“Okey dokey! Anna, Martin, you’re first. Anna, you will be blindfolded, and Martin, you will carry Anna over this plywood board we have rigged atop a pit of chomping alligators, push her butt-first down the slime tunnel and then verbally guide her through this human-sized ant maze in the dirt, full of actual fire ants that will bite and chew her along the way! Then you’ll both run across the finish line, hopefully ahead of Gary and Sue – unless you feed the alligators, of course! HAHA, little joke, there!”
Okey dokey, so… you’ve planned a corporate event. And you definitely didn’t include alligators or sticky, gooey slime tunnels, or chewing fire ants. But your employees act as though you did. Sure, they’re plastering on smiles and wading through the Jell-O pit you made on the 7th floor because they don’t want to be fired, but at the end of the day, you’re aware that Anna the graphic designer and Martin the IT guy hate each other due to a long-waged battle over email fonts, and no amount of goat poses or trust falls is going to change that.
What’s even worse is that you hired a film crew out there to capture this whole event for an internal video. You were hoping to boost morale and maybe even to show it to clients so they can see how hip and cool your people are. But no matter how good Gary the editor is, he can’t make this misery look like fun. Anna’s laugh is clearly fake in shot after shot after shot…and Martin doesn’t laugh at all. He doesn’t even smile. His eyes just have this sort of hollow sheen, tinted green from the reflection of the Jell-O.
The truth is, Anna wants to go home and be in her pajamas, sip wine, watch Netflix and forget about Martin’s sick obsession with Comic Sans. Martin wants to go out with his real buddies, kick back a few frozen margaritas and bet on hockey. They don’t want to spend more time at work, even if it’s not technically “work.” And they certainly don’t want to look at each others’ faces for at least those twelve glorious hours between working days.
Regardless of which summer camp activity you have in mind, you can’t pull corporate culture from stone…and definitely not from gluing rocks together for Craft Happy Hour. Fostering healthy work relationships among your employees has to be a holistic strategy, and event planning and internal media communications are only pieces of the puzzle. If you want Anna and Martin to build that bridge instead of fighting like toddlers every week, your approach to events and the promotion of them is less about what you do and more about how you do it.
If your company is comprised of hummus-eating young men and women in the center of a cool, urban metro, goat yoga might be exactly what the herbal doctor ordered for them to bond and chill out every morning before work. But in most office settings, trendy events like this would not be appropriate for everyone (no one wants to see Bill from account service in yoga pants, especially not Bill himself), would feel contrived (but really, goats?), and might not serve your employees’ needs (which probably involve more drinks and fewer downward dogs).
In last week’s publication, we featured an interview with Culture Architect Dr. Daren Martin. He shared one of the most important pieces of advice he gives to businesses looking to improve their corporate cultures:
Listen, listen, listen! I am amazed at what people tell me when I enter a company and start talking to everyone from the CEO to the janitor. They all have tremendous insight into what is working and what is not. Many companies have a huge gap between their stated culture (what is on the wall and on their website) and their hidden culture (the way things actually are).
There is a proverb that says, “The beginning of wisdom is calling things by the right name.” If you want to know what is truly going on at your company, you need to check your ego and defensiveness at the door and start listening.
Employees should feel empowered. Any “culture” events or communications planned to involve them should evolve from their suggestions and discussions – not from a mandatory or semi-mandatory participation grade.
According to this article from Harvard Business Review:
Empowering leaders are much more effective at influencing employee creativity and citizenship behavior (i.e., behavior that is not formally recognized or rewarded like helping coworkers or attending work functions that aren’t mandatory) than routine task performance.
Maybe your employees want to start a softball team. Maybe they want holiday parties or football tournaments. You won’t know what they want to do until you ask, and they’re much more likely to sign on for genuine laughs if it’s their idea.
You may have heard this one: Millennials and Gen-Zers dig experiences. But even if they didn’t, sharing a “you had to be there” moment bonds people in the trenches regardless of what year they were born.
This week we are featuring an interview with Encore Live’s Leigh Dodson King. Leigh describes one of the more memorable events she planned as follows:
We threw a private party in Cabo for 150 people. It wasn’t just a really fun party… on a beautiful property… with great views… and delicious foods w/ impeccable cocktails… it certainly checked those boxes, BUT from the moment you pulled onto the property, the windows in your vehicle were cracked and you could hear the distant sound of a mariachi band and smell the ocean.
