Five Steps to Create your Best Kickoff
By David Lim – for CFO magazine
Tired of the usual annual, corporate kickoff format and outcomes? Consider the following five steps in which you can help create the best kickoff you’ve had yet for your team or organization. How do I know? For the past decade, I’ve been engaged in not only about 50 keynotes each year that set the tone for kickoffs and similar meeting; but also have been actively engaged in helping teams organize their event in a way that maximizes the outcomes. Dreading being captive in a ballroom and the death by PowerPoint “ this-is-what-we-did-this-year” ad nauseam presentations? Read on:
1)Get Clarity on the Outcomes
If you are spending big bucks flying people to your kickoff venue, paying for hotel and catering costs, you’ll need to get absolutely clarity as to what your outcomes are. Poorly devised kickoffs are focused on tasks and checklists (so many speeches, address by the CEO etc); instead of how will the organization be improved as a result of the kickoff. Check if you have metrics of success of the meeting. Don’t use smile sheets of such feedback forms to gauge success. Ask questions in these forms that, instead, focus on whether the attendees have understood what needs to be done, who will be doing it and how they agree to be accountable. Most kickoffs have meetings with speakers. Again, focus on the outcomes at the end of a presentation. How will the attendees unique condition be improved by the absorption of the speaker’s content, or their emotional buy-in shifted for the better? These are the real questions that you need to ask
2) Energy flows where attention goes as directed by intention
If your intention is now clear (refer to point #1 above); how do you get their attention, and thus extract maximal energy and focus for the event, be it a half day or two day session? First, consider selecting a venue that can help support this. If your team is in a largely urban one, consider picking a rural or rustic setting. Contrast and change heightens awareness, curiosity and shifts the energy balance – not to mention appeal to the jaded ones. Second, create fabulous content that could be a combination of delivered information, or co-created content, which brings us to point #3. Look at presentation content that would be better as a handout and insist that your speakers speak in a way that makes what they share matter to the audience and the organization; and end with a strong call for action. In that vein, I have always covered no more then 4-5 key points in an hour long presentation that presses the right emotional buttons and leave an audience in wonder, and awe of the possibilities within their control and action – and then follow up with helping them do the “how” later if the client wishes. Get speakers that can wake up and audience and maximize the value of their time together, whether from within the organization or externally. One senior finance executive shared that the guest leadership/motivational speaker was always his most anticipated moment of such meetings and most of the internal speakers were deathly boring. So, spend if you need to get the right speaker for your kickoff.
3) Consider new ways to meet and discuss the way forward.
Some years ago, I met a fascinating chap called Anthony Willoughby who’d spend most of his life as a global citizen, and someone who pioneered a new way to discuss the strategy journey using something called “Territory Mapping”. Inspired by how many illiterate Masai hunter-herders could manage their herds of cattle in rough terrain, he developed an indoor set of meeting tools; enabling groups to “map” their way forward.
In some instances, the idea of drawing a way forward by the senior management team was vastly different to the employee experience; where hand drawn illustrations of their team sailing to an island of goal achievement marked “Paradise Island”; contrasted with the confusing picture drawn by the employees which included droll descriptions of what really happens, like “Bullshit bridge” linking clients and the organizations; a ”fantasy applications” pathway and “consultant conveyor belt”.
Discovering disconnects, amplifying positivity and so on, can be done using other methodologies as well. For example, I’ve delivered a number of Open Space Technology (OST) sessions where a central, theme established prior to meeting is met with spontaneously created topics and meetings where people only attend those to which they can contribute or are keen on attending. Organised ‘chaos’ happens for a day, but the co-created outcomes are powerful as no one’s time or interest is wasted being held captive in the usual “plenary” sessions stuck in a single room/hall. Each topic or ‘action plan’ would have, by then, thrown up its own champions, supporters; and an action pathway after the meeting. I find OST particularly powerful in producing great outcomes in areas where there is an open-ended discussion or issue.
A careful blend of content, facilitation, co-created outcomes and refreshing settings can all add to maximal engagement of the participants. The opposite could be perceived “engagement” by 300 people who merely happen to be in a ballroom– when most of them are bored, switched off and looking at their smart phones.
4) Getting results
What happened after the kickoff is probably the most important key to the meetings. So, before the kickoff, ascertain the metrics you will use as to who will be doing what after the meeting; how this will be decided, and how you will measure success. Build in a series of possible ‘quick wins’ early in the year to give the team confidence is tackling the larger, hairy goals as the year progresses. Plan to announce and celebrate such wins ahead of time. This allows the team to pause, recover and press on with renewed energy
5) Engagement from the top
Most of the points that are listed here won’t happen unless you get buy-in from the top people who are the ones distributing limited resources and beholden to higher powers. Help them see that the kickoff is just one part of a planned series of moves going into the New Year that will bring the desired results. Far too many unsuccessful outcomes of a kickoff have been caused by cursory involvement by the bosses who often delegate this very junior people in a team. Don’t. Get them involved in the key messages, and outcomes, and the cost thereof. They’ll thank you for it.
PS: if you liked this, read How to Get Return on your Meetings
David Lim is Asia’s Leadership Coach, and best known for leading the 1st Singapore Mt Everest Expedition. Since 1999, he has helped organizations build teams and grow leaders. Send him a note today at to subscribe to his leadership e-newsletter or inquire about his organisational solutions