By Rachel Sparkes, Head of Operations and HR
One of the best things about working in a start-up is that you get to wear multiple hats. My role at Australia’s 7th fastest growing tech start-up; Enable Professional Services; as Head of People & Operations means that my team and I were thrown head first into organising a national ‘kick-off’ conference last year our Australian and Asian ServiceNow consultants for the first time ever.
It was pretty good. For a rookie. The survey results gave the conference around a 78% overall satisfaction rating and lots of room for improvement.
This year, we decided, was going to be amazing.
You see I have worked in the technology industry for 15 years. I’ve listened to many people returning from conference after conference with mixed feedback about the overall experience.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to attend some of the world’s best conferences including ServiceNow’s Knowledge18 in Las Vegas, Tony Robbins “Unleash the Power Within” in Las Angeles, Thought Leaders Business School Immersions in Australia, Future Leaders conferences as well as internal company conferences in the past for start-ups I was a part of.
Internal company conferences really do have the ability to ignite a fire in the belly of all the staff that attend. So, the organisers need to ensure it doesn’t into turn into a snooze fest or a petri dish for toxic behaviours to fester en masse.
What I have learned from my own experiences and other people is that there are common reasons for internal company conference fails.
- Failure to agree on a conference theme that’s tied to a strategic annual theme
- Failure to plan and manage the participants energy levels throughout the day/s
- Failure to focus on event details that results in a positive participant experience (Event UX)
When we were planning this years’ Enable company conference the first thing we asked ourselves was:
“What do we want our Enablers to walk away remembering to do”.
The answer was “Amp It Up”
This wasn’t just a fleeting feeling of initial motivation. This was about the Conference aligning with a strategic plan to communicate a new message about doing more with less time, getting smarter about their delivery and focusing on what they are really good at over the whole next year.
What we did was title the entire conference “Amp It Up” on all our theme and branding from lanyards, to internal communications to place cards at dinner all held this theme. All the presenters spoke to this overall theme and it worked!
The Results: Post event, Enablers were taking photos of how they were demonstrating the behaviour we spoke about again and again in our presentations and how they were “Amping it Up” for their upcoming ServiceNow demos. We knew we had ignited a new movement for the upcoming year that people resonated with and grabbed hold of.
The second thing we considered was energy. The University of Uppsala has research to show that well timed learning and ‘getting together’ at something like a company conference can reduce your risk of heart disease and depression.
Their research goes on to suggests that coming together as a company to learn new skills together is better for you than taking a beach holiday and it can increase your engagement to a company and even your immune system for weeks if not months afterwards if done well.
Why? It’s all about the energy.
We like to call it High Energy Activity Transfer or HEAT. When you are in an immersed environment where the energy is high, you are interacting with people with a similar passion to yours, when you learn something new and all the messages are aligned to the same vision then a ‘transfer’ of that energy happens for a period of time.
So, we planned for that to happen. We had:
- A morning fitness session,
- High energy hype video,
- Mini dance parties to begin each presentation,
- High energy music playing during breaks,
- Games that included moving the body,
- Movement each 20 minutes in longer presentations.
During the last afternoon when some staff started to show signs of feeling flat, we tried Tony Robbins nose breathing and hands in the air exercised to ward off any slump.
Our ‘group fun activity’ involved an outdoors ‘Amazing Race’ type high energy competition and helped teams bond and get some fresh air at the same time. All high energy activities. The Results – the conference survey garnered mostly 10/10’s for the overall energy of the conference. We also received emails and WhatsApp messages outside of the survey flooding the whole team with gratitude and thanks for such a positive and well-done event with many people commenting on the passion and positive energy of every moment.
This was not an accident.
Finally, we really thought about the User Experience (UX) of each participant as we planned the conference. From flights and accommodation, to their personalised laser cut golden dinner name place card, to the thank-you cookie, to surprise gifts strategically placed over the three days in the conference room and in hotel rooms. We considered at all points of our planning “how do we want to make our Enablers feel?”
We are committed to our staff and wanted to make them feel appreciated, recognised, and supported in their learning and career growth. Every session, every gift, every detail was all about creating an atmosphere and environment where we did that for them.
We considered the cultural background of many of our team. A huge percentage of our team are from India so we ensured the DJ had a large playlist of the top Bollywood songs and it was a HUGE hit on the dance floor at the awards dinner.
All these considerations were ‘little wows’. In a 3-day period like a conference, it’s the little wows that build up and make a ‘big wow’ where the participants walk away feeling that they have experienced something truly special.
As the Head of People & Operations this is EXACTLY what I want my team to feel. Part of a company that makes them feel appreciated. A place where they are aligned to the vision and goals, a place where they feel they are the heart-beat of the organisation and that know they are supported and cared about as individuals.
The Results: Most of our Enablers have rated the overall quality of our conference a 10/10. We have a team of Australian, Singaporean and Hong Kong Enablers bursting with enthusiasm about our company.
You know what else, as we are still a start-up – we were smart about where we put our conference spend. We utilised our passionate leadership team for themed presentations. We arranged for ServiceNow experts to co-facilitate specialised ServiceNow Training along with our inhouse trainers. We also kept all the planning in-house and went ‘DIY’ for all of the finer details like decorations, gifts and conference branding (just myself and one incredibly passionate and talented in-house marketing genius plan and manage all the details, even staying up late one night to blow up 100 balloons for a branded photo wall for the entrance of the Awards dinner.)
What this means for our ServiceNow clients is we have an army of the most Certified, Amped Up ServiceNow Consultants ready to unleash their passion and genius on their next ServiceNow project.
As the ServiceNow Gold Partner of choice in Asia Pacific, Enable is who you want to be working with and working for!
By Rachel Sparkes, Head of Operations and HR