A great deal of energy, time, attention and money is being invested in the production of the one-off, usually large, event: the off-site, corporate convention, away day, team building exercise, launch conference, etc. If challenged, sometimes one hears that the one-off is not a real one-off, because the expectation is that people will do something with the information, or the experience or learning, such as cascading this down to others. Or, people will behave differently as a result of the impact. Or, they will just be very motivated afterwards. All very well and good, but in my experience, ‘the event’ takes most of the airtime and not a lot of thinking goes in to the extension of all those benefits. Usually, the producers and owners of the one-off events, are not in charge of what happens next.
But for the one-off ‘big event’, as complex to arrange and manage as it may be, this is the easy part. The trick and the hard part is to harness the benefits of the event and to enable what needs to happen the day(s) and week(s) after the event. The one-off event has value in itself, of course, as an experiential treat, or fun, perhaps inspirational, or, very often, as a real opportunity for people to meet other people. Also, the one-off event is highly ritual. As a ritual, it has a function, most of the time, it provides a sense of belonging and identity. And that is great.
However, if the one-off event is there for a purpose other than recreational, or even motivational, it needs to cater for the days, and the weeks, and the months that follow. It needs to inject something sustainable. Without that, the one-off is tyrannical because it absorbs most of our energy, perhaps raises expectations, produces a tsunami of information, even gets everybody excited, only to then, see it all end on return to the car park.
The ROIs of big one-off events can have very dubious numbers.
Sustainability in any shape or form does not simply come from having an action plan on a piece of paper at the end of the event. The question is how progress is going to be tracked, who will be publically accountable for what and by when, and what will be the next punctuated milestone. For example, ‘we will be back in six months, you will be asked to bring insights X,Y,Z, and, in the meantime, this is what you do, and whom you talk to if you have a problem.’
As populist politics knows very well, putting thousands of people on the streets is easy. Legitimization by body count is easy. Clicking ‘like’ in Facebok by the thousands is easy. If you are in the one-off initiative business, you can master it easily. If you want to change the world however, you need more than street demonstrations.
Organizational life is no different. The number of one-off country-house hotel meetings, or away-day workshops, is not in itself a measure of progress. This is activity but it does not necessarily imply that relevant outcomes are associated with this activity. We run our Accelerators, Reboot! and Disruptive Ideas usually in small groups over one day. However we deliberately have continuity built in with trackable gameplans that are implemented from day 1 after the event.
Because organising a one-off big event is often fun and exciting, people tend to loose sight that, other than the ritual, it may have a limited effect. We often get the order of logic wrong. We need to start with the vision for the year, or the half a year. Visualize the long term, or the medium term. Then plug in your one-off event in this context, not the other way around.