The sun now sets at 5pm and it only gets to a high of ~64 degrees nowadays in San Francisco. Despite the cold, winter is one of the best seasons in Northern California thanks to epic powder up in Lake Tahoe three hours away. I’ve got my season pass on hand and I can’t wait to carve it up at Squaw Valley. What’s better than shredding down a 2,800 foot vertical and then grabbing a beer with friends in a hot tub? Nothing!
Before the snow falls there’s this awkward time between November 1 – December 1 where it’s cold, but not cold enough to bring about consistent natural snow. My resort closes down for three weeks in November for maintenance and artificial snow production to build the base as an example. Can you imagine living in a cold climate without anything to do? That’s like living on top of a hill with no view.
As CEO of my business, I’ve decided to make an executive decision to host an annual company offsite in Hawaii every November to December. Going to Hawaii during the winter maximizes one’s appreciation for the islands since the weather ranges from 70 at night up to 82 during the day, everyday without fail. Hawaii is also one of my key retirement hubs I’ve got to do more research on before permanently relocating for an estimated six months a year. The other six months will be spent between San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, and traveling.
After attending a disappointing company offsite in NYC where we were locked up in conference rooms the entire weekend, I promised myself if I was ever the big boss I’d do it right for my people. A company off-site should exist to build relationships, improve profitability, and make work fun. I’d like to share some thoughts on creating a company offsite agenda for maximum business efficacy.
COMPANY OFFSITE AGENDA
1) Financial overview. Analyze the month over month, quarter over quarter, and year over year sales, operating profit, and net profit figures for every product line. Is the business trending up, flat, or down? The goal is to get an idea of which products are selling best to maximize profitability and deemphasize those products which are selling poorly. Analyze the profit margins for each product and see whether they are expanding or contracting.
Getting a good grip on a company’s expenses is vital. The goal is to create an optimal cost structure so that as sales grow, operating profits grow even faster thanks to leverage. Operating leverage is the main reason why I love internet businesses and would never want to do anything else. It costs $20 a year to register your URL regardless if you have 100 visitors a day or 1 million visitors a day. We are talking 80%+ operating profit margins online. The key is to keep marginal costs to a minimum without impeding growth.
It’s also important to understand the seasonality of the business so you can adjust production accordingly. I discovered after you reach a certain traffic level online, there’s a noticeable slowdown during the summer months online given most of my traffic comes from search engines. There’s nothing I can do to prevent school from getting out during the summer and families from going on vacation. As a result, I plan to join the world in taking lots more vacation between June – September as well. I’ll probably do my other semi-annual board meeting in a new location during the summer for at least a couple of weeks to make sure I don’t slack off too much.
2) Goals overview. Compare the progress made to the initial goals. For those goals that were not completed, have a candid assessment as to why. Perhaps you were too optimistic, too pessimistic, or some exogenous variable created a change in the competitive environment. For those goals that were completed, discuss whether the goals fulfilled their purposes. Goals often change throughout the year and it’s important to make sure such goals are relevant to the business’ success.
One of my main goals is to build at least one new online income stream or one new web feature a year. 2012 was the launch of my book on severance package negotiations, and 2013 was the launch of the FS forum which needs more participation by me if I want it to grow. For 2014, I’m considering creating a subscription membership forum instead for more serious investors and a second book. Making 50-100% on Chinese stocks was huge, and it looks like serious investors are willing to pay for more such insights through a subscription newsletter or forum.
3) Goal setting for the new year. Now that you’ve analyzed the past 12 months, it’s now time to make new goals for the next year. It’s a good idea to just follow the calendar system of goal setting because the business environment, including the IRS follows the calendar system. No need to be a rebel in this regard unless you have an extremely cyclical business.
I’ve found that the higher you set your goals, the higher the outcome. Setting low hurdles only serves to make you feel better about yourself at the end of the year. What you really want to do is push yourself to the limit to see what you can do and then adjust accordingly. I like to deploy a Blue Sky, Aspirational, and Base Case scenario for my goals.
4) Team building exercises. Team building events are great to boost morale. When colleagues get along, synergies are created. You’re more likely to go that extra mile for a colleague you like versus a colleague you hate. I plan to host some scuba diving, hiking, surfing, and golfing events with my colleagues and prospective clients to build camaraderie. We’ll also have team dinners to sample local cuisine as well.
It’s hard to boost employee morale if your business offsite is in some office building where the skies outside are grey and the weather is freezing. Seasonal depression (SAD) is a real thing and you don’t want to start associating business off-sites with depression. Going to a warm place like Hawaii, Bora Bora, Fiji, Playa Del Carmen, Mallorca, South Of France, and Cabo are ideal places for team building.
5) Compensation and promotion decisions. Thanks to technological progress, competition is more fierce than ever in practically every single industry. Retaining the right group of people and not letting them go to competitors is one of the biggest challenges every manager faces. It’s important to be up to speed on the latest compensation figures and perks to stay competitive.
The company offsite is a chance to discuss with other senior management who are the indispensable employees. Employees who are up for promotion should be aware that year end off-sites are crucial for providing a final last impression. This means no getting slopping drunk at the company party. Underperforming employees also have one last chance to demonstrate their worth.
6) Acknowledging performance. It’s important to always recognize great performance. A company off-site is one of the best times to host a small award ceremony highlighting employees who truly went above and beyond normal company culture. My favorite awards are: Best Team Player, Best Culture Carrier, and Most Dedicated.
More than money, employees want to receive recognition. A simple “thank you” by the boss or a blast e-mail highlighting a subordinate’s achievements to others is a cheap and highly effective way to retain employees and keep motivation high. I strongly believe companies don’t recognize employees enough for their loyalty, dedication, and hard work.
Here are some prizes I have in mind for my colleagues: 1) Dinner and drinks for two at any restaurant on the island, 2) An all expenses paid vacation for two for one week anywhere in the world, 3) A $1,000 shopping spree, 4) A new MacBook Pro laptop, and 5) Use of my place up in Tahoe for a week in the winter or summer.
AWAY FOR BUSINESS BUT STILL WORKING
Although I’ll be away for business until mid-December, I’ll still be publishing posts here as scheduled. I bought a one way ticket because I’m not sure how long all the business activities will take. In addition to the scheduled two week long company offsite, I plan to take tours of properties and write a post on what you can get in Oahu. I’ll also be interviewing a couple accountants to understand Hawaiian taxation laws and local government culture. Island time moves slower than mainland time and I’ve got to be respectful of this fact.
I’ve already got a handful of posts I plan on publishing based on the research conducted on this off-site. The company off-site will likely cost somewhere between $5,000 – $10,000, all put on my new travel credit card of course. I’m sure we can generate much more than that in the upcoming year if we execute our plans. If anybody plans to be in Honolulu when I’m there I’d love to meet up and talk story!
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Updated for 2017 and beyond.