This sponsored post is produced by Andre Durand, CEO of Ping Identity.
Twenty years from now when you look back at your career, what do you think you’ll remember most? I think about that a lot these days, especially around the New Year.
For most companies, January is “Kick-off” season. A time to get people together, make plans, reaffirm long-term aspirations and level-set on goals. For many, this translates into long days and mind-liquefying presentations.
Don’t miss what’s important.
While reviewing the year’s upcoming plans is good and necessary, I believe great companies find a way to focus on something significantly more lasting — culture. Of course everyone needs to know where they’re going and how they’re going to get there, but building a sense of belonging and instilling a set of common values is the more enduring opportunity. Personally, I’ve come to appreciate kick-offs as our single most important event to instill a deep sense of purpose, encourage risk taking and celebrate extraordinary.
Coming from the heart, it’s easy.
Great corporate culture can be built anywhere with the right people and attitude, but it helps to start at the top. As a leader, you’ve got to own it and be true to yourself. If you’re solely driven by financial gain there are plenty of people who’ll follow for money, ego or status. But if you want to celebrate every moment of life, create a deeper sense of purpose and truly connect with your team, I encourage you to step outside the lines and lead by example. You’ll be surprised by who loosens their tie to join you — and how committed they’ll be. Truly have their back, and they’ll always have yours.
Culture is good business.
Our business is inherently complex and it can take a long time for an employee to gain the perspective they need to make good decisions. Because replacing a lost employee can cost anywhere from 50%-200% of an annual salary, retention is an imperative. Annual kickoffs, done right, can provide your people with a deep sense of belonging and purpose that simply can’t be measured.
Don’t take culture for granted.
Ping Identity is a highly distributed company so we don’t take company-wide gatherings for granted. Getting everyone together is a big deal. As such, our kickoffs have become the center point from which our culture isn’t simply explained, but experienced. With headcount growth over the past two years by 67% and 55%, respectively, we’ve learned a few tricks along the way.
If building a strong corporate culture is important to you, here are nine tips to get the most of your annual kickoff:
Start with a Bang
The first five minutes of kickoff set the tone for the rest of the week. We always start with a celebration of our top 20 accomplishments and lessons learned from the year prior. We don’t take long on this segment of kickoff because we’re not there to dwell on the past, but it’s important to pause long enough to celebrate before talking about the adventures ahead. This year, we had a Mariachi band join us for the first 10 minutes while we listed accomplishments. To keep the energy high and make the accomplishments personal, we asked that people stand if they had a hand in helping achieve the goal. For 10 minutes, Ping Identity looked like a giant sea of whack-a-mole as people stood and took stock of their contributions.
Share Priorities… but not too Many
I’m a big believer that you can’t have more than a few major priorities a year. People are motivated to climb summits, but not too many at once! Stating priorities the right way enables teams to act autonomously, so keep them crisp; they’re only as good as they’re remembered.
Keep the Energy High
Sitting and listening to hours of presentation can be really painful. Find reasons to keep the morning moving. At one point during our kick-off this past year, we had a Richard Simmons impersonator fly in from behind the stage to get everyone on their feet. It sounds corny, and it was - gloriously corny and gloriously fun. The guy was awesome, and the pictures were priceless. Mid afternoon, when people are struggling, we bring in a yoga instructor, or a juggling teacher to get people out of their chairs. These little breaks don’t take long but they really allow people to focus those last few hours in the day.
Celebrate Individuality of Teams
The larger your company becomes, the more of a fabric your culture will become, and that’s all goodness. Geographies will be different, offices will be different, and teams will be different. Celebrate those differences. While you may be one company, a sense of ‘community’ has limits, so take the time to capture the essence and individuality of teams, photographing and memorialize those differences.
Share Personal Missions
I am a big fan of personal mission statements. This year, we experimented by having everyone write their mission statements on a T-shirt with a Sharpie. We all wore them mid-week. It was absolutely amazing to see how people thought of their purpose at Ping Identity. It became an instant tradition.
Have fun with your Brand
We have a lot of fun with our logo. Of course we have the same corporate image guidelines as most companies, but at our internal events, we like to play with our brand. Sort of like MTV did back in the day. Last year we took it a step further and created a Ping Identity coat of arms, complete with representative symbols of our most important attributes. This year, we took it a step further and placed our Coat of Arms on a flag and had everyone sign it. Today these flags hang proudly in our offices
Let Departments Shine.
We had so many new people join this past year we decided to do a departmental show and tell. This is how it worked. We split the company into even groups, moving them room to room in 10-minute increments. In each room, we had representatives from each department walk us through, in their own unique way, what the department was all about. Some departments accomplished the task by hosting a game show, others by creating a movie and others by simply providing real-time Q&As with the audience. It was personal, quick and very informative – a total success in our book.
A company that plays together, stays together. In the middle of our kickoff week, we host a very swank costume party. It’s completely off the hook, and culturally, people have learned that this is their opportunity to bring it, no holds barred. Our only rule: no spectators. It’s amazing to see how teams coordinate their costumes and how people simply transform when in costume. On the last night of our event, we’re all exhausted, but we still hold a social full of games, many of them built or brought by the employees. Life size Jenga and a 10’ Angry Birds were two of the games built and run by the staff. It was awesome!
Close with Pictures.
It takes a lot of energy and even more time to pull off a great kickoff. Closing with photos from throughout the week and a big thank you for those who made it possible is a great way to end it. Seeing the pictures of all the craziness is just an easy way to say everything that needs to be said without saying a word.
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