I know some of you will roll your eyes at this, but I love workplace holiday parties.  Or rather, I love holiday workplace parties in organizations where the party planners understand the opportunities these events offer to create organizational memory and take full advantage of them. 

Back when I was an in-house HR director, I worked for a big hotel company in which the COO threw a party for the hotel general managers every year.  It wasn’t a holiday party, actually; but it was a annual event that could have happened at any time during the year, so it could have been a holiday party.  GM’s would fly in from all over the country for it, and the COO would spend months planning it.  During the dinner banquet, GM’s were recognized for everything from being the top revenue producer to having the best guest service scores to making the biggest and funniest “blooper” mistake that year.  The COO spent time getting to know each award recipient and would even find out their favorite song, so it could be played as the GM came up on stage.  Videos were created, skits planned, gifts purchased (both gag gifts and real ones) and all sorts of multi-media content was created for the evening.  One year, when the party was being held in Los Angeles, the COO even hired the A/V company that had done the Academy Awards to do our party.  It was an unforgettable night that people would talk about for the rest of the year, full of celebration of the company’s people, achievements, history and culture. 

The party was expensive, and some people criticized the COO for that.  But I really believe it served its purpose: the event would motivate and inspire those GM’s throughout the year to do their best for the company.  Everyone wanted to be up on the stage receiving an award that night, or at least see their hotel and staff on the big screen during some of the video presentations.

Now, 15 years later, it’s my inspiration for a much smaller event that I help plan every year, a holiday party for my mountain rescue team.  I don’t have a $200,000 budget for this event, but I find you can still do a lot if you spend the time.  We present awards, recognize the top ten “snafus” of the year, and show a slide show of photos from the year’s rescue missions, training events and public outreach projects.  I spend hours sifting through the show to make sure everyone at the party sees a photo of themselves at least once during the evening.  We buy little gag gifts for some of the attendees, to be presented with great fanfare.  We show some of the media coverage we got during the year.  The evening celebrates who we are and what we exist for, and I hope it inspires our members the way that the hotel company’s parties always inspired me. 

This year as you plan your own organizations’s party, think about what impact it will have for your employees.  Will they see their own faces up on a big screen?  Will they be recognized in front of their peers for something they did well?  Will they laugh with their colleagues about something funny that happened during the year?   Will they talk about it later and relive great memories from the evening?  Or will it be a dull, obligatory event in which people try to escape as early as they can,  and HR spends all night “managing risk” and monitoring behavior?

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