by C. Lee Smith | September 29, 2017
Company meetings make a big statement about an organization's values, whether you want them to or not. They're the perfect opportunity for the C-suite to remind their employees what the company stands for, what is expected from them every day, and, most importantly, why the company operates the way it does.

Failure to align a company meeting or incentive event with the company's values, on the other hand, is not just a missed opportunity, it's much worse. It sends a message that leadership can't walk the talk. And it suggests the values they proclaim as "important" really aren't that important after all.

Before ever discussing a venue or an agenda, start with a review of the company mission statement and the company's core values. Use these as a litmus test for every speaker, session, and especially every social or teambuilding activity.

Does a proposed agenda item reinforce company values? If so, that's a plus… a benefit to be considered among everything else. Is the proposed agenda item in conflict with company mission? If so, it should immediately be nixed from consideration - no matter how much value it could bring or how little it costs. If there is ANY chance an attendee could legitimately accuse the company of being hypocritical, that's a signal to give greater thought to your plans.

Here are 10 examples of how you can align events and meetings with company principles, based on the most common core values expressed by companies today:

1. Core Value: Family-Friendly or Work-Life Balance. Avoid scheduling any meetings that spill over into weekends. Allow for an opportunity for out-of-town attendees to get back home for dinner Friday night -- and don't make them travel on Sunday. For the local attendees, end each day's sessions no later than 5 p.m. Also consider having at least one social activity where the spouse and children want to attend, instead of keeping the employee away from their family.

2. Core Value: Positive or Fun. Make the atmosphere and dress code more relaxed. Make sure there's good entertainment or fun things to do after hours instead of planning a formal dinner or ceremony. Motivate the company's employees and use the meeting to celebrate recent successes. Try to have something that people will talk about for weeks and months! The worst thing this meeting can be is boring. 

3. Core Value: High Standards, Quality, or Excellence. Do it well or don't do it at all. It's better to have a shorter meeting in alignment with the company's high standards than to have a longer meeting where too many compromises have to be made. Serve great food, schedule big-name speakers and have it at a great venue. Don't go cheap. If the budget doesn't allow for excellence, point to the company values as you request a bigger budget. Then have every little detail triple-checked by a different set of eyes. Company awards should play a role in the event or meeting for this kind of company. It's better to have a shorter event in alignment with the company's high standards than to have a longer one where too many compromises have to be made.

4. Core Value: Education or Intelligence. Speakers that are smart, thought-provoking, and relevant (without being boring) are a must. Give an audience to the company's thought leaders and other industry experts. Every session should provide the opportunity for everyone to be curious and ask questions. If the company provides scholarships to area students or higher education benefits to employees, the outcomes of these efforts should be spotlighted. 

5. Core Value: Diversity. Engage a variety of people from the company to help make sure every word -- whether it be from a company official, a guest speaker, signage, or in supporting communications -- shows the company is serious about respecting all cultures and points of view. Make sure all of the speakers don't look the same or speak the same message. For example, if the meeting is for a high-tech company, get more women on stage.

6. Core Value: Dignity, Respect, or Humility. Put the kibosh on any proposed activities that could potentially embarrass someone. All references from the front of the room should be warm, kind, and be shared with the proper level of empathy and support. This is especially true for entertainment acts. You certainly wouldn't book a foul-mouthed comedian or musician to entertain a company like Hobby Lobby or Chick-fil-A.

7. Core Value: Teamwork or Collaboration. No, this doesn't mean you have to have a "trust fall" or an obstacle course at an Army camp. But you should get every employee that might attend to offer their input on what they want from the meeting. Start with a simple survey, then have a focus group or two discuss the merits of the best ideas. Ideally, you'll find a way to work in their suggestions into at least one of the sessions. 

8. Core Value: Integrity, Honesty, Trust, or Transparency. Always check the backgrounds and online reputations of any guests or suppliers before you book them. Start sharing information internally about the meeting as soon as you are authorized, but make sure everything is confirmed and verified first. It's far better to report accurate information slowly than to get fluid arrangements out there quickly that will change later on. 

9. Core Value: Social Impact. Consider making a community service project one of your team building exercises. Give everyone a heads up of what clothing they should wear before they leave for the meeting. If the project is off-site, make sure to provide transportation. Consider a silent auction or raffle to benefit a cause or charity important to the company. Regardless, make sure to highlight how the company helps those in need and how it serves its community and makes the world a better place.

10. Core Value: Economical. This will more likely be worded as being good stewards or generating high return. Be careful not to give any appearance you've spent lavishly. It's perfectly ok to have a cash bar, a box lunch or to let them see the afternoon snacks come from a giant box labeled Costco or Sam's Club.


And here's one more…

10+1. Core Value: Innovation. Give a nod to the company's history of its best creations, but remember that's in the past. Celebrate the company's recent change and change agents. Build the narrative by encouraging multiple departments to celebrate their creativity (aka "out-of-the-box thinking") and forward-looking accomplishments. This is a great opportunity to make news by announcing something new.

If you aren't 100 percent certain of the company's core values, ask someone who is. Avoid the temptation to make assumptions from media interviews, blogs, and website content unless they specifically address company values.

If the company's values appear to be a bit dated, it is an opportunity to pose a question to the C-suite, letting them know you are being thoughtful of mission and values for their next meeting. Ask if you have the most recent version. Then, ask if there is anything they would like to add or change in the near future. These aspirations can be even more important to your meeting planning.

No matter what the company's leaders say at the meeting, the overall perception of the meeting itself will make a resounding statement about what the company really values.

C. Lee Smith is president and CEO of SalesFuel, which leverages data on prospects and employees to help sales teams close more deals, develop talent and increase revenue. More than 3,000 sales teams nationwide use the company's products to take the guesswork out of sales and management, harnessing "The Power to Sell Smarter" to boost sales and improve the bottom line. Lee's concentration is sales management, talent development and sales enablement. He is one of the country's foremost experts on advertising, consumer behaviors, sales teams and performance, as well as small business marketing and audience segmentation. Learn more at www.salesfuel.com.