Following Up After an Executive Retreat

You planned a successful executive retreat. The venue was superb, the dialogue was thought provoking, and all the goals you set for the gathering were accomplished. But you're not done yet. 

While executive retreats are often exclusive affairs for the company's top brass, in many cases it's also important to leverage what was discussed at the event across the entire organization. There will be information from the executive retreat that is highly confidential but it's important to communicate some messages to the rest of the company to loop them in on what's happening at the organization's higher levels. There are certain steps that should be taken to do this most effectively. 

"Organizations should communicate in broad terms," advises Scott Ventrella, president of Ridgefield, CT-based Positive Dynamics, a management consulting firm specializing in leadership development. "Approached in the proper manner, this promotes trust and can be very encouraging to employees." 

It's okay to indicate that, due to the nature of some information discussed at the executive retreat, some things must be held in strict confidence for legal reasons - an acquisition, for example. 

But it's important to be honest. Ventrella recommends saying something like, "We're facing some very exciting times that will lead to growth and opportunity. Although, we're not at liberty to provide all the details, here's what we can tell you." 

It's important to not just release a wrap-up statement and leave it at that. Encourage feedback. Employees should have the chance to weigh in and ask questions about how the information being released applies to them and what actions they can take to support the mission proactively. Sharing with employees will make them feel more vested in the company. On the other hand, those who do not feel part of an organization will be detached. 

"It's imperative that senior-level executives participating in executive retreats discuss what was covered with their employees as a way of providing transparency and instilling a sense of purpose in their team," advises Kimberly Hardcastle, president of MDG, a leading marketing and PR agency specializing in promoting business-to-business events. "Employees want to be cognizant of where an organization is going, and to know that what they are doing on a daily basis has some purpose behind it." 

She adds that while it may not make sense to share details like the company's financial figures, hiring or layoff intentions, or a plan to gain market share from a competitor, there is information than should be communicated back to the entire organization. Earnings results, upcoming ad campaigns, customer feedback data, economic forecasts, information about a new marketing tactic that will be rolled out, and the CEO's vision for the upcoming year are all powerful messages that should be communicated to employees. 

"When this information is passed along, it can reassure employees of the leadership's commitment to the future health of the organization and can also make employees feel in the know," says Hardcastle. "Giving employees an opportunity to see how they fit into the organization's long-term plan can work wonders for productivity, retention, and morale." 

It is best to share information from the retreat within a week or two afterwards and as part of a two-way dialogue. Before the retreat, outline what will be communicated, to whom, and by whom. 

Elene Cafasso, an executive coach based in Elmhurst, IL, recommends that each leader of the retreat be held accountable for going back and sharing the "so what's" of the meeting with his or her own team and that it be similarly cascaded down the organization. 

"Unfortunately, my C-level clients rarely will take the time to do this, simply because they don't prioritize it highly enough," says Cafasso. "It's a huge opportunity missed. Every study of employee engagement shows that folks want to know what's going on, how it will impact them, and how their individual job makes a difference in terms of the greater whole and company mission." 

From Good to Great
Some companies keep too much information sequestered in the executive suite, adhering to the philosophy that employees shouldn't be privy to it. 

"Good companies have an aligned management team. Great companies have an aligned management team and employee base," says Bryan Gillette, founder of the San Francisco Bay Area-based Summiting Group, a consulting company that focuses on leadership development and communications. In the past, Gillette has been vice president of human resources and has held several senior-level positions in leadership development, human resources, and communications, and he has facilitated many executive retreats. 

Gillette has learned firsthand the importance of watching the timing of a retreat in relation to other events happening at the company. Gillette was working for a company and the CEO wanted to have an executive retreat at a very high-end hotel. Gillette was given the task of organizing it. A few weeks before it was to be held, the company announced layoffs and cost-cutting strategies. 

"It is critical to be aware of these types of optics, but if employees understand that productivity comes from these retreats and feel the executive staff is being open and forthcoming, that will not cause dissention," says Gillette. 

You also don't want to give employees the impression that the so-called retreat is nothing but a glorified vacation, especially at a time of upheaval. The best way to make sure this happens is by letting them see firsthand the results that came out of the retreat. 

Jeremy Henderson, founder of Emeryville, CA-based Jungle Red Communication, an employee engagement consulting firm, who also facilitates executive retreats, takes follow-up one step further by bringing back reminders. "During the retreats I plan, I have executives complete exercises on butcher-block sheets of paper that can then be taken back to the office and hung up where employees can see them," says Henderson. "We also give executives permission to talk about anything that happened at the retreat." 

You've spent a great deal of time and energy planning your executive retreat. But you must be sure to make the effort when it comes to following up - both with attendees and other company employees.