Today’s show is on Creating A Culture of Celebration. Listen to the show on iTunes, Spotify and Stitcher.

Don [00:00:00] Celebrations are typically underappreciated by leadership or even if they appreciate it, it’s not done often enough. So, how can we as managers, as leaders create a celebration strategy about how we’re going to celebrate in ways that, even if not regular, are consistently done around things that support our mission, our vision, our values as well as our business outcomes?

Don [00:00:28] My name is Don Rheem CEO of E3 Solutions and author of the book, “Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures.”

Don [00:00:37] I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement and I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level create engaging workplace environments where employees feel safe, recognized and valued. Employees who feel safe are happier, healthier and more productive.

Don [00:00:55] Each week, my team and I take on topics impacting managers and we offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges. And, you’re listening to Thrive By Design, a podcast created by E3 Solutions to give managers, CEOs and leaders the tips, strategies and tools needed to create an engaged, culture at work.

Kelly [00:01:19] Welcome. I’m your host, Kelly Burns, vice president of client experiences at E3 Solutions.

Kelly [00:01:25] As always, we tackle critical workplace themes each week with our resident expert and CEO Don Rheem.

Kelly [00:01:31] Welcome Don and thank you for taking the time to be here with us.

Don [00:01:35] It’s my pleasure, Kelly.

Kelly [00:01:36] As we heard at the top of today’s episode, this week’s focus is on how to create a culture of celebration. We all work so hard in the jobs that we have and strong leaders identify, recognize and reward efforts and accomplishments.

Kelly [00:01:49] In a way from big corporate events every year, they know that connecting relationally to celebrate often with their employees is what helps drive the fun, the positivity and the value of team bonding in an organization.

Kelly [00:02:04] It’s great for inclusion, collaboration, appreciation but it doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen very often. We ask in our survey that E3 A, if employees believe that an organization celebrates accomplishments regularly. The first year we ask that question, this ranks at the bottom of the list: 2.66, out of 4.0. That’s in the disengaged category.

Kelly [00:02:27] Unfortunately that score doesn’t get much better year-over-year. Employers are not learning how to celebrate accomplishments and celebrate their teams in the workplace. Year-over-year, we only see a growth to 2.73 out of 4.0. So, it’s still doing, it’s performing really, really poorly in our survey.

Kelly [00:02:46] Why is this the case? Why can’t employers get on board with or see the value in celebration and start to instill a regular cadence of this in the workplace?

Don [00:02:56] I think celebration is a victim to just the pace of change that’s occurring in business today and doing business. Markets change more quickly. Products need to change more quickly. Customers are demanding more customized products and responses by the vendors that they rely on.

Don [00:03:15] And in the organizations where we are working, they’re just going so fast and so furious to get to survive to stay ahead to maintain market share. I think we’ve lost this time, there’s no time to pause to celebrate. And, what happens is they hit a milestone, something really important happens, but then they’re already charging ahead for the next one.

Don [00:03:37] That’s a problem because when we don’t pause to celebrate people don’t have the ability to feel how successful the organization is and this is one of the most important aspects of celebration. It’s letting employees have this felt experience that we’re successful, that the celebrations allow us, well number one, just to have fun. Just to have fun at work. And that’s okay and celebration should be fun.

Don [00:04:02] It acknowledges our success and how well we’re doing as an organization and that’s really important to send that message that we’re successful not just because we accomplished that task but because we’re now celebrating it. And the celebration shouldn’t be small and insignificant. It should be let’s celebrate and leaders should invest in that celebration and make it feel special.

Don [00:04:23] It allows the team members to come together from different teams, allows the whole tribe to come together and to see all the different components and see the people that they’re often just e-mailing with or seeing from a distance. So being able to have that gathering experience of the tribe can see each other is really important.

Don [00:04:41] And then the other and you mentioned this in your intro., it just helps create a positive environment at work. The science around a positive environment at work is really important and valuable. Employees perform better, they work harder, they live longer, they’re healthier, they’re more responsive, creative, innovative. So anything we can do that brings positivity to a workforce especially when people are working so hard. And that doesn’t necessarily feel positive. But the hard work can be reframed into more of a positive experience, if it’s celebrated that’s so important.

