Producing a successful offsite part 1/6: It's all about the ROI

Executive retreats, also known as “offsites”, are when a group of employees or senior managers are taken away from their office environment, most commonly for 1-3 days, in order to undergo “deep” and intensive processes that include strategy and team building (i.e. – annual sales kick-off events, quarterly reviews, a conference about corporate values, etc.).  

And yet – in spite of their high cost and massive potential, retreats are frequently unproductive and end up as expensive missed opportunities.  The questions I kept asking myself over the years were: What’s the winning formula for offsites?  Is there a universal formula for producing a highly successful offsite – both in business and HR terms (as far as generating lasting impact and motivation among its participants?

The answer was a resounding YES.  

In this paper I intend to share with you several principles for producing offsites in a way that ensures they yield tremendous value, exponentially higher than its cost.  

These principles are:

  • Having a clearly defined and relevant “Offsite ROI”.
  • Leveraging the power of “Total Immersion”.
  • Leveraging the power of a theme.
  • Using witty and intriguing teasers in advance of the offsite.
  • Conducting thorough and consistent follow-up.
  • Building the agenda wisely.

When produced properly, offsites are among the most powerful formats I have come across.   There is simply no substitute for extensive and intensive, in person, interaction, conducted away from the office’s location with its day to day operational distractions.  Offsites are one of the best ways to get “out of the weeds” and really dive into high level strategic processes.  This is especially true in today’s high paced world which leaves little to no time for lengthy thought processes and where you may not get to see, in person, the people you work with more than once or twice a year.

No matter what product or service my clients were selling, nor where they were located in the world, I found that 6 principles were necessary for producing a winning offsite.

In this series of posts,  I will expand on each of these six principles, starting now with the first, and most important one:  

Defining the Offsite's Return On Investment (ROI)

As I have already mentioned, a proper multi-day offsite can costs up to millions (for instance, the annual kick-off event or the company’s annual customer conference.  Even the modest offsites, such as a 2-3 day annual strategy offsite for the executive management team, can cost tens of thousands of dollars.  While some of these events are pre-budgeted and don’t require repeated pleas for budget (though they do face constant, year after years, pressures for budget cuts almost), smaller offsites almost always require a lengthy persuasion process by the HR manager who mean to produce them.

Adopting a business/ROI oriented mindset from the very onset will prove extremely effective in getting the target budget approved.  Doing so means that you start the planning process by defining the desired outcome your boss would most want to walk away with at the end of the offsite, or in a way that can be clearly linked to the offsite.  It is crucial that this outcome not be presented in purely “soft” terms (such as: “The managers will be inspired” or “It will enhance collaboration”, etc.), but rather in terms that related to existing business and operational KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).  

It saddens me to say that this is where I have seen too many cases in which HR became their own obstacle.  When it comes to ROI (and I would say whenever lobbying for budgets), the “language of HR” must be replaced with the “language of business”.  

The language of business looks at the output of this expensive production in a way that is clearly and directly linked to one or more of the following dimensions:

  • Objectives – How will this Offsite clearly and measurably contribute to the current business and operational objectives your boss (or the person responsible for approving the budget) is currently focused on (not just in context of the Offsite, but in general)?
  • Obstacles and Complexities – How will this Offsite clearly and measurably contribute to the elimination or overcoming of current obstacles and complexities they have identified as being barriers currently preventing them from achieving the above mentions desirable outcomes?
  • Constraints – How will the way this Offsite is designed make it possible within any operational constraints they are concerned with?  Such constraints may relate to the timing of the activity, the location, the participants, etc.

Answers to these three questions much be given in the form of measurable KPIs – which must be presented in context of the dimension they are related to, in no more than one page.

"The proposed Offsite is intended to address the new strategy presented by you several weeks ago, and ensure that each member of our organization operating on location and interfacing regularly with our key stakeholders within each account, play an active role in deepening our ongoing relationships with the our existing client based while identifying new business opportunities that can grow our revenues in the coming fiscal year."

Offsite targets

  • Promote a more proactive approach among the participants to their customer relationships and overall customer experience they generate.
  • Shift the participant’s from supporters to active contributors to revenue.
  • Expand participant’s focus from solely operational (SLA focus) to include business orientation.
  • Provide the participants with a fun and inspiring experience (pride and sense of belonging).
  • Ensure shared cognition among the participants regarding the organization’s grand strategy.


Defined Key Performance Indicators for this offsite:

  • Number of potential business opportunities validated within eight weeks after the Offsite.
  • Revenue generated by Q3 of next fiscal year.
  • Overall NPS (Net Promoter Score).
  • Number of opportunities found throughout the Offsite.
  • Number of potential business opportunities curated during the Offsite.
  • Offsite satisfaction survey.
  • Follow-up conversations about above stated purpose, initiated by participants.

The significance of this component is in how it frames the conversation you will have with your boss:  you are no longer talking about an offsite (which is an INPUT oriented framing, presented in the language of HR) but rather, you are talking about business and operational goals (which is an "OUPUT oriented" framing, presented in the language of business).   

When the ROI is clearly defined and aligns well with the expectations of your boss, their willingness to invest (not spend!) resourcesincreases dramatically.
A significant by-product of this approach is in how it brands you – an HR who actually speaks “their language”!

Note that a good "ROI Statement"  is condensed into one page.  They do not have a lot of time, even if they want to support you with this activity, always keep in mind that they have many other things on their plate. This one-page summary says: “This is the ROI from this retreat – and this is the investment required to secure it”.

In my next post, I will elaborate on the value of having a Theme for your offsite.