectives should be the core of your Away Day objectives. Everything you do should then be created in line with achieving these objectives in a way the audience will respond to.
5: Make sure your day can be measured and has key KPI’s: KPI’s as part of the planning process will allow you to create a structure and event activities with value. It will also allow you to track the outcomes against the days spend. SMART objectives is one element but clear KPI’s allows for more in-depth tracking. When thinking about the KPI’s you need to look at in terms of PDP (PRE / DURING / POST) the event or day (PDP). PRE Away day KPI’s might be ‘employee engagement (e.g. response to ideas, number of attendees from audience base, response to Away Day questionnaire, response to ‘activity’ poll). So the PRE day KPI’s should capture the level of engagement and participation from the audience around the structure, ideas and planning of the day. HINT: A voting system on suggested activity is a great way of creating pre event engagement, as individuals will feel they picked the activity themselves. DURING Away day KPI’s might be number of task completed, number of issues resolved, the visualisation of future strategy or the allocation of roles and responsibilities for strategy implementation (with clear support and buying from each individual) and so on. POST Away day KPI’s might be a series of goals have been established, set dates that have been made to revisit the process and each individual has the tools and resources needed to succeed in their tasks set. A record of the event should also be communicated and Internal Marketing communications tools created for regular reminder communication with those who attended (in the format they planned and asked for as part of the event!).
6: Don’t call it an Away Day if it’s not: If its fun and gimmicks and a break from the working day you are after then call it ‘Fun Day’ or ‘Break from work day’. Don’t add in the term ‘strategy planning’ into the mix, just so you can wrap it up as an Away Day. If all you’re going to do is Duck Herd and end up at the pub then call it what it is? Organisations should have fun days for its employees in fact we promote the term ‘Fun Day’ and we also promote organisations involving employees children and family members on such days, It’s a great way to open up and share the life outside of work within a team and can result in greater understanding of individuals needs and behaviour as well as greater support between team members as they are more aware of the person ‘outside of work’ world. It is essentially for the team to let off steam and socialise together but don’t call it what is isn’t. Just let it be a fun day (with family).
7: You don’t need to spend a fortune: True engagement is not created by gimmicks. It is created by involvement, by conversation and listening. So the place you hold your Away Day or the things you do don’t need to be super expensive or mega flash. The elements you need to spend your budget on are ‘the activities during the day’. You would gain more engagement if you gave each attendee £100 to spend on something of their choice to make them happy and more content at work then you would from spending a fortune on banners, slogans, fancy technology, crazy gimmick activities, fancy locations and expensive ‘Inspirational speakers’. If you have researched your audience needs and wants, established clear objectives from the day and have clearly refined KPI’s (which each attendee has been part of creating), your budget will shrink considerably but your outputs and success will increase considerably.
8: An away day DOES NOT need to be themed! Honestly I could not tell you the amount of companies that approached us for ‘Olympic themed’ Away days when the Olympics were held in the UK, each Away Day committee thinking they had stumbled across a genius idea when in fact everyone else was doing the same thing. It seems crazy to me that so much time and money is spent on the gimmick theme of the Away day and so little on the needs and wants of the employees and the need of the outcomes of the day for the business. By putting a theme around your Away Day, you are effectively taking the focus away from the core issues, moving away from the core needs and wants of your employees and simply running a day at the circus (which incidentally is another theme we get asked to create).
If you need to theme the day in order to excite and engage your employees then the Away Day objectives should be ‘Why are your employees so disengaged and uninterested in the future of the company that you need to ‘entertain’ them to get their attention?
The Bottom line.
An Away Day is an Internal Marketing exercise coupled with Internal Strategy Planning. It is based on these two fundamental concepts of business success. It should not be ridiculed or taken lightly. Look at it with the attention and marketing and business thinking it deserves. It will then give you the outcome you want to achieve. If it is a laugh and a joke for all employees then by all means do this but call it a Fun day, but if it is too seriously spend some time resolving issues without the distraction of ‘the day to day’ then call it an Away Day and get the results an Away Day should get for an organisation and its employees.
What was the last Away Day you attended which made you feel engaged and proud to be part of your organisations future?
For more information on CreativeConnection Away Days see our Away Day case studies
If you would like a copy of the CC Effective Away Day planning template please email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have any questions for the Author please email Holly.email@example.com
Holly Willmott is the Marketing Director for CreativeConnection.co.uk. Holly has extensive experience in Away Day planning, Internal Marketing and Team Building. Holly has worked as an independent consultant and advisor for many successful company Away Days. Holly is now a key player in the development of CC Away Days and Away Day strategy development.