Kelly [00:05:17] You mentioned getting together as an organization to celebrate and incorporate celebration is obviously extremely important, especially for bringing the whole team together that often doesn’t see or interact with each other on a regular basis. But every individual that shows up to those celebrations played a part in the success of the organization. And as we have talked about regularly, having an employee feel the sense of connection to their role in the success of the organization is critical.

Kelly [00:05:47] What other aspects of the organization to celebration need to take place in order for individuals to feel that sense of connection to how an organization is succeeding?

Don [00:05:58] In large organizations, we see four clear places where this could occur, smaller organizations, three.

Don [00:06:03] So let me start with a large organization. Certainly at the whole organizational level bringing everyone together even if it’s virtually. Then at the department level, so a big department, whether it’s the R&D department or marketing or sales or office operations, celebrate this as a department. Then there’s the team level. And that’s the smaller group under a manager. It could be five, six, eight, 10 people but teams should be celebrating. And, then, the other place to celebrate is one-on-one with individual employees. And that’s just simply, typically where a manager or some other leader in the organization celebrates the accomplishments of an individual.

Don [00:06:41] Now in smaller organizations you typically don’t have the departmental level. So it’s gonna be the tribe as a whole, the team and the individual.

Kelly [00:06:47] And whose responsibility is it for these to occur?

Don [00:06:51] Well ultimately it’s the CEO’s responsibility. The CEO should be encouraging this atmosphere of celebration and when you step back, Kelly, and look broadly at the research around employee engagement, which we do all the time, one of the characteristics of the companies that most consistently have very high levels of employee engagement are what would be called, rituals of celebration.

Don [00:07:16] They’re doing it all the time. They’re just they’re celebrating almost at every opportunity they can. That just brings so much fun and positivity and an acknowledgment of success into the culture that is it’s a part of the fabric of the culture. That has huge impacts on engagement.

Don [00:07:32] But if the CEO is not good at this and some CEOs don’t believe in it. They’re just all you know—what are the numbers? Show me the numbers, that’s a waste of time, that’s a waste of money, then perhaps H.R. needs to step in. And that’s what we’ve seen happen, where the V.P. of H.R or the director of H.R. at least gets permission from the CEO to do something even though the CEO isn’t participating or behind it. That’s okay.

Don [00:07:54] And people in H.R. positions should really push for it. But there are times when a manager just can’t get H.R. to do it, the CEO is not doing it and quite frankly then it’s the manager’s job to just celebrate the team and that’s okay. Have a budget for it. Create it. Be thoughtful about it.

Don [00:08:10] But we have also seen where managers just aren’t good at this. It’s not that they’re against a celebration but they really just don’t know, well, what would we do? What would the team do? Is it something we do on Fridays? Is it pizza on Friday? So, if the managers isn’t very good at it, the manager could just assign or solicit someone’s help on the team. Someone who is good at those kinds of things, perhaps more of an extrovert or perhaps someone that just had experience putting together social events, maybe at their church or wherever it doesn’t really matter.

Don [00:08:40] The manager can ask someone to do it for them. Being very supportive but handing that task off. At the end of this process is, even when the manager doesn’t care about celebrating, then at some point it may be that an employee on the team just has to say we’re gonna do this and plan something off-site and the manager isn’t even involved because the manager doesn’t care.

Don [00:09:01] But someone has to take responsibility for this happening because we know it has a huge impact but especially in this workplace where people are working so hard. When do we pause and stop and just say, hey, you know what, we’re amazing, look what we did?

Kelly [00:09:19] That reminds me that there are certainly some precursors to celebration and one of the biggest ones is having metrics for your success. Having clear goals, clear outcomes, clear expectations that, you know, that you’re hitting as an organization, department team or individual. If a manager or a CEO and senior leadership team isn’t clear about what those metrics are, you never really going to know when it’s time to celebrate or when you’re doing well.

Don [00:09:46] Kelly, we really saw this during the recession when companies weren’t doing well and struggling to get by. And here we are encouraging them to celebrate and the CEO would say what is there to celebrate. We’re hanging on by our fingernails and that’s when it got kind of innovative.

