Small Business: Company conferences - Ken Davis

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Ken Davis, managing director of CodeBlue, a New Zealand-owned, nationwide IT services company formed in 2004, targeting mid-sized companies

CodeBlue drum session.
CodeBlue drum session.

CodeBlue has more than 100 staff at offices in Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Hawkes Bay, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Invercargill.

How often do you have informal staff/company retreats to get staff together outside of the workplace?

We have an annual conference, which all staff attend, most recently held here in Auckland. We also have quarterly meetings for CodeBlue's national management team to get together and drive our business strategy, as well as share in fun activities and informal gatherings. Each branch takes it in turn to host these two day events and our next one will take place in Christchurch.

What are you trying to achieve with these conferences?

We really believe that our main point of difference in the IT market is our culture. It sounds like a cliché, but anyone who reads our customer case studies will see a strong theme around a mix of attitude and technical excellence.

The annual national conference is where we acknowledge those CodeBlue people who have really walked the talk during the year. And we highlight how important it is for all to work as a team to safeguard and develop CodeBlue's brand and value proposition out there in the market.

We also encourage our people to be well rounded, so we actively support and initiate community fundraising activities. For example the high point of our latest conference involved the Kidney Foundation, where we built bikes for Kidney Kids.

What happens at your annual conference?

The annual conference is best run in a city so that we have plenty of options for fun activities and entertainment. We run them over a weekend and balance annual planning work with events and dinners. Our June 2013 conference was held in Auckland and we based ourselves at one of the major city hotels with full conference facilitates and plenty of accommodation. CodeBlue people took part in various team-building challenges - these foster stronger bonds between individuals and branches and help to strengthen our culture.

Over the years we have held our quarterly management meetings at each of our branches. There are so many good memories from these, including fabulous dinners at Hawkes Bay wineries, a DC3 flight over Christchurch and skiing on Coronet Peak in Queenstown.

We have also begun to hold annual Sales Academies for branch managers and the national sales team. The first one was at Wairakei Resort in Taupo and this year's Academy will take place in Auckland.

How would you keep in communication with an overseas office if you had one?

In time we will probably expand into Australia and if and when we do, we will certainly continue to use an annual event as a cornerstone of team building and to continue to evolve our culture and values.

Do good business ideas come out of company conferences?

Just about all our best ideas come out of everybody getting together, sparking off each other, and creating a shared understanding of what the key challenges are and how best to meet those challenges. The technology issues are the easiest to address. The more important challenges are around how to focus as an organisation, how to separate the wheat from the chaff so CodeBlue goes forward most effectively.

At each annual conference we finish the business session with a New Ideas workshop. We mix up staff from all branches into teams of around 10 people and make sure that each team has a good cross-section of engineers, sales and admin people. The teams come up with their lists of new ideas - these range from concepts to improve our service delivery to clients and technical know-how, to ideas for interbranch fun throughout the year.

Our unique wiki-based system for managing client site documentation began as a New Idea a couple of conferences ago. The New Ideas teams unanimously conceived of a system to record site information from anywhere, at any time, over the internet. We have since developed a sophisticated tool to manage client site information as a living entity.

And as a result of this year's New Idea session, one fun activity that we are working on is an interbranch Pub Quiz night. Staff at each branch will gather in their offices for beer and pizza and we will run the quiz from Auckland through a video conferencing facility.

This promises to be a lot of fun and the CodeBlue competitive spirit is already firing up!

Is it costly bring together staff from other offices?

Yes it is relatively costly. However, as I've explained, our culture and values are inextricably bound with our value proposition to customers, so we consider it money very well spent.

Next week: The characteristics or the DNA of an entrepreneur is something which has fascinated many business schools around the world. At this week's Morgo conference, the event designed purely for entrepreneurs, I will see these people up close and find out what makes them tick.

- NZ Herald

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