Take your vendors for a ride – a hay ride!
It had been over 20 years since I had been on a hay ride. I daresay, that probably holds true for the majority of the participants at the recent #GWTS2014Summit…but let me start at the beginning.
A year ago, we put a twist in our annual budget and planning cycle. Many companies and departments conduct offsite planning “summits” and we had always done much the same. In 2012 we added something I had talked about doing for years. We invited some of our vendors to participate. To be invited, the vendor had to be a “strategic partner” (see “Three Keys to a Lasting Relationship“). So, after my management team had spent a day and a half reviewing business plans, trends in the industry, and trends in technology, our vendors arrived. We spent the remainder of the second day reviewing those plans with them, asking for feedback, and asking for general questions. For the inaugural event, the feedback we received afterward was very positive, enough so to repeat in 2013.
Always looking to improve and listening to the feedback from the that first event, we made some changes to the format.
First of the changes…Twitter and the hashtags. As I talked about in a previous post, Twitter is my new way of taking notes at conferences (see I will never take notes again). I thought…”why not”. So, I created the hashtag and began tweeting first thing in the morning of day one. I encouraged my team to join in (though I must say NO ONE DID, ahem, are you listening?). I also sent a note to the entire department and our vendor partners suggesting they follow along with the activities through Twitter. Our day began in the Roosevelt Room at Fort Harrison State Park (ok, that is significant, but to find out why, you have to read a future post about my journey with Theodore Roosevelt).
Day one was focused on internal discussions with our management team. We reviewed business and infrastructure plans, however, we dedicated the meat of the day to open discussion, about the department, our company, and where we are versus where we want to be. Believe it or not we ran out of time!
As day one of discussions came to a close, it was time for another departure from the prior year. As I mentioned, last year the partners came at the end of day two. While the conversation was good, I believed it could have been better. So, this year, we had the partners join us for dinner at the end of day one (now before anyone reading this panics and thinks we bought dinner for 35 vendors, we did not, we asked that each vendor attending pay for their own meal. There, feel better?). The dinner was catered by the park at one of their shelter houses.
My team and I headed down to the shelter house while our guests began to arrive. Many had met the year before, or had been involved in joint meetings with us. However, there were some new faces to introduce to each other. This was one of the reasons for the shift to the end of day one…to get the introductions out of the way. Keep in mind, some of these vendors represented companies that were competitors of each other (not on our account mind you, but competitors in the market just the same). We had warned them all to put on their big boy and big girl pants for the event; it was after all about transparency and dialogue.
Gradually, the conversation began to shift from introductions into curiosity. Why HAD they been instructed to dress casually and wear outdoor shoes? Where we going to hike? Where we going to have a scavenger hunt? Maybe, a “vendor challenge”? (btw nice tennies, Steve!) Soon the sound of a large tractor could be heard in the distance. Since only two of knew what was happening, no one noticed. Moments later a large John Deere (Dave, picture our John Deere salute here!) tractor pulled into the parking lot next to the shelter house. It was pulling two large wagons filled with hay. Still, not many noticed.
I stood up on one the picnic tables to get everyone’s attention and announced, “Before dinner, we have a surprise for all of you! You may notice the two wagons behind me, everybody…follow me and pile in, we are going on a hayride”. At first the crowd didn’t move, as if they thought I was kidding. Me? Kid? I don’t think so…let’s go folks EVERYBODY IN! Finally, 40+ of Indianapolis’ finest business people were piled in the two wagons and we headed out for a 45 minute tour of Fort Harrison State Park.
At first there was some awkward chit-chat and bemusement, I don’t think many of them could believe we were actually on a hay ride. The further along the pathways we traveled, the polite chit-chat gave way to laughter, spirited conversation and picture taking. You could sit and watch the inner child come out. By the time, we were halfway done, there was debate about which wagon was the “cool, more fun wagon”. (Personally, I think the one I was in was the cool wagon!).
After the adventure, the dinner was served. I think the hay ride dominated the conversation at most of the tables.
The next morning as we gathered in the Roosevelt Room, the evenings activities had the exact effect we were looking to achieve. The greetings were boisterous, the conversation lively, and…the ice had been broken. We kicked off the meeting with a special guest and a dear friend of mine, Dr. Dan Miller of Historical Solutions (www.historicalsolutions.com). Dan provides leadership training, team building, and executive coaching, all in the context of exploring history. Those of you who know my passion for Lewis and Clark would think we were twins separated at birth. Dan provided us with an historical perspective of our surroundings, in the Roosevelt room of For Harrison, the relationship between Teddy Roosevelt and Benjamin Harrison and an approach to planning, preparation and execution. There could not have been a more appropriate start to our day.
Next up, we reviewed the business and technology plans and highlighted our discussions of the day before with our partners. We then asked each partner to present their views on the trends they are seeing in their slice of the industry. I am sure it was tough, ask a bunch of business development people to get up in front of a room of 45 people and NOT SELL and only give them FIVE MINUTES, it had to be tough! (Ok, to be honest, next year, I am going to edit their slides beforehand and remove any of those “here is who we are, how much we sell, and who our customers are” slides!) Check out the Twitter hashtag (#GWTS2014Summit) to see some of the highlights from the round-robin presentations.
We spent the remainder of the morning in a group discussion of our projects, the trends, business issues, and our direction. In addition to some great thoughts, I believe there were several business connections made within the group and some ideas for additional areas of partnership with us were formulated.
Our partners left at the end of the morning discussion, we were then joined by our newly formed architecture team. We spent the next couple of hours diving into discussion topics specific to our technology architecture. By mid-afternoon, we were joined by the remainder of the team and we jumped into topics about process, team dynamics, and communication.
Overall, it was a very successful summit. We learned a a lot from each segment, solidified our roadmap, and potentially made some connections for business. We are already planning next year’s event and how to make it even better…hmmmmm, something like “Vendor Wipe Out” comes to mind….
If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.
This could be Websters’ definition of “Thinking outside of the box” – sounds like a fun and successful summit!
As always, very creative thinking Jeff and valuable time for all involved!
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