Rewarding Your Team Even During Tough Times

This post  was inspired by comments made by Marie Hunter on Tuesday, March 10, 2009, in her blog. It is a response to her questions:

Meetings, Events, Travel and Hospitality Industry: Leaders Needed, Marie Hunter wrote:

“When it comes to meetings, travel and entertainment, America is in a temporary state of gridlock. Headlines condemning corporate entertainment next to headlines about ponzi schemes and secret bonuses have caused public outrage and boardroom paralysis. This panic may be understandable based on the events of the past few months; but, the panic itself has dire consequences for the economy.

What questions should we be asking?
Now more than ever, corporate leaders, elected officials, regulators, industry associations, small business owners and salespeople nationwide are struggling to understand what is and is not appropriate when it comes to client entertainment and employee perks. When is it appropriate to spend money to recruit, educate or incent employees? A question that is not getting as much press, but that I would like to see on the table, is when, if ever can public companies allow employees to engage in entertainment practices that implicitly or explicitly condone gender bias?

Marie, I decided to take a stab at answering your questions and accept your challenge but my response became too long for  the comments section.

Before we begin, here is the White House’s position on business travel and meetings:

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama was not discouraging travel when he said last month that businesses receiving federal bailout money should not be taking junkets.
“The president believes it’s important to have a strong tourism industry and that it’s important that, as the president said earlier … that we shouldn’t retrench,” Gibbs said. “He would encourage people to travel.”

Gibbs said Thursday that the president was referring specifically to companies “that are getting large amounts of public funding.”

“The President does have great concern with public money being used for that,” he said. Gibbs added that the president’s comment was “very clear,” and passed on a chance to express regret.

So,  here is my take on your questions.  I encourage other management consultants, meeting and business travel professionals to respond to your challenge and answer your questions in their blogs. Since I am based in Toronto, I’ll be giving some Toronto examples but they can be applied at other locations.

How to Reward Your Team Even During Turbulent Times

What meetings and events do you feel should be green-lighted immediately and why?

When companies are in trouble, they should be spending THOUSANDS of dollars to bring in management and business team building consultants to help  them resolve their problems instead of HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of dollars on junkets and luxury events. Either through on-site meetings or off-site retreats at AFFORDABLE local venues such as community centres and conservation areas, consultants can steer organizations through a structured brainstorming process to identify:

  • cost saving measures and strategies
  • new target markets
  • new sources of revenue
  • strategies for improving efficiency

Depending on your location, here are a couple of ideas. These sessions can be offered at luxury resorts when the good times roll and conservation areas when times are tough. The content remains the same, the recreational components are the only things that change:

  • Wilderness Survival
  • Desert Survival
  • Arctic Survival
  • Visexecutaries – loosely based on the Apprentice, this session can be delivered at a luxury resort or a local community centre. When times are tough, the “task” can consist of developing a strategy to address some specific business challenge your organization is facing

Save the lavish celebrations for when your company is back on track. In North America, we seem to want to party all the time.  Unfortunately, all too, often the emphasis seems  to be on strictly recreational events that organizations try to pass off as team building. Definitely we get far more calls for recreation and entertainment than consulting. This is quite surprising during a recession. People seem to forget that they are running businesses not social or country clubs. This band-aid approach is merely offering placebos instead of getting to the root of organizational problems and generating solutions.

What gender-related entertainment practices should be discontinued?

Strip clubs, male only golf clubs, etc. are highly inappropriate and they have NEVER had a place in a  corporate setting PERIOD!! Ditto for bringing porno movies to corporate retreats and skinny dipping on the corporate dime. Grow up. You’re running a business not a fraternity house.

While we’re at it, it’s time to cut back on alcohol consumption and the open bars at corporate events for a while. This will save a bundle.

What constitutes lavish entertaining?

When companies are in trouble, they should postpone expensive events and partying until performance has improved. Focus instead on resolving business problems.

If everyone has worked hard and you’ve had a successful year, pull out all the stops. Lavish entertainment to reward employees and express appreciation to clients is perfectly in order when you’ve earned it. Depending on  your location, some ideas might include:

When is it okay to spend money on Employees?

Even when a company is facing a challenging year, it’s important to reward top performers, build skills and boost morale. The key is to gear the spending to organizational performance.

Hint: When a company is in trouble, more money should be spent on resolving business issues than on entertainment and recreation. Far too often, it’s the reverse.

How should recruits be entertained?

Again it depend on whether or not the company is performing well. If the company is facing challenges, you can still entertain recruits but choose a cost effective strategy such as:

If a company is doing,  well consider some of the options I’ve already listed and other luxury options like:

These are perfectly in order when a company is doing well.

If you’re located in the Middle East, a desert safari would be perfect. If you’re in the Caribbean perhaps a beach barbeque would work.

What other questions should we be asking?

I posted these suggestions on Marie Hunter’s blog. I’ll take a stab at anwering them now.

 What can companies that are having financial difficulties difficulty do to reward their people?

Companies can reward top performers and top performing teams and still provide a meaningful experience for hundreds of dollars instead of thousands of dollars. There is no need for gift cerfiticates starting at $1,000 per employee.  People seem to be lacking imagination.

Under $250 per person

  1. Give top performers gift certificates for spa TREATMENTS or a local Day at the Spa rather than spending a weekend away for a spa retreat.
  2. An overnight stay at a nice local inn with dinner and breakfast for top performers and their spouses.
  3. Get a corporate table at Polo for Heart or a similar event and invite top performers and their spouses.
  4. Dog sledding afternoon and lunch at a local inn or resort.
  5. Morning of horse riding and lunch at a local inn or resort.
  6. A day at  Canada’s Wonderland for top performers and their families.
  7. Seasons passes to Canada’s Wonderland for a family of 4.
  8. A day at the zoo for the top performers and their families.

Under $100 Per Person

  1. Dinner at a nice restaurant
  2. Afternoon Tea
  3. Movie passes for teams that have gone above and beyond the call.
  4. Theatre tickets.
  5. Concert tickets.
  6. Take a group of top performers and their spouses to the Royal Winter Fair including the horse show and dinner at the upscale restaurant that is on site every year.
  7. Get a table at the gala for tournament of champions.
  8. Tickets to local hockey, baseball or basketball games.

How should companies that are experiencing financial difficulty entertain their staff?

  • Picnics at a local conservation area
  • Christmas party – for heaven’s sake, don’t cancel the Christmas party. Insted, do it at a venue in the suburbs instead of a costly downtown venue. Consider using a community centre with an ice rink to save money and keep everyone entertained.
  • An evening at a comedy or improv club.

Anne Thornley-Brown is the President of Executive Oasis International, a Toronto based firm that regularly organizes incentive travel and executive retreats in  Dubai, Oman, Jamaica, Malaysia, Singapore, and Canada. They provide  one stop shopping service with  a  personalized approach to incentive travel for corporate groups of up to 40.  Customized itineraries include travel, transfers, hotel, tours, team activities, and special events.


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