Strategic Picnic Planning

I am part of a Facebook group for HR professionals. It’s a great resource to ask questions, share information, and have a little bit of fun. One particular post really got the group fired up. There was a job posting for an HR Generalist and a big part of the role was to be the culture champion. Holiday parties, happy hours, company events, and the company picnic. Ugh. The dreaded party planner. When will HR be able to move past this? I was all set to write something blasting this and all organizations who fail to see the value of HR, but then I took a deep breath. See, I’m learning not to overreact in the moment. In the spirit of looking at this a different way, what if we looked at the party planning as something a little more strategic?

Just like people, companies come in many shapes and sizes. There are large corporations that have HR organizational structures with every specialist and generalist you can think of in an HR structure. There are then smaller organizations that can only afford so much. Many HR organizations are the department of one and HR not only handles payroll, benefits and employee relations, they also are responsible for cultural events like happy hours, potlucks and picnics. The company may not have the luxury to hire or outsource to an event planner and the CEO’s executive assistant is already overworked.

In a lot of corporations, HR has to pick up some of the things that don’t quite fall in the SHRM Competency Model. And there’s a good chance that Bobby in IT and Pat in Accounting are taking on some tasks that may not fully align with all of the strategic work they should be doing. That’s just life in a smaller, or more efficient, organization.

Picture this scenario. You’re the HR guy for a 75 person company. You are Mr. Benefits, Payroll, Inclusion&Diversity, Employee Relations, and Culture Officer. Your CEO comes to you and asks you to plan the company picnic. You’re fresh from you state HR conference and every speaker challenges you to ditch the party planning jorts and put on your strategic HR pants. While you want to challenge this and stand up for all that is right and just for the profession, you value your job and you can’t tell her no on this one. 

You have some choices. You can decide this isn’t what you signed up for. You’re strategic and any of this stuff is beneath you. This should be done by administrative assistants or event planners. While thinking this way, you might as well dust off that resume and start moving on.

Or, you can look at this as an opportunity to be a little more strategic or learn something new.

What if you approached this picnic planning with a different lens? Like Bruno Mars, Imma dangerous man with a crazy idea in my head so keep up with my logic here. 

You reach out to others in the organization to help you out. In the process of doing this, you find Suzy in IT that has been looking for a chance to expand her skills and take on more work, but there just hasn’t been that right opportunity. She’s considering leaving the company. You ask her to help you to organize all of the vendors, food services, and permit gathering. Suzy has a knack for project management and is able to keep you and others on task and under budget to pull this thing off. She’s able to use some of the PMI skills she learned from her recent certification. You let her boss know of her experience and Suzy is promoted 2 weeks later to fill an open role.

While trying to find out the right date and time of the event, you discover that many of the corporate events happen at times that are not family friendly. They always take place after-hours and never consider the lives and schedules of the employees outside of work. Many have families, work second jobs to make ends meet, or just want to get away for a bit. But every happy hour, all-hands meeting, or brainstorming get-together’s happen after work and only a select few are included. You have now gathered some valuable information to make the workplace more inclusive for future events.

You’ve gathered a decent sized group of employees to brainstorm some ideas for the event. You are starting to get to know them at a deeper level. During the planning, you happen to learn more about some of the struggles employees may be having with the benefits providers. You’ve been trying to get that benefits survey out for weeks, but there is always something else to do. Through this planning, though, you learn more about the actual benefits and how your employees are affected and now you’re able to recommend some changes for the next open enrollment period.

The picnic is a success. You’re winding down the Friday afternoon. (You were able to convince the CEO to have this on a Friday afternoon, during work hours, based on the information you gathered.) After several company Kool-aids, you decide to take an Uber/Lyft home. Because you can’t turn work off, you strike up a conversation with the driver and realize she is driving on her spare time. She’s a CPA and is looking for a new role. You just happen to have an open position in your Accounting department that you have been trying to fill for months. Before your ride is over, you have set up an interview for her on Monday.

In one planning of a picnic, you were able to be more strategic than you ever thought you could be. On the surface, not all activities or job descriptions look like to best type of work or they may seem like they don’t belong in the role. But many times, you just need to take a look at it from a different angle. You may just learn something.

Ok, now to plan that potluck!


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