In 2003, the Corporate Communications group at Washington Mutual asked Opts to reinvent their annual meeting, held each January. This event is attended by more than 3,500 senior-level regional managers from all of Washington Mutual's business units, to review the previous year's performance, set expectations for the upcoming year and generate excitement for — and align their employees with — the company's corporate culture. The meeting's strategic objectives are conveyed through themes, creative messaging and entertainment.
Inspiration, information and entertainment — these were the ingredients to reinventing Washington Mutual's State of the Group annual meeting.
The need to keep these meetings fresh and interesting each year can obscure the need to see State of the Group as an ongoing series, rather than a collection of one-offs. CEO Kerry Killinger and his executive team would benefit from having a consistent lens through which to view State of the Group. That lens was the simply the Washington Mutual Story.
SOG is the forum for the ongoing narrative of Washington Mutual. Since the annual telling of this narrative is both an institution and a tradition, there are key activities and messages the audience will anticipate each and every year. However, maintaining continuity and tradition does not suggest a repeat of the last year's event- we needed to continually reinvent the company meeting, using emotional impact and unexpected formats to engage the audience.
We track issues that are relevant across all lines of business and within each business unit. From the perspective of national management, we look at product development and management, marketing and communications objectives to see what those things point us toward. We then formulate the theme and develop methodologies that will help support and communicate that.
It's About You, The WaMu Challenge, and What Really Matters were the three 3 themes that emanated from Opts research. Entertainment helped keep the audience engaged and aided in communicating the messages.
In 2004, Wayne Brady and his improv team performed a version of Whose Bank is it Anyway with members of the audience to drive home the importance of customer service.
Ben Zander, through stories, music and concepts captivated and inspired Washington Mutual managers and helped that think differently about what was possible.
In 2005, the audience was surprised by a mock talk show hosted by comedian Ellen DeGeneres that centered on the concept of "Everyday People," Washington Mutual's customer base.
In 2006, Colin Powell both entertained and inspired with his down-to-earth commentary on the qualities of leadership that really matter.
The State of the Group events were a resounding success on virtually all levels:
- The themes of It's About You, The WaMu Challenge, and What Really Matters resonated with both the executives who presented and their audiences
- Key performance indicators—set with high expectations—were met or exceeded each of the 3 years Opts has produced State of the Group
- Invited keynote speakers and entertainers were highly rated and created buzz that extended well beyond the meeting
- State of the Group 2005 was awarded the Paragon Award from Meeting Professionals International, the organization's highest honor, for the years most outstanding meeting