Great Service Leaders Celebrate

Celebration serves a variety of functions in an organization. On the simplest level, it is a form of recognition and reward. That, in and of itself, is an important function, a worthy purpose.  But celebration is also a way of nourishing group spirit. It represents a moment in time when a glimpse of a transformed organization–a product of the efforts of people from many levels–can be seen, felt, and enjoyed. In highly human terms, celebration reaffirms to people that they are an important part of something that really matters.

For most people, the feeling of being part of something important and meaningful is a powerful motivator. Being part of a “winning team,” being seen as the best in the industry, achieving something others admire and respect become a power that can make salary increases, bonuses, employee-of-the-month plaques and even the most carefully designed perk program seem lackluster by comparison.

Celebration reminds everyone that purposes and goals not only exist, but are exciting, important, and attainable. Reconfirming to people at all levels in your organization that they are part of something important, that the service they provide is vital to both the organization and the people they serve may be the most important motivational principle of all.   Celebration should be an integral part of the way you recognize and reward good performance. To make it effective, pay attention to when you celebrate, why you celebrate, with whom you celebrate, and how you celebrate.

When

Timing is a key variable in a multitude of service activities, and celebration is no exception. As with other forms of reinforcement, “the quicker the better” is one good rule of thumb. It’s hard for people to get realistically happy in December over something they did last June. Following are some good times to celebrate.

  1. When you need to mark the end of a project or major effort. Achievers (those who take pride in a job well done) often have a need for closure, the knowledge that their efforts have led to a visible conclusion. When the work just goes on and on, lack of closure can burn them out. Achievers need to know they’ve achieved, in other words. In the absence of natural closure, invent it: “Fifty days without . . . ,” “three quarters in a row during which we . . . ,” the tenth (one-hundredth?) positive customer letter.
  2. When you are making a transition from one stage to another. Celebration can not only mark the end of one phase, it can acknowledge the beginning of a new one, reinforcing new goals and standards with the recognition that the last ones proved eminently doable.
  3. When your unit has met an important goal. Whether short term or long term, goals achieved in business should be like goals scored in a soccer or hockey game: an occasion for a few immediate “high fives” before the game resumes in earnest. Spontaneity is as important in celebrating as planning. Sometimes you’ll have the champagne on ice. Other times, you’ll just want to savor the unexpected moment in whatever way seems best at the time.

Why

Picking your spots is important. So, too, is having a reason for the celebration. Without a strategic component, celebrations can become trivialized or wind up reinforcing the wrong things. Following are some good reasons to celebrate.

  1. To motivate. Celebrating obviously lends passion to the rational, emotion to the logical, and joy to the somber. It rekindles the spirit and leaves a warm glow that can endure long after the moment has passed. It pumps air back into the organizational balloon.
  2. To model. Celebrations create a forum or setting that can be used to tell the stories of new service heroes. By making good examples of your people, others on the service team gain a deeper understanding of the attitudes and actions you want them to emulate.
  3. To communicate priorities. Just as what gets rewarded gets repeated, what you decide to celebrate showcases your priorities. If the reasons you select involve cost-cutting, budget-reducing, and general frugality, your people will know to pinch pennies. If service excellence is the consistent theme, in contrast, you’ll make it very clear that working for customers is at the top of your list.
  4. To encourage. Sales organizations know the value of motivational sales rallies that renew the spirit of people whose job entails hearing no in every variation known to man (and woman). Service people endure similar stresses, and often without the counterbalance of sales successes.

Who

Celebrations are for people, by people. The human element has a lot of dimensions, including those that follow.

  1. Your role as manager. This is one occasion where it’s better to lead than delegate. Sure, it’s important to get others involved. But you miss an important and necessary opportunity and can actually send the wrong message by taking an “I’ll just stay here in the background” position. You do not have to be a charismatic, back-slapping cheerleader type to lead the effort. Be yourself, but be up front–that’s how your people know the celebration is truly meaningful to you.
  2. Their role as participants. Basically, the more the better. There are times for small, intimate gatherings of a chosen few. But times of celebration aren’t among them. Err on the side of too many people rather than too few. Let everyone bask in the warmth of success.
  3. The prominence of contributors. Involve everyone who contributed in the cause for celebration. The key word is “contributed.” You don’t want to muddy the celebratory waters by giving credit to people where none is due, but you also don’t want to recognize only a few of the many who played a part. It’s even worth the risk of an Academy Awards marathon. For recipients, the chance to be acknowledged, and to use their “moment in the sun” to acknowledge those who contributed to their achievements, outweighs where the big and little hands are on the clock.
  4. The appearance of special guests. You compliment your people and your guests when you reinforce the importance of the celebration by inviting others. Consider including a few key customers or vendors, or people from another department on which your people rely. A caveat: Defer to the feelings of the celebrants in bringing in outsiders–the unexpected appearance of someone they have good reason to label a “customer from hell” can throw cold water in their faces.

How

There’s no one right way to celebrate. In fact, try to explore different forms of celebration to keep things from becoming routine and predictable. (You can, to be sure, have worse problems than getting yourself into a “celebrations rut” because of your continuing stream of successes.) A few guidelines follow.

  1. Keep it upbeat. Celebrations should be fun, they should be positive in nature, and they should avoid things your celebrants find boring (such as the shopworn “chicken-a-la-Goodyear” meal and attendant boring speeches and bad jokes). Make the event festive and fun. Get lots of ideas by getting lots of people involved in the planning and execution.
  2. Use lasting symbols. Find tangible ways to preserve the moment: hats and t-shirts, banners, a video that tells the story (or, better yet, lets those who did the deed tell the story), a write-up in internal publications, special plaques, or keepsakes.
  3. Make it classy. Aim for celebrations that are public, not private; open, not closed; spontaneous, not scheduled to the minute; and inclusive, not elitist. They should reflect organizational values start to finish.
  4. Recognize and reward. Pull the celebration together around the people and the achievements you’re recognizing. Otherwise, it’s just another party.

About Chip&John

Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of several best-selling books. Their newest book is "Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What to do About it."
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