When did you last hold a successful all-employee event? Be honest… was it engaging, stimulating and provoked lots of sparkling conversations, or did it feel scripted, dated and staid?
A housing association here in the UK recently held an internal festival (pictured), to shake up its usual format and give employees a new experience.
I worked in-house as an internal communicator for a decade. During this time I experienced organising and attending a wide variety of events including management conferences, all-employee gatherings and away days.
From cramming employees into a wind tunnel (don’t ask), to rostering off frontline workers and striving to run multiple, identical consecutive on and offline conferences, there’s no shortage of options to consider.
My advice? Ban the beige! Internal events are an opportunity to bring your people together in person or virtually, step away from the day-to-day and enable voices to be heard. (Tweet this)
Or they should be.
Don’t forget you can find hundreds of guest articles written by communicators over in the guest article archive. I created this blog in 2009, so there are lots in there! If you have news to share, please see my guidelines and get in touch.
If you’re reading this article via mobile, consider downloading the free All Things IC app.
Over to you Suzanne…
How to run an internal festival
In the noughties, we had established a pattern of annual ‘all staff’ events. Some staff enjoyed it. Others resented the compulsory trip to a hotel off a motorway junction in Kent.
Logistically things were becoming more challenging, as the organisation grew to over 250 employees. In 2012, as part of our work with our cultural change partners Park Sims, we succeeded in introducing more of an ‘invitation’ feel to what remained a three-line whip event, and this was well received.
For the next two years we moved away from the ‘all-staff- in- one –place- on- one- day’ formula, running a series of events throughout the year, which staff self-selected onto.
Belonging to the whole organisation
They were popular, but for 2015, we decided we had the appetite to resurrect the ‘all staff’ idea. Previous year feedback seemed to suggest staff were missing that opportunity to be together and our cultural work made it timely to emphasise the sense of belonging to the whole organisation .
A planning team was put together including partner Janeena Sims, to start the conversations:
What to do? Why do it? What’s the theme? What do we want to achieve?
One business plan objective resonated for us: ‘redefining our relationship with our residents.’
It’s about how we can help people to help themselves and includes targets around channel shift, taking responsibility and being more mindful of each other.
Our internal values are focused on similar themes;
- encouraging self-awareness
- taking responsibility
- breaking down silo working (by being more aware of colleagues’ requests and the working world they inhabit).
An idea started to form.
The start of an idea…
I’ve been to one or two festivals and began to see how we might use the theme to deliver an engaging day. Especially if we asked staff to choose activities which represented how they see their working world, or as an experience they wanted other staff to share.
Molly Pass, @molly_westkent, who started her #commshero career just 11 months ago came up with the name Westival. All agreed we had nailed the theme, the name and most importantly the WHY. Off we went around the business armed with a list of festival-themed activities.
Here’s a list of what was chosen and the sales pitch we used to hook in our festival-goers:
Everyone talks about targets. Try your luck with a bow and arrow and aim at a different kind of target. Twang!
Arty zone (mosaic/collage making.)
Ever noticed how easy it is to miss the bigger picture? In this workshop led by Sam Barnes, (professional artist) you’ll put the pieces of the mosaic together. (Absolutely no artistic talent required!) “We deal with people with a myriad of problems and we help put the picture together.”
Meet the creatures and birds of prey
Let’s celebrate difference – no-one wants their prejudices to rule them. And you often need to soar above a situation to see it in all its detail. “Like birds of prey, our job requires bravery, fearlessness, soaring above problems, patience, attention to detail, ruthlessness.”
What would a festival be without the chance to just relax? Kick back and reward yourselves for your hard work. “Sometimes we all need some space to relax!”
You know the feeling – there’s just too much on your plate. Find out how the real experts spin the plates and keep their balls in the air. “Everyday we’re balancing things and keeping it all together.”
You might go round and round, with five on each side or even get stuck in the mud. The gamesmaster has the rulebook – and the whistle. Don’t argue with the ref! “It’s about team work with a clear purpose and aim”
The sales pitch
Look after yourself and others – Want to find out how to look after yourself when the going gets tough? “It’s about thinking ahead and taking proactive steps to prepare yourself”
The truth about teams and tribes – There’s no “I” in “team”. But there is in “tribe.” Psychologist and Jedi Ewan will introduce you to some intriguing human behaviours found across different cultures and times.
The venue provided everything we needed to pull it off; big top, marquees, fields and outside catering. Next it was up to Janeena and her team to find musicians to entertain and create a festival feel and vibe.
Frances Pace put together a fantastic eventbrite invitation – channel shift from our usual Excel spreadsheet and staff emails. With an unusually (for us) short lead-in the invite went out.
With eight days to go, a reminder email to just 39 staff was needed, many of whom we knew were ‘harder to reach’ so combined with calls to line managers. We achieved a 65% invite conversion rate and 84% of tickets booked through the system.
The invite was immediate and urgent plus it didn’t look anything like any event we’d run before; non business branding, a lot of pink and a funky background to get the right look.
How we used the IC channels
The usual internal comms channels were dominated by ‘Westival Live’ and conversations about dressing up were overheard in corridors.
The team continued to pick up the latecomers and by Friday 24 we had a final attendee list. Partly, I think, down to the fact that we’d hit on the right theme and had such a short lead in time, we achieved much improved engagement with the booking process.
With festivals being mainstream, much more accessible to a wider demographic and possibly on bucket lists for some of our staff – it hit the right note.
On the day of the event at The Hop Farm, Paddock Wood, Kent, the sun shone. All day. The site looked like a mini-Glastonbury without the mud. We succeeded in delivering corporate messages in a fun and engaging way.
How are we going to top that next year?
Author: Suzanne Smith, Communications and Marketing Manager, West Kent Housing Association.
Thank you Suzanne, I imagine it was a visual treat for employees and a memorable way to bring your people together.
You can see some of the reactions from employees via Twitter captured below,
And the prize for Best Dressed at Westival, West Kent’s staff away day, is Housing’s Karen Hewett. pic.twitter.com/p7NT7yoCaZ
— Shauna Healy (@Shauna_westkent) April 28, 2015
West Kent Board member Joanne Frawley at Westival. In the festival mood for West Kent staff away day, Hop Farm, Kent pic.twitter.com/WfsqKZMG0N
— Shauna Healy (@Shauna_westkent) April 28, 2015
Ready for the first activity! Westival live!! pic.twitter.com/zAA5prFxZj
— Heather Day (@hday_westkent) April 28, 2015
— Steven Bennett (@steven_westkent) April 28, 2015
Taking aim at West Kent’s Westival pic.twitter.com/R9XetsR0bg
— Will Campbell-Wroe (@MDWKE) April 28, 2015
Further reading on the All Things IC blog:
First published on All Things IC blog 18 May 2015.