Don [00:10:05] An order comes in and it’s from your longest customer. So, let’s celebrate the longevity of our customers. That is, we just got an order today from Company X. They’ve been with us for 25 years. We have this longevity in the marketplace we’re respected, these clients they’re loyal and they’re continuing to come back to us. Maybe it’s just simply a dollar amount for that quarter. Okay. We achieved a million dollars in sales this quarter and it’s not the biggest quarter you ever had. But it’s just a marker and we’re going to celebrate it. We’re going to celebrate tenure of individuals, employees that have simply been there 10, 15, 20 years.

Don [00:10:42] That sends a very positive message about longevity in the company and people stay here for a long time so it must be a good place to work. Let’s start finding what these things are and it may not be around the business objectives of the company, a level of profitability or market share or whatever but managers leaders can look for things to celebrate in their employees.

Don [00:11:02] And some of those things, I mean the most typical ones are around sales and I get that and that’s important. But are we celebrating the demonstration of our core values inside the organization? Do we have an award for people that are the most supportive of others or demonstrate the most respect? Let’s expand what it is we’re celebrating so it’s not just some of the typical things and the rewards can shift to let’s move beyond employee of the month. Let’s move beyond you get your own parking space for the next month. Let’s celebrate things and reward in new ways.

Kelly [00:11:36] I think that’s a great opportunity for you to invite employees into the conversation. How do they like to be celebrated? How do they like to celebrate as a team? Some of the standard ways of doing so are often, they instill a bit of a perfunctory feeling for the employee. We have to go to this. It’s on the calendar, we do it every year. It’s just another, essentially, task to check off the list versus something that truly increases your oxytocin, gets you really excited to be with other team members.

Kelly [00:12:03] We recently conducted a survey with an organization who asked the question, how would they like to celebrate and I can’t tell you how many people said they wanted to go to Top Golf, which is such a fun simple activity for us to pull together as an organization. A very quick win for H.R. to pull off if they have the funds to contribute towards that and completely driven by the employees desires to blow off some steam have some fun together in this physical and fun golfing environment. So inviting your employees into the conversation and what would it look like to have a fun celebration as a team is a great way for you to get a quick win with them.

Don [00:12:42] Yeah I know what it looks like on our team Kelly. The last thing we celebrated and it was a surprise for everybody. But we went to this skydiving adventure this, what is it?

Kelly [00:12:51] Fly Zone.

Don [00:12:52] Fly zone. Where it was just so much fun to see the team get into their flight suits and jump into the chamber and get that feeling of skydiving. And it was just a lovely fun time for everybody, just celebrating how hard we’ve been working hard at E3. And then a previous one we did that I really loved was when we surprised everybody. We had them for dinner at a restaurant and then we literally took a walk and around the corner. It was Cirque de Soleil and we had front row seats for a bunch of the team members. That’s a part of the emotional velcro where we get to celebrate together. It’s a shared experience. It was just overtly fun and it helps connect people.

Kelly [00:13:30] Those kinds of celebrations are powerful. They’re memories that you make together, they’re experiences that you build together. They’re not the day-to-day kind of celebrations that I think we can also work through and get better as organizations. I would consider micro-celebrations to be equally as important on a regular basis.

Kelly [00:13:50] Our organization operates a lot on Slack, the platform for chat communication as a team and I think we do a really great job of micro-celebrations inside Slack to highlight a big win for a client or another team member. We use giphys and laugh with one another on a regular basis and celebrate the success of team members or an organization as a whole.

Kelly [00:14:15] These micro celebrations are free they don’t take a lot of time and they’re incredibly important for our organization to know what’s going on in the organization who’s contributing to how things are going and it’s a really powerful statement for celebration.

Don [00:14:30] And a lot of leaders don’t realize these celebrations have some very traditional benefits. So, a celebration is a form of feedback, if you will. And, it’s telling everyone, and there’s not enough feedback and recognition inside organizations. So when we have this celebration we’re recognizing what people have done. We’re giving them feedback on what a great job it is. But also we talk and our and our listeners know we’re very focused on creating a relational culture as opposed to just a transactional culture just focused on utilization rates and the numbers.

