Producing a successful offsite part 5/6: It ain't over 'till.... the next offsite!

Your offsite doesn't end when everybody checks out and heads for the airport.  In fact, it ain’t over ‘till…. the next offsite!

Just as the preliminary Teaser Campaign is meant to extend the length of time we have to impact the participants of our scheduled offsite, without extending the actual length of the offsite, so is the purpose of the follow-up campaign you conduct AFTER the completion of the offsite.  Whereas the teaser campaign was meant to “warm” the participant’s “engines” well before they arrive at the location of the offsite and allow the entire team to his the ground running, the follow-up has two key purposes:

  • Keep those engines warm and running for as long as possible after the end of the offsite.
  • Communicate to the participants a true commitment to the process they agreed to engage in during the offsite.  I use the word “agreed” because many employees (and even senior manager) develop a deep cynicism towards offsites and change processes mainly because they have seen so many started and so few actually properly implemented or even just follow up upon. They are jaded and our role when designing an offsite is to get them to lower their cynical shields” and trust us once more that if they engage, the process will we meaningful and worth their efforts and trust. Therefore, continuity after the offsite and after the magic of the total immersion has faded, is crucial.

Both these points are about achieving lasting impact on the participants well after we no longer have them isolated “offsite”.  This is a big challenge given that as soon as our participants leave the offsite location (and sometimes even as soon as the last agenda item of the offsite is completed) they are quickly “sucked back” into the operational quicksand and their hectic routines. The Total Immersion is gone, and the magic of the offsite quickly fades away.  

Still, a well implemented follow-up campaign can significantly slow down this process, consistently stimulating positive memories and emotions from the offsite while demonstrating a sincere commitment to the processes that took place during the offsite.

Every time we “hit” them with a positive stimulation, we re-enforce the positive impact of the offsite and the emotional memories we will have hopefully instilled in them throughout the offsite.

The more visual and entertaining the follow-up stimulations – the greater their impact.  

If the participants stop in the middle of their day to look at the pictures you've sent, if they smile for a moment as they recall the great time they had, and then go back to their daily activities – BINGO!  

As with the Teaser Campaign, incorporating the follow up into team and management meetings is very powerful, and unlike the teaser campaign, the more time allocated to this follow in these meeting, the greater the participant’s trust in and commitment to the process as the core of the offsite.

Case Study 2:

In one of the companiesI was working with, I was invited to assist with the design of their annual Sales Kick-off event, which would bring together 70 of their sales people from all over the world.  The ROI was defined as getting as many New Logos (=new clients) into the company’s client portfolio by the end of the coming year.  I should state that the global sales team was consistently meeting their targets, but the company had not brought on board a new client in a very long time and management felt that strategically that was dangerous).

The obstacle we expected to face was that the sales people, many of whom were seasoned and with the company for many years, had become too comfortable meeting their sales targets without having to go after new clients and that they would be reluctant to leave their comfort zone, in a way that might be at the expense of their relationships with existing clients.  

With the goal of getting these already successful sales people to expand their efforts accordingly, we defined the theme: “From Farming to Hunting” with a tag line: “How to bring on new clients without compromising existing ones”.

In accordance with the Total Immersion component, we designed the entire layout of the conference room like a hunting cabin – you know, with “antlers” as trophies on all four walls of the room (no – we did not get real antler heads! We simply designed an image of antlers and printed it on A3 sized posters.  

In the center of each of the posters was a logo of a different company that was not yet a client, along basic information about that company.  Each of the tables in the room, each seating 7 sales people, was identified with a different animal: Cobra, bear, shark, lion, eagle, etc.  

As soon as everyone gathered, even before any opening remarks, we gave out the first task.  Each sales person was given a few moments to walk around the room, reviewing the dozens of logos on the walls, and selecting one that s/he would want their table to “hunt”.  Once every sales person had selected a logo and returned to their table, they had a table discussion and were asked to choose just one that they, as a table, would like to “hunt”.  They were then given 45 minutes to come up with a hunting strategy for acquiring that company a client – BUT – they had to demonstrate how their strategy utilized the unique hunting characteristics of the animal assigned to their table.  Then, each table presented their strategy to the rest of the room.  In this way, we had gotten the day started with action and behaviour representative of what our goal had been.  

People were so engaged, so intrigued, by the hunting analogy, that they “jumped” right in, without us even needing to have an academic, and most likely apologetic and defensive, discussion about the need to pro-actively go after new clients.

Throughout this process, a large screen was showing amazing National Geographic video clips of animals hunting other animals (the same animals that were assigned to the tables).  These clips ran continuously throughout the day.

As for the Teaser Campaign: it was amazingly simple, as it was effective.  An email with images of predators and “Did you know…” tid-bits were sent every few days about how each animal hunts its pray.  No explanation was provided about these email, hens the teaser effect.

As for the follow-up, it consisted of emails that were sent every few days for weeks after the offsite, which included:

  • Pictures from the offsite;
  • Video clips of the various presentations given by each table;
  • Additional professional information that had to do with questions that were brought up during the offsite;
  • Sources and summaries of information presented by the CEO and guest speakers;
  • Information about some of the company’s who’s logos were on the wall.  
  • The ultimate follow up took place a full year later, as part of the following annual Sales Kick-off events, where a presentation was given of each of the new clients that were won over since last year and how they were successfully “hunted”.  Almost half of the companies that were on the wall the previous year as targets had become clients!

From an ROI perspective, the follow-up you conduct after an offsite can increase improve your cost-benefit ration exponentially - turning a short several day activity into a process that extends over several months... hopefully lasting until the next offsite (which should optimally take place 3-6 months later).

Ok.  5 posts down, one to go.  In my next and last post of this series, I'll discuss the final component of a winning offsite:  the actual agenda.  In that final post I speak to difference between a quantitative approach that tries to squeeze in as many professional content sessions into a 12 hour a day agenda and a qualitative approach that is process and impact centric rather than content centric.