12 Bite-Size Tips to Transform Culture With Company Events

By: ITA Group
Group of employees outside watching a movie on a big screen

When people think of strategic events, event planning and event marketing, they often think of doing work to attract customers—tradeshows, expos, conferences, product launches and more.

And those events are undoubtedly important. (In fact, 68% of B2B marketers use face-to-face events.)

But what if event marketers turn the lens around on themselves? How can company events influence and benefit the organizational culture of companies?

In a recent podcast, BizBash took a closer look at the power of internal company events in the context of cultural transformation with two big-name thought leaders:

  • Edward Perotti, Sr. Director Global Meetings, Events & Travel at VMWare
  • Damon Guidry, Global Event Strategist at Adobe
Here are 12 quick tips about how event leaders internal employee events to transform their organizational culture.

1. Know Where You Want Your Company Culture to Go

“The secret sauce [to events] is knowing your culture,” said Perotti in the podcast. And that means having a strong idea about where you are now and where you want to go in the future.
To make events that resonate, make sure you know the story behind your organizational culture—what makes your company unique and appealing.
Adobe, Guidry’s company, wants to attract employees for the long-term—that means year-round events that attract all ages, interests, lifestyles and priorities, not just members of Generation Z.

Plus, it’s not just events, said Guidry. It’s food, it’s wellness programs, it’s everything else that makes employees happy.

“Events actually are just a part of a larger strategy to help engage employees more in the workplace and make their jobs and the places where they work a more interesting place to be," he said.

2. Want C-Level Buy-In? Listen

Getting executive buy-in for culture-driven internal events that stand out can be done a number of ways. But the best way, states Perotti, is to listen to their issues.
“It wasn't convincing them, it was sitting in a room with them,” he said. “If you sit back and you listen and you watch the chess board, you see how things are playing out.”
From there, digest everyone’s opinion and factor your executives’ objectives into your solution.
Employee miniature golf outing

3. Throw People Off Their Game

The kind of events that work best, according to Perotti, are the events that take attendees off guard.

“Give [attendees] something that they're not used to,” he said, “and they gravitate toward it.”

In the podcast, he gives an example of an event he designed where participants sat in individual 1950s-era living rooms—a screenless pre-television world—designed to encourage intimate conversation among his team. And when you weave in immersive storytelling that tells your culture’s story (a mainstay of experiential marketing), you really bring people together.

And, as Perotti says, bringing people together is the ultimate goal of every event planner.

Related: Need some ideas? Here are five key features of great experiential events.

4. Create Continuity Among Your Employee Events

Continuity between culture-defining internal events is where “everyone misses the boat,” said Perotti. Siloed events and “one-hit wonders” are fun, but can’t tell the whole story of your culture.
When you create continuity and unity between all internal events and communication tactics, you break down barriers and tie “a red thread of the soul of the company through everything [you] do…that helps employees experience the company, not just one business unit or department.”

5. Diversity & Inclusion Is More Important Than Ever Before

Beer parties until 10 p.m. are fun, but what about employees with families? Company-wide get-togethers are great, but what about employees who want to bond with others based on shared interests or traits?
Questions like these are the heart of diverse and inclusive culture events, said Guidry.

"Diversity is important, but what happens to employees when they really come to work here?” he said. “What kinds of experiences are we creating that are relevant to them, that are personal to them, that attract new talent and help retain talent?"

Examples of the ITA Group all-employee annual meeting, volunteers for pet rescue and employees planting succulents for Plant a Flower Day

6. Consider the Community

Acknowledgement of the community in your company, as well as the community around your company, are crucial for a successful internal culture event, said Guidry.

“In order for us to fulfill our goals and objectives as a company, as we grow, we need to make sure we’re reflective of the communities around us,” he said. That means embracing all races, colors, religions, sexual orientations, gender identities and more, and factoring their voices into the design of your program.

Related: Find out why community involvement and volunteering make better employees.

7. Let Your Employees Drive…

"Our events are definitely something that comes from the bottom up,” said Guidry. That means from junior employees up to the executives.
Adobe works with a unique model. While there are company-wide events, their numerous satellite offices have committees who autonomously determine the events they want to have. Then, the employees own the event, with financial support from headquarters.

Why? Because individual locations know their internal culture and their people best. Or, in his words, "what works in Utah is not going to work in Bangalore."

8. …And Not Just Managers, Either

With much of the internal event power in the hands of local employees, it might feel natural for decision-making power to land in the hands of managers. But a top-down approach to creating internal events doesn’t always get the best results, said Guidry.
“Generally speaking, the people who are executing these events are generally not managers—they’re just regular employees who are motivated and driven [to be part of the team].”
Group of female employees

9. Focus on Retention First

Event marketers aren’t recruiters, and they don’t do the heavy lifting of hiring. That said, internal events can have an influence on recruitment, but as a byproduct of a retention-focused strategy.
“Our events team [doesn’t recruit],” said Guidry. “Our job is to engage employees once they're here…that there's a voice for every employee at Adobe through the events that we do."
Recruiters can point to the impressive cultural events that happen at your company, but the real target of your culture-building events should be the people on your team.
Related: Are you successful at employee retention? Whether you could use some help or you’re already doing pretty well, here are some of the most effective employee retention strategies you’re probably not doing, but should.

10. Data Will Change the Game

So you plan and execute an event that builds culture and makes your people happy. How do you prove the effectiveness of your event to the people with the checkbook?

If that question gives you pause, you’re not alone. Getting the data you need to prove the ROI and VOI of culture events is the industry’s next big hurdle.

"[Collecting data] is the challenge of the future. How do we figure out what kind of things to measure?” said Guidry. “Had we not had this event or had this group not met together, there would be less interaction, and we want to promote interaction. But we have to prioritize and prove with numbers that these things are beneficial to employees and to companies.”
Related: Check out these four reasons your events need to be data-driven–not based off of hunches.

11. Embrace Acquisitions

Tech companies frequently grow through mergers and acquisitions. Instead of discarding the acquired company’s culture, said Guidry, blend the previous culture into the broader culture of your company as a whole.
Keep these people in mind when you plan your culture events strategy.
"From my own observation, I see a change in energy when you have an influx of people come into an office that weren’t there before,” he said. “Little by little, they shift the culture in a positive way. They bring new things to the table that maybe [you] wouldn't have if [you] didn't acquire them."
Related: Want to take a deeper dive into successful business transformations? Watch the story of our very own organizational culture transformation.

12. Connect Internal Communities

Remote employees are becoming more and more common, and companies are ramping up investment in remote offices around the country and the world.

While it’s crucial for independent locations to have events that appeal to them exclusively, finding that “red thread”—in Perotti’s words—that connects the companies across geographic barriers is a must.

With each event, consider how your company bridges the gap between employees in different offices, cities, time zones and continents.
Still not convinced about the transformative power of strategic employee events? Learn how we were able to boost engagement, improve solution knowledge and spark newfound ethusiasm at ITA Group in the case study, Delivering a Clear, Unified Message With an Immersive Employee Event.
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