Some call it “Training Day”, some call it “Employee Day”, some call it “Staff Appreciation Day”. But whatever you call it, if you work in Human Resources or Training and Development you are likely familiar with the common concept of devoting one full day each year to staff appreciation day. Sometimes the focus is on training, sometimes on recognition, and sometimes it’s just a big party. But whatever angle you take, if you are one of the thousands of HR and Training professionals across the country tasked with designing these days, odds are that you dread it!
I remember one such day that I designed along with my Training and Development team long ago. It was early in my career and I was excited about the idea of putting together a big event that would wow everyone in the organization. We had professional speakers, live music, excellent catering, drinks, door prizes, awards, and even a killer after party. It cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce and countless hours for my team and I to plan and execute. We were very proud of the outcome. Then we got the survey results. One of the most popular areas to comment on was the food – everyone had an opinion. One employee angrily wrote: “This year there was no strawberry cream cheese with the bagels, only plain cream cheese. Last year we had both flavors – this just goes to show how we are cutting back. It’s just another example of all the ways budget cuts are taken out on employees!” Wow. I was stunned. But I shouldn’t have been. After years of work in consulting and pulling off successful events like this one across the country in companies ranging from technology to health care, finance to non-profits, evaluations never fail to solicit comments on heating, cooling, food, break times, T-shirt choices, and parking. Very few ever address the content or the meaning behind these events.
That is, until recently. In the last few years we have explored a new concept. What if staff planned staff day? Yes, that’s right – let the employees design and produce their own day! Get the professional speakers, jugglers, bands, etc. off the stage and put the employees on it instead. Sounds crazy right? But it works – and here’s why.
It’s All About Engagement
This month we celebrate the first ever “International Happiness Day” designated by the United Nations to increase focus on our well-being. Lately, clients have been asking us to help them bring more happiness into their organizations. Maybe it all started with Zappos generating buzz over Delivering Happiness and the relationship between happy customers and happy employees. Whatever the reason, we are more concerned today with employee happiness than ever. But what does it mean?
“Employee engagement” is another big buzz phrase today in business. In my experience employee happiness is directly related to employee engagement. What we learned after studying countless Evolutionary leaders and teams is that “engagement”, at the end of the day, is really about ownership. It’s about feeling that your contributions are critical for success and that succeeding is a worthwhile effort.
And that’s just why you have to involve more staff in planning staff day. It’s time for employees to own the day. We suggest creating a team of up to 20 members of staff representing a “diagonal slice” of your organization (several department areas, front office and back office, supervisors and front line folks, as much diversity as possible). Include your positive, optimistic people, but also add a few “grumpies” to the team (you know those people who always have something cynical to say). These employees are strong influencers and getting them on board is critical when it comes to evangelizing your event.
Rather than the more traditional “Dog and Pony Show” that entertains in the short term but leaves little to remember in the long run (except for the cream cheese), an employee-driven staff day, using the voices of employees to deliver key messages and content offers a much more authentic and meaningful approach to winning hearts and minds. It won’t be as polished, but it will mean so much more.
Have you ever been married? Or dreamed of getting married? Most people want to have a hand in planning and designing their wedding day. From the theme to the music to the vows, we want our wedding to represent us – who we are, and what we care about. Most people, if offered a big “surprise” day, completely planned by someone else and revealed to you as you experience it, would turn down the offer. Sure, planning your own wedding is more work, but you’re OK with that because it’s YOUR wedding. But, that doesn’t mean you don’t want expert help. Hey, you’re not a party-planner or a floral design professional! So a wedding planner is nice to have around to coach you through the details, offer great suggestions, and make sure the right orders are made on time. But you’re still in charge.
The same thing works for staff day. You still want to utilize Human Resources experts to guide the team, you still want to hire an expert audio and visual firm to make sure your day is high quality, and you may even want to hire outside consulting to help with event ideas, messaging, MC services at the event, and general team coaching along the way. But, the employees on the team are ultimately in charge. It’s their big day, after all.
What’s In It For the Organization?
Involving employees in planning and implementing their annual staff day is not just about increasing engagement or happiness. When it’s done well, three things happen:
1) You get a great event that people enjoy and remember
2) You develop the team through the work they accomplished (team members learn new skills for planning, organizing, running meetings, communicating, messaging, leadership and more)
3) You break down silos and back office/front office divisions (as people working on the team from all areas of the organization get to know each other and build strong, lasting relationships)
With all these organizational benefits, why would you not do this? Well, there is a drawback. Time. You are asking people to do things they have never done before and that means there will be a learning curve. It will take time and coaching to bring the team up to speed and to build the team’s confidence. But, once you start inviting your people in to take the lead in visible and challenging efforts like designing staff day, you will begin building a “bench” of competent and engaged employees ready to fill the next generation of leadership positions in your organization. It’s the best succession planning you can do!