Fall is the usual time for corporate and association state government relations (SGR) executives to gather with their business colleagues, lobbyists and consultants for an annual “retreat” or planning session. With January sessions on the horizon, a couple of days of reflecting, planning, vetting, updating, arguing and bonding can be a great investment…..or not.
Over the past 21-plus years, I have attended many such gatherings and organized quite a few. I often recommend them to clients because the efficiency of sharing information and perspectives with the entire team combined with the dynamic exchanges that can occur among lobbyists and in-house players can be really valuable. The process – if done well – fully exploits the experience and knowledge of the entire team and delivers much more than could be achieved one-on-one.
But, too often “retreat” really means “mass download” of information. The program is essentially a monologue. Lots of time is spent, but little value is realized. Remember, “The mind won’t absorb what the posterior can’t endure.”
On the flip side, some “retreats” are just team gatherings with very little programming. Fun and light on substance, their only purpose appears to be bonding.
Here are my suggestions for a GREAT SGR RETREAT:
- Figure out what you want to accomplish. That may sound simplistic, but some of these events happen year after year like Groundhog Day – just because they always have. Is your goal to get fresh ideas about how to tackle your big issues next year? Or, to share information and perspective about changes within your company? Or to get to know your lobbyists better? And, is a retreat the best way to get your goals accomplished? Given the cost and time commitments involved, no retreat should be planned without a clear set of goals.
- Send all information that will be used at the retreat to participants at least one week in advance.
- Give HOMEWORK assignments – something they must be prepared to offer based on their reading of the materials. The most specific the better. You do not want just “plane thinking” you want real thoughtful consideration of your challenges. You are paying for the trip; you have the right to try to get the most from it.
- Use the time of your issue or business experts to answer questions, provide perspective and otherwise deepen understanding about the information you sent in advance. Hours and hours of speeches are less valuable and easily forgotten.
- Make the business case. For everything you share, explain the issue, why it is important to your organization and WHAT YOU WANT YOUR LOBBYISTS TO DO ABOUT IT. Do not just let it hang out there and assume people will know what to do with the information.
- Group Exercises. These are not for bonding, but that will occur as well. Ask the participants for advice about what you should be doing about a competitor, adverse legislation, or market share development with public sector clients. Spend 15 minutes on each of 4 topics. Do not let a few people dominate. Wade into the crowd and get everybody’s ideas. In addition to observations and advice you will get a better understanding about the capabilities of your team.
These annual gatherings can send everyone home with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for your program and a better understanding about the issues and challenges you face. So, if you have goals that can be addressed in this format, then by all means, RETREAT!