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How To Use Company Events To Build Unshakable Culture

company events

 Reading Time: 7 minutes

 

“Well, you just hop on, kick off and keep pedaling,” a colleague’s older cousin instructed him as he held his first bike. But, according to my colleague, the following hour proved that learning how to ride a bike was not as easy as “keep pedaling.” Autopilot doesn’t work when learning a new skill or making a change.

 

Yet “Keep Pedaling” seems to be the maxim many companies use to approach culture.

 

Creating an engaged culture is becoming a top priority among companies, and rightfully so. But often, leadership gets stuck transitioning from “why?” to “how?” Is it through meetings? Goals and prizes? 

 

One way to create unshakable culture is through company events. 


Events come in all flavors. You can host a competition, a dinner, a happy hour, an educational forum, and more. As you’ll see below, the types of events you host are more or less up to you. The trick is figuring out the why behind each event. If you truly want to utilize events as a way to boost workplace culture, you’ll need to be thoughtful about the process from the beginning.

 

This means you’ll need to set goals before you implement any tactics.

 

Define What You Want Out of Culture

“Keep pedaling” is only useful to someone who has a clear path in front of them. Before scheduling out the calendar, it is in your interest to define what you want out of culture.

 

  • Meet with leadership to define company goals for the future. Short-term goals are helpful here, but you should focus more on long-term goals related to the culture you want in your organization. You’ll want to settle on a few key characteristics, which are described below. (Note that these are not mutually-exclusive, and many cultures fall somewhere in between.)

    • Serious vs. Informal: Are you sending goofy memes to your coworkers to thank them for their contribution, or are your emails strictly professional? Would you be comfortable sharing a few drinks with office mates, or would that be crossing the line?

    • Collaborative vs. Individualistic: Are meetings an essential element of your work-flow, or would you prefer everyone figure things out on their own? Do you prioritize rewarding teams or individuals?

    • Top-Down Management vs. Inclusive: Who makes decisions in the office? Does hierarchy matter more than the strength of an idea? How often do you seek input from team members who are doing the day-to-day work?

  • Examine the mission statement and build out how culture will support that mission statement. It’s critical to tie this to the aspects of your culture. For example, if your mission statement includes a section about collaboration, you probably want to lean toward the “Collaborative” and “Inclusive” styles listed above.

With that figured out, the next step is gaining a greater understanding of how events – when managed well – can help you strengthen the key elements of your culture.

 

What You Can Accomplish Through Events

Here’s the bottom line: Events are about informally creating connections. It’s at company events where employees discover common interests, values, and views of the world. These commonalities go a long way toward fostering an environment of collaboration, as people like to work with people like themselves.

 

Additionally, events can accomplish:

 

  • Learning together: Educational panels, book clubs, or trainings offer a great way to learn something that will pay off in employee expertise.

  • Getting healthy: Health and wellness spending by companies has gone up in recent years, for good reason. One Harvard study from 2010 found that medical and absentee costs were reduced by more than $3 for every dollar spent on company wellness programs. Utilize sports leagues, fitness challenges, and trips to the gym to help your employees get healthier – which goes a long way to making them more productive.

  • Boosting morale: Use healthy competition to motivate employees. Most people kick it in gear when winning or losing is on the line.

  • Infuseing relaxation: A happy hour or casual meal is great for stress reduction.

Remember to tie each of these to your overall goal for creating culture. If you decide that a formal, scholarly culture is important to your organization, a happy hour or holiday party may not be the best fit. Conversely, educational panels or forums could be just the thing you need.

 

With that said, each of the above categories offers many possibilities. Let’s take a closer look into the specific ways you can achieve your goals.

 

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Some Event Ideas You Can Use

Learning happens when people get together to discuss ideas. If you want to “Learn Together,” try one of the following:

 

  • Panels: Local Chamber of Commerce and local chapters of various trade associations (Business Roundtable, Public Relations Society of America, etc.) probably host events once a month. Check out their websites and see if you can get a group of employees to go.

  • Trainings: Similar to the above, professional groups often host trainings. As an HR manger, you’re probably inundated with requests to set something up in your office. Instead of ignoring these requests, consider whether or not one of them could boost culture through a shared learning experience.

  • Guest speakers: From life coaches to women’s empowerment leaders, there are plenty of topics your employees may find interesting. Book a speaker and conference room for an afternoon. Lunch and Learns are also really effective for building attendance – everyone loves free food!

  • Book clubs: What better way to learn something than by reading a book that sparks discussion? Check out this list of 5 steps to building your office book club.

One of the best ways to adopt healthier lifestyle habits is to solicit the help of other people. If you want to “Get Healthy,” consider:

 

  • Sports league: There are many resources that allow you to build kickball teams, dodgeball teams, or other light-hearted participatory sports. Check out Meetup, Sportsvite, or ZogSports for ideas. Conversely, you could create your own within the office if you have enough staff.