Don [00:15:02] It needs to be a human experience and that’s what the brain expects to find when it’s in a tribe. It’s not just constantly being measured and pushed and driven but where you feel connected to the people that you’re working on things together, aligned moving in the same direction. It’s just it’s incredibly value and it’s a relatively minuscule cost to do it.

Don [00:15:25] You mentioned how on Slack we’re constantly using emojis and gifs to send messages, you know people get little trophies when they’ve done something that shows up or a high five. It’s just great. And they’re small they don’t cost anything but it’s a very clear end and visual indication to someone that what they just did was appreciated and neurochemically what happens is a little dopamine oxytocin gets released even with these little emojis or giphys. If it just makes us smile, there’s a positive neurochemical response.

Kelly [00:15:55] So what regular interval would cause these survey results, the particular ones that we ask around, does this organization celebrate accomplishments regularly, that is always a low score. What regular interval would help bump that up to a much more engaged workforce?

Don [00:16:15] I don’t see anything in the research that would just a specific schedule or cadence. But I would just say is as often as we can. Let’s do this regularly.

Don [00:16:24] Now some organizations and we hear about this primarily in Silicon Valley and other sort of micro Silicon Valleys and whether it’s in Austin or New York or St. Lewis, where they might have you know parties every Friday or every other Friday and they break early and they get together and gather. That’s very regular and expected. But I’ve also found that the more regular something is, if it’s too regular becomes taken for granted and it loses its specialness.

Don [00:16:49] I liked the serendipitous celebration. I like it linked to something important that’s happened. Again, even if it’s not a specific business objective but something important that has happened it’s a great time. We celebrated recently, Kelly, the expectancy of your second child and so we just had this wonderful gathering where the team came together and celebrated with you about your second child that you’re expecting within the next 30 days or so. That’s a fantastic opportunity has nothing to do with our business objectives has everything to do that we’re a tight knit group that cares and loves each other and we want to come and have that be felt.

Kelly [00:17:27] I certainly enjoyed it.

Don [00:17:29] I know you did.

Kelly [00:17:30] Noting the date your company was started and celebrating the company anniversary every year together and the success of the team from that year.

Don [00:17:40] You bring up something else and I’m horrible at this but. But the individual employees start date, their anniversary with the company. And I always feel a little sad when someone says, hey, today represents my fifth year of working at E3 Solutions and I feel like I should have known that and I should. But what are these things that are important to people and employees know their start date.  Put it on the calendar and get it done. Not a business objective but it’s something that helps develop bonds between the employee. Again emotional velcro between the employee and the company.

Kelly [00:18:11] So I was recently reading this industry report that said that 74 percent of employees who were surveyed, if they hadn’t celebrated their accomplishments with their co-workers, they say they’re more likely to leave their job. Does that stat surprise you?

Don [00:18:24] Well sure it does because we want to feel successful in what we’re doing and we want to have fun. A huge part of what our species does is we celebrate. We’ve created dance, we’ve created song, music all of these rituals of where we culturally celebrate. We see this going back deep deep deep into the history of homosapiens, it’s a natural part of what we should be doing. And if I do that at work it’s going to increase the connection at work.

Don [00:18:50] Celebrations are typically underappreciated by leadership. Or, even if they appreciate it, it’s not done often enough. So how can we as managers, as leaders create a celebration strategy about how we’re going to celebrate in ways that, even if not regular, are consistently done around things that support our mission, our vision, our values as well as our business outcomes? They don’t have to be expensive events. These are relational events that help tie people together and send a clear unmitigated signal that we are in a successful organization and that just shouldn’t be underestimated.

Kelly [00:19:29] That’s it for today. I’m your host. Kelly Burns and thank you for listening.

Kelly [00:19:33] Tune in to next week’s episode. We’ll be talking about how to lead a multigenerational workforce, specifically, baby boomers and Gen X.

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Kelly [00:20:07] Thrive By Design is produced and audio engineered by Megan Rummler. All music in this episode is sourced royalty-free from

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