I really suck at celebrating. Too strong? Sorry. When I started thinking about celebration, and its’ importance to a healthy staff culture, I was shocked by how lousy I am at it. Why is that and what role should it play in my staff leadership strategy?
Why is celebration important? I think it’s important because leaders and organizations that fail to celebrate miss a golden opportunity to pause and recognize the contributions of their team. People need recognition for their efforts and a moment to acknowledge that their hard work resulted in something important. People also need to replenish their emotional and physical reserves so that they are ready to reengage in a healthy and long term way.
Finally, I think we need to celebrate because it helps us reconnect with each other in meaningful community. People who feel isolated lose their connection to others who are striving towards the same goals and fighting the same battles. Celebration facilitates re-connecting and promotes a shared history that helps us feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. If we don’t reconnect personally, time and projects run together. We also become machines who feel even more isolated then we already do because of social media. Celebration keeps us human.
In an earlier life I remember a time when the company I worked for tried to celebrate the completion of the installation of satellite dishes on 124 stores. I say tried because it looked like we were celebrating, but it felt like the festive spirit was forced or unnatural. Most of the components of a celebration were in place like a rented venue, food and alcohol (mid 80’s), and the leadership walking around shaking everyone’s hands and smiling. But the facade of celebration was destroyed when the president cornered me and asked for an update on the next project that had just begun. He didn’t relive the success of the satellite project with me or thank me for all of the hours and extra effort I’d put in. Instead he choose to “challenge” (more like threaten) me to get it done as fast as possible and under budget (again).
You see. The thing about celebrations is that there is always more to get done when the party is over. Leadership is always looking over the next hill and focused on what needs to get done instead of what was just successfully completed. I think it is also indicative of the personality type of an executive level leader to be a hard charger and always leaning forward. I learned that day that either I keep moving forward or someone else will be more than happy to take my place. That single comment successfully eliminated the importance of celebrating for me and made it just more corporate fluff and words that never matched actions.
So lest you think that this is a marketplace malady only, let me assure you that it happens in the nonprofit and church world as well. There are always more programs to launch, new buildings to build, people to care for, and a community that needs more and more help. It has been my experience that the church does do a slightly better job of celebrating then the marketplace. But this is still an area that is ripe for improvement because of the load that church staff bear as they strive to fulfill their calling.
One time, I was responsible for overseeing the entire holiday celebration planning process and execution for a church I helped lead. I worked continuously pulling together teams and all of the trappings of a proper seasonal celebration. As the Executive Pastor I also built into the plan giving all of the staff a few days off after the event to recharge and reconnect with their families. I thought it was a good idea to make it paid time off and include a small bonus to facilitate their time away. Not everyone agreed and my plan was altered because of the need to get everyone back in the saddle as quickly as possible to follow-up on the visitors and their families. What could have been a much deserved time of refreshment through celebration, quickly became a sour time of moving forward on fumes instead of being 100% recharged and ready to re-engage.
Why am I lousy at celebrating? Because I have been brain washed to believe that moving forward was always more important than pausing to recognize, replenish, and reconnect. So. How do I overcome my natural inclinations and previous conditioning? Two ways. First I find a person who has not been brain washed and who truly enjoys throwing a party to do it for me. There are actually people who love to hang out with other people and celebrate with them their accomplishments. They are called “Event Coordinators” and naturally excel at creating the environment needed to facilitate a festive place of recognition and acknowledge. I really admire these folks and think that they are horribly undervalued and hamstrung by leaders who only know how to “take the next hill!” I believe that if you are lucky enough to find one of these special people that you should elevate their importance within the organization and release them to do whatever they think is needed to improve the culture.
The second thing that I do is much tougher for me because it does not come naturally. I strive to promote celebrating within our culture and continuously run interference for my Event Coordinator to protect them from hard chargers and people addicted to moving forward. This is another time when “Speed of the Leader, speed of the team” is everything. The senior most leaders need to sanction the events and make it OK for people to pause and reflect on their successes. This is the part that I really suck at. Generally all I can see is the next thing and celebrating is just taking time away from getting back to work and getting things done. Pray for me!
Here is the bottom line and how it makes sense inside of my head. People who are recognized, replenished, and reconnected with each other will get more done, faster, and better then people who are worn out, sick of challenges, and bitter because they feel alone in their work. So. From a business perspective there is really good ROI (Return on Investment) in celebrating because you get more out of a fully charged up and happy workforce. Celebrating can be a really great thing if you let party-people do it right, often, and for the correct reasons.
Now I am going to celebrate the completion of this blog for 3.5 minutes by treating myself to a walk outside and a piece of chocolate. If you need help justifying or creating a celebration oriented culture, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to help.
By: Dr. John C. Mrazek