Celebrate Like You Mean It

I was traveling around St. Patrick’s Day and while I ate dinner and enjoyed some Irish music I saw a promotional T-shirt for Guinness beer announcing the holiday. It was a very stylish T-shirt, but it was the tagline that I loved the most. It read:

Celebrate like you mean it.

I haven’t been able to get that phrase out of my mind since.

Organizational leaders think about celebrations a lot. Maybe not the type Guinness was thinking about with that tagline, but they definitely think about them. They think about what, when, where and how to celebrate. Sometimes they get it right. But far too often they don’t.

Celebrations are important, but even more important is handling celebrations appropriately.

Of the four points mentioned above (what, when, where and how to celebrate), what to celebrate and how to celebrate it are the most important for you to consider. But first, let’s start with an underlying principle – why to celebrate in the first place.

Why to Celebrate – Consider the Underlying Purpose

There are at least three great reasons to celebrate in your organization:

to commemorate results and efforts.

to recognize people accomplishments and contributions.

to appreciate people.

When you think about these purposes, especially in an organizational context, it makes it easier to think about when to celebrate.

But before we get more specific about that, think about the last five times you arranged or participated in a celebration, and what the expressed purposes were. And, perhaps more importantly, what are the situations when you didn’t celebrate that, using the purposes above, you could have?

When to Celebrate – Consider your Reasons

Read any book on team building, employee engagement or project management and you will read that celebrations are important. You can easily find lists of reasons to celebrate that usually include things like:

Celebrate when you . . .

Reach a goal.

Achieve a milestone.

Gain a major Client.

Release a new product.

Win an award.

These are probably obvious times to celebrate (in part because so many experts have reminded us). Most organizations do something at these types of “big achievements.” And yet when you consider the stated purpose above, there are so many other situations when you could celebrate. What if you celebrated when:

People worked exceptionally hard?

People delighted a customer?

People lived your organizational values in a unique or important way?

People deserved thanks?

People reached a milestone, even if the project isn’t complete yet?

Each of these lists could be longer – but please notice a critical difference. The first list is about completion and success, the second is about people. The first list is the obvious times to celebrate; the second list might be more of a surprise and have greater meaning to those being celebrated.

Successful celebrations occur in part when you are celebrating for the right reasons, and when those reasons are perfectly clear to those involved in the celebration.

How to Celebrate – Consider Your Attitude

Ever been to a celebration that flopped? Chances are it wasn’t about the cake, punch or surroundings. The single biggest reason why celebrations flop is because people are just going through the motions.

Like when the leader arrives late, makes a proclamation then rushes back to his or her meeting.

Or the purpose for the celebration isn’t clear.

Or it has been postponed three times.

These are all examples of celebrations becoming perfunctory and without any passion. And in the end, these “celebrations” hurt engagement, morale and energy more than they help.

If you want successful celebrations you must be real and genuine about the reason for celebrating. You must be gracious and thankful for those involved. Your comments must be heart-felt, and you must be present – really there in the moment – sharing in the celebratory feelings of the event.

There is another article that could be written (and I”ll probably write it) about the ways to do the celebration, because not all celebrations are (or should be) created equally.

However you do it, in the end, the biggest key to any celebration’s success is all about the slogan from that T-shirt. If you want your celebrations to be meaningful, celebrate like you mean it.

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