I remember lying in bed at 3 a.m., staring at the ceiling, heart racing while I tortured myself – as you do at 3 a.m. — by retracing over and over again how I’d gotten myself into this mess. One stupid act of bravado. One “I’ll do it” in the middle of a meeting, not really understanding what “it” was, took me down in hindsight a very predictable pathway to where I found myself now, which I assumed was a humiliating end to a long career at my company.
We’ve all been there for different reasons. These particular thoughts of doom originated when I agreed to lead the first-ever multi-office immersive campaign in my company. By “immersive,” I mean that activities would be happening face-to-face in each office. Also raising the difficulty level, all of this activity was supposed to happen in a single, galvanizing day.
Why on earth does a company something like this? Well, in this case, the idea was to have leaders all over the world speak about our new strategy to our employees, saying generally the same thing with some customization for their region and business. Also, the act of all employees “pausing” on the same day to take in the same information projected two other important ideas: (1) the company is saying clearly that the learning the new strategy is a priority, and (2) we are one company. For the many companies out there that are trying to become less silo’d, a galvanizing day like this can really act as a catalyst to a more unified culture.
Why on earth volunteer for this? At 3 a.m. I could think of no rational reason, but now in hindsight, it was the best decision I ever made because I learned so much (and it didn’t hurt that it turned out so successful that the company has repeated it every year since then). I know many of you may have created campaigns like this, but if you are planning to do it for the first time this year, I have 10 hard won lessons I can share; some of which came from an amazing team I worked with, and some . . . well, we got lucky.
- Find your People. Of course, for any multi-office campaign, you need to build a top notch project team. That may go without saying. We also hired a fantastic agency, Instinctif, to help us, and thank goodness. They not only came in with experience, which we lacked, but they brought in fresh engagement ideas, and another source of project management to keep us in line. It is worth the budget, if you have it.
You also have to find your people on the ground. Every office has that person (and in bigger offices, it is often several people) who plans the team lunches, makes sure the birthday cards are bought and passed around for signatures, and sits at the front row at every work event. They can be the site office leader, the local communicator, or an administrative assistant. These are your ground champions. You need to recruit at least one in every office to be your “champion” to set up and run the local festivities. Usually the site leader can identify that person (or people) fairly quickly.
- Make it easy for the ground team. Any student of change knows that a key piece of the puzzle is to make it as easy as possible for the people who you are asking to enact or live the changes. “Shrink the change,” as the Heath brothers say in their wonderful book Switch. So even if you recruit the most engaged people in every office to be your champions, you have to remember that you are asking them to throw a site-wide event, and promote it. So among other things, you should . . .
- Give them time: Unfortunately, when we planned the global event the first time, we simply didn’t give the champions enough time. To be fair, we had no idea how long things would take. How much time you give them should depend on what you are asking them to do, and if this is their first time, or have they thrown an event like this before.
- Give them instructions: This we did get right. We created a PDF booklet that gave the Champions step-by-step instructions of what to do when. For example, they knew exactly when they would get images for the posters and exactly when to start displaying them. No guessing.
- Give them cover: Because we had the site leaders handpick the Champions, the Champions knew that their time spent on the preparations for this event was fully sanctioned. Very few people have slack in their schedules, so when you ask them to do something like this, it means they are not spending time doing something else – usually the job they were hired to do. You have to make sure that they know that their time spent on your event is totally blessed from the top.
- Get your leaders to commit early. This was something that we could have done better. As we got closer to the day, one of the things that kept me up at 3 a.m. was wondering if the CEO was even going to participate in the day. He had not committed to any one activity either on the Intranet or in person. However, about two weeks before, something changed (can’t say it was anything I did) and he committed to participate in several activities. Once he committed, the rest of the executive team also came on board, and so it went down the line.Actually one of the great wins of that day was having so many leaders participate. They showed alignment in a way that I had never seen before, and their participation energized them. After the event, my Chief Communication Officer noted that as great as the day was for our employees, it may have done even more good for our leadership.
- The cake should be global, but the icing should be local. I regretted writing that phrase as soon as I had finished, but I can’t think of another way to say it (and I love cake). At the center, we supplied the scripts and the decks for the leaders to deliver, as well as an entertaining video from our Chief Strategy Officer, promotional materials, and some gifts to hand out. Not to mention the step-by-step instructions. Then we asked them to do whatever they thought would make the day fun.With that, the reason we were able to attract over half of our 50,000-person population to live events from Australia west to California was the amazing work the local champions did in adding a local flavor to the event. Whether it was pot luck meals, games, or cupcakes with our logo on it, the Champions did far more than we ever thought we could even ask them to do. We at the center made the day informative; they made the day memorable.
