Reward trips and corporate culture: Why you should travel outside of work with your employees

In a meeting last week, I had a chance to reflect on a NetGain event from earlier in the year. I was telling a new member of the executive leadership team about employee reward trips—one of my favorite aspects of NetGain’s corporate culture.

It was early January. The excitement of the holidays had faded, and winter’s cold was upon us. It was the perfect time for a getaway—a reward trip for top performers who had worked hard all through 2016 to keep our clients happy and earn new business.

It was an enthusiastic group of NetGain leaders, sales staff, engineers, and spouses. We boarded a southbound plane to escape the winter doldrums and celebrate our successes from 2016.

In Key West, we enjoyed four nights and five days of relaxation and fun activities. Sun-soaked beaches, sailing, and shared meals at some excellent local restaurants were all on the agenda. Anything work-related was not.

It was designed to be a work-free retreat and turned out to be the best possible use of our time.

NetGain runs two annual trips for employees, with 60-odd travelers each year. In March, a couple of months after the Key West trip, another group of NetGain employees would spend three days in Memphis at the renowned Peabody hotel. B. B Kings Blues Bar, NBA Grizzlies games, and touring Elvis’ Graceland were all part of our fun. Not to mention, the world famous Peabody hotel march of ducks!

I would recommend the value of team incentive trips to anyone running a business. It is amazing in interviews when I tell candidates about the trips we have taken to the Bahamas, Mexico, cruises and the Dominican how many respond with, “we used to do those things, but our company cut them from the budget.” These group vacations are part of the foundation of NetGain’s corporate culture and have even been a part of my life growing up in our family business. We set a goal this year that could take the entire company plus a guest on a Caribbean cruise! They are an excellent way to improve employee morale and in a time when others cut, we are doubling down. The NetGain Way is: “Work hard, play hard.”

Put Family First

Our family has encouraged NetGain employees to see the company as a family, ever since my grandfather first opened its doors almost 33 years ago. Camaraderie should be more than greeting someone as you pass each other in the office halls.

Having shared interests and shared experiences is important. Group getaways put colleagues into an environment outside of the office where they can get to know each other and form friendships.

Reward trips also introduce employees to spouses in an informal setting. Having families connect with each other is empowering. I’m proud to be able to say I know my employees’ husbands and wives. I’ve sailed with them, ridden safari jeeps with them, or shared a meal on the beach under the stars. Not only do our team members look forward to earning the trip, but their spouses encourage them as well. That never hurts with them hitting their goals!

Overcome Communication Challenges

Someone once told me the number one issue a company faces once it has more than two employees is communication. An article in Entrepreneur explains what many corporate leaders have observed: “When running a growing company, department silos can quickly create barriers. Each department has different key-performance metrics and perceptions of a successful day.”

An amazing benefit of a shared vacation is that peers see each other outside of a work setting. It humanizes your colleagues. You start to see them as people—especially when looking at managers.

Group trips always encourage interactions. I’ve seen it firsthand: People who may butt heads in the office start to connect in a new environment. They have a chance to go fishing together, or ride bikes along an island path. They come back with a more open mind and a desire to see each other succeed.

Celebrate Excellent Performance Together

“We always win TOGETHER.” That’s another part of the NetGain Way. After we work hard together to achieve our goals, these trips reinforce our values, allowing us to celebrate as a team.

Each year, we set goals as a team. Meeting those goals during the calendar year “unlocks” the next year’s team trips. We always set the goals high enough that they’re meaningful, but at a level that can be achieved.

Throughout the year, I provide regular updates to the full team. They know how close we are to turning on the trips, and what needs to be done to make sure we achieve them.

I know the reward trips are important to our staff. Some engineers told me last year: “I work specifically to achieve my goals to go on this trip.” It makes me excited we can provide such an experience that they would want to share it with their coworkers!

We’ve been planning NetGain’s 2018 reward trips (to Marco Island, Fla., and French Lick Resort & Casino in Indiana) since last year. We also announced a special trip this year. If we hit a “stretch goal” in 2017, we’re taking the entire staff (plus a guest) on a cruise. You bet everyone’s buzzing about that trip—and I want more than anything to take everyone on that cruise.

Start Your Own Rewards Trip Traditions

Taking a big group on vacation is expensive. Airfare, accommodations, meals, entertainment—it all adds up. But I promise, reward trips are worth the investment. The relationship-building that occurs during the vacations helps us work better all year long.

I would urge people running businesses to make reward trips a group decision. Where will they want to go? And when does it make sense to arrange the group trip? I like to ask past attendees where they would like to go in the future. (We’re based in the Midwest and Southeast, so it’s no surprise that everyone tends to want to go at the end of the year, and where it’s warm.)

The company should cover airfare or transportation, rooms, meals, and special entertainment. Plan some excursions or team-building exercises to encourage interaction. A custom polo or other swag is a nice touch, and will help everyone remember the trip.

Cash incentives are nice and have a place for your team, however, most people won’t remember the reason for that $2,000 incentive you gave them five years ago. The memories of riding together in a safari jeep along the cliffs of Aruba, or other reward trips, will last forever.

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