As you approached the porda cache, you began to see the mariachi band, and they continued playing and walking alongside your car till you got out. You were greeted with stunning floral arrangements that smelled magnificent, a delicious cocktail made just for you, and a hostess that gave you an overview of your week in Cabo and escorted you to your room. Every detail was covered. As you walked to your room, there wasn’t just music in the distance, there were live performers placed in all of the pockets along the way to remind you how wonderful your stay in Mexico would be. Each night consisted of vibrant décor, unparalleled hospitality, and surprise entertainment from around the world – incredible bands, fire dancers, and more. People tasted, smelled, saw, heard, and felt something new and different at every step along the way – they truly EXPERIENCED something that has never happened before and will never happen again.
It’s just like goat yoga on rollerskates. Well, almost. Because people can do goat yoga and people can go rollerskating, but did they see the hilarious routine that Cheryl, Thom and Amanda did to Taylor Swift…and the way the goats screamed every time she says OOOH, just like in that viral video? You can’t make this stuff up.
Realistically your employees are going to form cliques and alliances in the workplace that are going to carry into corporate social events, and this will undermine your goals to get Anna and Martin past their Comic Sans standoff. If everyone is just doing goat yoga, then Anna is going to sit with Laura and the other graphic designers, and Martin will hang with Joanne and the rest of IT.
According to this article from HR Executive’s interview with Adam Waytz, a professor of management at Northwestern’s Kellog School of Business:
People who already know each other tend to hang out together at parties: Put two departments together at a social event, and people will clump together with their department, like a junior high school dance with boys on one side and girls on the other.
Socialites who throw fancy dinner parties have long known this, which is why they would have assigned seats for dinner and think carefully about who should sit next to whom so that guests might meet someone new, as well as separate spouses so they don’t just talk to each other.
Diversifying your corporate culture events and initiatives means that Anna and Martin might find themselves without Laura and Joanne at Craft Happy Hour and learn they have something besides work in common.
Moreover, as universally appealing as goat yoga sounds…no one actually thinks goat yoga is universally appealing.
When done well, corporate event videos can educate employees, inspire loyalty to their companies and encourage a sense of pride in their work. Nike’s practice as outlined in this article conveys the best case scenario:
Internal branding is a growing use of content marketing videos as a way for brands to communicate any number of topics, news or other information to employees in an engaging way, including relaying the excitement of live consumer events that the vast majority of employees never get a chance to participate in.
PayPal’s PayPal in 90 Seconds series is another great example of what internal videos can accomplish:
It captured the evolving culture of the company in a way no other channel before had. It featured interviews with employees captured via Skype or FaceTime from all over the world talking about their work, PayPal’s impact on their community and what they found exciting about their job. It introduced new faces. It showed employees the headlines of how the company’s products were being received by media and analysts. It featured real customers talking not just about the great things about PayPal, but their pain points as well. All that, and somehow it clocked in at less than 90 seconds.
However, in our discussion this week, the theme of repeated remarks from our team was that corporate culture events and the resulting internally distributed videos of them need to be authentic and ring true for employees – both the ones who were there and the ones who were not. And that comes from making sure employees are not just participating in events, but engaging with them (see Rules 1-3).
Tuck Oden, AM Associate Creative Director summed it up well:
“Corporate culture” has to start with real people caring about each other and being interested in each other in real life. It comes from happy hours, holiday parties and bowling teams. And it comes from management that supports it, encourages it, enables it.
But all of that is hard to find time for. Especially in the business world.
If you do find a way to pull it all off, then you can use media to reinforce it. But don’t fool yourself. A healthy corporate culture is not going to suddenly be borne from a video shared around the office.
Events like goat yoga are wonderful in that they open doors for employees to bond over something other than work, but unless you let the employees walk through those doors of their own volition, corporate events are always going to feel like “more work.” Anna is always going to prefer her pajamas and Martin his hockey unless they actively enjoy what they are participating in.
So before the cameras are rolling and Gary the editor starts stressing about how he’s going to make his “real deadlines” when he has to make the “Goat Yoga Video” top priority, be sure you are listening to your employees, creating unique experiences for them and providing them with as many different opportunities to participate as possible. And this should apply to everything they do at your company – not just the Jell-O pit.