  • Fitness competition: Bristle Cone Holdings is a great example of how they used a fitness competition to boost employee moral (and health). Check out their 10-week “Biggest Loser” inspired program here.

  • “Healthy Snack” days: Call everyone in the office together to take a break with some fresh fruit, trail mix and other healthy snack options. They’ll appreciate the thought. Again, free food is a great motivator for people to attend.

Almost everyone loves a good competition. If you’re looking to “Boost Morale,” try:  

 

  • Fantasy football leagues: Odds are you already have a few football fans in your office that know how a fantasy league works, but the NFL has a helpful website devoted to creating and managing leagues. Check it out here.

  • NCAA brackets and other types of competitions: This is a little more time-sensitive, as March Madness only comes around once a year, but check out the NCAA’s site in February to make sure your office gets to join in on the bracket fun.

  • For the non-sports fans, you’re not limited to NFL, MLB, NBA and other major sports. Here are 87 office competition ideas.

After working hard during the day, sometimes employees simply want to unwind. If you’re looking to “Infuse Relaxation,” these events may work:

 

  • Happy hour: A happy hour can be a great way to relax and socialize about topics unrelated to work. I suggest you check out this list of Do’s and Don’ts for happy hours before planning your first event. It’s a good reminder of when to loosen up and when to remain reserved.

  • Office meals: There is no one – repeat, no one – who doesn’t enjoy free food. If you’re worried about event attendance, a free meal is probably your best bet to boost employee interest. Most fast-casual restaurants offer catering services, and it’s easy to purchase a healthy spread that everyone will enjoy. Don’t forget to do a quick survey to check for food allergies or dietary preferences.

  • “Wine down”: While I can’t claim credit for this pun, one of my coworkers told me about a “Wine Down” event his previous employer used. It’s exactly what it sounds like. But with a rooftop included.

  • In office yoga: Either join with coworkers or practice these six yoga moves at your desk.

There are many other ideas you can use to achieve the above goals. I suggest you try hosting one event per month to gauge employee interest. Too few events, and you'll progress too slowly; too many, and you’ll risk overburdening your employees.

After you assign a few events to the calendar, the next step is to give employees that extra push to attend. Without employees, there can be no employee engagement.

How to Encourage Employees to Attend

Your employees have lives outside of work, and you probably can’t mandate their attendance without building resentment. Ideally, they should want to attend, not out of obligation, but because you’ve done such a great job planning.

 

Beyond creating a process that is well-run, Business 2 Community has a list of very helpful tidbits that you can implement to encourage employees to attend:

  1. Make it free: This one is a bit of a no-brainer, but it’s a big incentive to provide free food or alcohol.

  2. Show up: If leadership is checked out, why should employees bother attending? Make sure you are leading by example.

  3. Let employees know the benefits: Getting healthy? Learning something? You already know what you want employees to get out of the event (see section 3) – make sure employees know the benefits as well.

  4. Positive reinforcement: Take some photos and share them with the people who showed up. Thank them in person, or send out a recap email. Make them feel valued for taking the time to attend.

Even with everything going well, it will still be important to demonstrate that events are, in fact, working for you. Given that the goal should be to reinforce your culture, I suggest you perform a casual audit at least twice a year to see if you’re on track.

 

How to Know Whether Your Events are Working

Like many areas of the workplace, HR is getting increasingly data-focused. You can get ahead of this trend by showing the money you are spending on happy hours, yoga sessions, and fitness challenges is making a measurable impact. That way, your boss should be more willing to keep the programs going year after year.

 

Make sure to ask yourself:

 

  • What do employees think of events? Both qualitative “check ins” and free employee surveys can provide valuable feedback.

  • How many employees are attending? Are attendance rates high? Low? Do you see trends based on the type of event?

  • Is your culture changing? Novareté is designed to measure how aligned your employees are with your company’s values. If you’d like to learn more, start with a free culture assessment.

One last tidbit: An important aspect of data analysis is looking for trends over time. That means, before embarking on your event planning spree, it’s important to measure where your employees are at now, so that you can compare this data with where they are at six months or a year from now.

 

Conclusion

Nothing in business should ever be done for the sake of checking a box, including events. Make sure you are intentional about both why and how you are accomplishing your HR goals.

 

Culture happens when people engage with each other, and a well-orchestrated event can be the catalyst your organization needs to instill and promote the kind of culture you want to achieve.

 

Not sure what yourculture looks like? The Novareté Culture Assessment measures the health of your company's culture and offers a breakdown of the results. In less than two weeks, you'll receive the data needed to create an actionable plan to make an impact - all for FREE.  

 

 

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