- Create a bit of a competitive atmosphere. This tactic of course helps spur that local activity. We encouraged the Champions to “show off” by posting pictures on the Intranet of the cool things they developed for the day, creating a bit of competitive atmosphere among the different offices. But I really recommend only a “bit” of competition, especially if your goals are similar to ours. While site competitions can be effective and fun, in an exercise where the goal is for people to feel like they are part of one company, too much competition can work against that goal.
- Have activities that lead up to the day and have something that follows it. We had a lot of promotion prior to the day, and also some activities which included a buzzfeed-type quiz on our intranet about our new Strategy that assigned people “personas,” depending on their answers. People then posted their personas on their profile pages. The second year, we had employees opt in to be randomly paired with another employee from another country and business. The two employees had to find things in common and post them on the intranet to be in a drawing for a prize. These and other activities started to present the themes of the day, acted as another source of promotion, and created good buzz that led to a more successful day.
The bigger question is what to do after the day is over. Certainly, you can just go back to business, but that felt like we were leaving all this momentum on the table. So we tried 21-day challenges. The idea was to get people managers and their teams involved with the strategy by having them commit on our intranet to do something for 21 days after the event that would advance the strategy. It felt like a good idea, but the reality is that we had low participation. I have some theories about why, but the main one is that even though the day is fun, once people get back to their jobs, they just want to get back to their jobs. After I left the company, they moved away from the 21-day challenge (which was smart) and were going to try a “mini” day later in the year as a reminder and reinforcement of the ideas that were part of the original event day. I have to admit that I have not heard whether that worked better, but it did make logical sense as a tactic.
- Measure! In terms of measuring outcomes, in our case, we were trying to increase people’s knowledge about the strategy and change attitudes about a one-company culture. So we did before-and-after surveys to measure knowledge and attitudes, and were happy to see improvement, especially with knowledge. Attitudes always take longer to change.
In terms of measuring activity, we wanted to find out how many people “participated” in the day. If you are dealing with three offices, that may not be so difficult, but when you are trying to figure it out for more offices (in our case, over 100), it is trickier. For the first two years, we begged the exhausted Champions to report back to us after the event about how many people attended the meet-ups. This was an inexact science, to say the least. It also took a long time, which was not appreciated by our executives who were anxious to get a sense on the success of the day.
After the second year of frustration with the metrics, I checked in with a Marketing Analytics specialist on staff. When I told him we were manually counting, he looked at me like I had two heads. He asked why we didn’t just send out a two question survey right after the day on whether people participated in an activity during the event and which activity, and then extrapolate a number from the sample we got. He said it would not be that much less accurate than the way we were doing it with manual counting. I left the company before getting a chance to try it, but it makes sense. He said we could even continue to ask for the manual counting to validate the sample results, but at least would get a sample number to provide to executives earlier.
- Don’t forget your work-at-home folks. This is an often growing part of the employee population and includes many very critical people to the success of the business (including field sales). For them, we had a 24-hour intranet chat during the event day where every hour a new set of executives would answer questions. (Of course, we had different leaders in different time zones, so no one was up at 1 in the morning answering employee questions). We also held a few virtual meet-ups with leaders who gave the same presentation as the in-person meetups.I am not convinced that we replicated the experience for them because so much of the day was about local activities with colleagues. The second year we had a “Work from Home” Champion who helped us make the day a bit more interactive for them.
- Social advocacy!! Like measurement, this can be filed under “yeah, of course.” However, to show how times have changed, in my first year doing the event (which was about 4 years ago), we were pleasantly surprised that many employees posted pictures of the day on their social feed, even though we had not encouraged them. The second year, we encouraged them to do that and got more postings. Today, in my new company, we are planning a multi-office internal communications campaign, and we are starting with social media as part of the promotion leading up to the event.
- Encourage regional organized events. If you are doing a multi-office internal event to create a greater sense of unity, and you are in several countries, I recommend having offices within a region or country organize a few activities together. In our second year of the event, our offices in the Middle East held a regional photography contest as part of the day’s activities. This type of activity creates an even stronger feeling for employees that their company extends beyond the four walls of their office or the people on their team.
I highly recommend these types of events, particularly for larger companies. Even with these tips, you still may have some sleepless nights, but I can guarantee you, it’s worth it!
I would love to hear your experiences with these types of events and tips that you may have. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out through my blog or @adschair on Twitter.