On this B2B Frameworks blog we like to discuss formulae for successful businesses. A subject that we approach with delicacy this week is that of “celebrations”. Celebrations are considered important in domestic and business life. They are an opportunity to acknowledge achievements or milestones. They allow people to let their hair down, relax and feel good about something.
Celebrations are widely used in all types of businesses and for all types of occasions. Ryanair used to celebrate the on-time landing of their aircraft with a trumpet played over the loudspeaker. After the trumpet played the tannoy would announce that 90% of their flights arrive on time - though it should be borne in mind that the flight times were often engineered with sufficient generosity to allow this to happen. Perhaps this was recognised by customers so that in 2015 they abandoned the annoying jingle.
An advertising agency well known to us finds any excuse to celebrate. They celebrate losing jobs! Their justification for this is that they deserve a pat on the back for coming second or third. Hmmmmm.
This is the problem. Celebrations used to be relatively rare events. They should mark an occasion – one that really matters and not just winning another small job and certainly not losing one. Now we don’t want to sound like party poopers in pointing out that you can overdose on celebrations or that we can celebrate things that aren’t worthy. Celebrations must be important if only because if you type into Google the word string “the importance of celebrating” you will get over 600,000 references.
Perhaps celebrations are a cultural thing. Whereas some companies celebrate coming second or third in a pitch, others companies find it difficult to celebrate a win. They worry that this could lead to complacency and hubris. “Yes, it was good to win that job but isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Now let’s get on and do it and look for the next one”.
This does seem a bit harsh but then celebrations can get you into trouble. Boris Johnson and his colleagues at number 10 have a culture favouring celebrations. No doubt prior to the pandemic it was normal in that building to party frequently. But this has its dangers. There may be people beyond those walls who are having a tough time and how will it make them feel?
Sometimes celebrations can seem inappropriate. Taking staff on an expensive weekend skiing may be enjoyed by those that partake and be frowned upon by shareholders if the company is losing money. Will the serotonin released during the event work its wonders over the next weeks and months when people are back at their desks and required to work harder and watch the pennies?
So what is the answer? Celebrations in business are important because they have a purpose. It isn't simply to release a dollop of short lived serotonin. It is to recognise true achievement and create a memory that will encourage still further achievement. The key thing about a celebration is the message it conveys. Messages don't always require cake and booze. Alex Ferguson, when manager of Manchester United, didn’t celebrate every successful event. He liked one to one contact and he liked it personal - face to face or over the phone. He would praise success just as readily as he would turn on the hairdryer if he thought criticism was required. It is the stuff of legends that he turned up at Lee Sharpe's house when Ryan Giggs and a number of the other players were getting ready to celebrate. He turned the hairdryer on the lads and sent them home. Let’s be clear about celebrations. They shouldn’t be overdone, they shouldn’t be underdone, they should take place with just the right frequency at just the right time.