Most of us celebrate too little, recognize the work of others too infrequently, and honor others' contributions too timidly. The holiday season offers an opportunity to correct that. And yet, most company year-end parties end up being an obligatory time commitment -- and sometimes even a personal intrusion.
If the year-end forces phony holiday cheer or silent suffering (or self-medication!) something has gone wrong. I'd suggest taking a fresh look at how you can celebrate the progress your organization has made, and especially the people in your organization. With some intentional planning around inclusion, meaning, and tradition, year-end parties can become important annual celebration.
My family has a favorite year-end celebration that I've often wondered if its spirit might be transferred to a work-related setting. Every New Year's Eve, we take a large sheet of paper and make a column for each month.
Then, we ask for everyone's help to fill in the big moments and milestones of each month -- whatever anyone wants to remember or be recognized for. It could be chicken pox, or a first job, or a big school project -- anything worth remembering by any family member.
Over the years, we've assembled the month-by-month tapestry of our family's entire history, a summary of what mattered most to various family members along the way. It allows us to see in a single decade, for example, an evolution of losing baby teeth, getting their replacements straightened, and ultimately the liberation from braces.
Why a "year in review" moment is a great idea
Businesses go through toddler, childhood, adolescent and young adult stages, too, with similar and predictable milestones: first paying customer, first profitable quarter, new office location, opening cities, adding product lines, going global, going public or shooting for a different peak.
If you're not careful, business milestones can dissolve into never-ending deadlines of budgets, timetables and deliverables. You'll never take the time to step back and admire your progress, celebrate even minor milestones, or honor those who made it all possible -- including suppliers, investors, customers and team members. The year-end party is a way to celebrate the progress the organization has made that creates a running history of contributions and achievements that might not otherwise be acknowledged.
At JetBlue, former CEO Dave Barger used to make an annual word chart, which would be the jumping off point for the events and people who best illustrated something meaningful that happened that year and that bound us together as an enterprise.
A variation on his year-in-review might feature video or photo highlights and milestones. Whatever your medium, taking stock of the year for the organization, and especially its people, should be an important part of every year. If done right, it should be an authentic celebration.
In any company, there's a lot to celebrate -- even if it's prospective and still just out of reach. Stepping back at year-end to get the view at 30,000 feet and to share it is worth a party.
Doing something meaningful is more likely to create a tradition that celebrates the essence of the enterprise and its mission, and more focused on honoring those at every level who've made the company what it is. This kind of celebration can likely evolve over time into a meaningful year-end tradition that people will look forward to and plan for.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.