Volume 129, December 2013: Celebration

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

This is a monthly electronic magazine for anyone who wants to be a better leader, coach, facilitator, or simply, to tune up their people skills. It is a complimentary publication, devoted to the next evolution of Quality Thinking.

Publisher: © Key Associates, 2013 ISSN # 1545-8873

“All who(m) joy would win must share it – happiness was born a twin.” – Lord Byron, in Don Juan

In my workshops on Celebration, I ask participants to detail the aspects of a great celebration. Every time they fill flipchart pages with creative and exciting aspects of festival and fun, showing that they indeed know how to celebrate well. We discuss how people have a human need for celebration, how the research shows many business benefits of celebration, and how high-performing companies use this cultural lever to galvanize their workforces. I then ask why they are not doing this. Silence. Then the fears start oozing out: fear of failure (a party flop), fear of appearing too touchy-feely, seeming misuse of company resources, the actual cost, lack of time, and lack of know-how.

As we parade through the different types of celebrations, there are examples of high-end and also, very inexpensive ways of conducting each type of celebration:

  • Cyclical (e.g., Annual Picnic)
  • Acknowledgement and Recognition (e.g., Team of the Month)
  • Success and Triumph (e.g., Branding Parties)
  • Comfort and Letting Go (e.g., Loss of a Fellow Employee)
  • Personal Transitions (e.g., Being Bought Out)
  • Altruism (e.g., Building a Habitat House)
  • Play for Its Own Sake (e.g., Songs and Spoofs on Southwest Airlines flights)

Many more examples are given in my book with Terrence Deal, Corporate Celebration: Play, Purpose and Profit at Work (1998). The best celebrations are those that are born spontaneously, and consist of basic activities, like eating together and telling stories. A good celebration is like a prayer – born in a nanosecond, spontaneous, and heart-felt.

In general, corporate entities do not see employee exits as warranting ceremonial recognition. Yet many of these lost employees have invested years of productivity in a career full of promise, just to have their dreams come to an abrupt end. Some ritual of transition confers dignity upon the departing person, and also provides comfort and closure to those who remain.

Here is a story I like to tell that illustrates these ideas. A leader, who was adored and had mentored many employees, was let go by his company. The mentees asked if a farewell party could be held; this was denied by administration, as they felt it was inappropriate and would draw negative attention. So the staff elected to bring in dishes for a potluck anyway, where they shared stories about the impact of their mentor and his leadership. They then helped their leader pack up his office, and as he left the building, the staff formed a double line, shook his hand in turn on either side, and then planted a small tree in his wake.

There is one type of celebration that seems to work well for most people: altruism. Do something as a group for others. Doing good in the world is a powerful catalyst for collective energy; people can celebrate by exuding kindness to those who need a boost in life. Consider the following:

  • Serenade the residents of a nursing home.
  • Make and serve a meal for the homeless together.
  • Invite your customers to a party and celebrate them.
  • Volunteer to complete a community project, like a playground.
  • Dream up random acts of kindness, carry them out and create a company photo album of the deeds.
  • And give people the time off and permission to do it.

Practice Point

It is not solely the leader’s job to orchestrate functions; employees are very good at creating their own celebrations, given time and permission. Craft a celebration using the guidance of your internal customers – a celebration team.


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