As the new year begins, people are coming down from the high of the holidays and facing the slump of the dark, cold days of January and February.
It’s the perfect time for a company culture event.
Whether people have been traveling to see relatives for Christmas or celebrating Friendsgivings, they’re eager to counter the ensuing social lull with another excuse to get together. The new year also provides the perfect time to recognize your hard-working employees and make a fresh start by ensuring your company's mission and values are aligned with the people who work for you.
Only 65 percent of companies were planning to hold a holiday party this year, the lowest number since the recession in 2009, according to the Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc. "2018 Holiday Party Survey." That's a mistake, especially for small and mid-sized businesses that often have tight-knit employees who welcome social time together.
December is a busy time for employees spending time with loved ones, so throw a holiday-themed party in January or even early February instead. Employees won’t care if it’s “late.” Or if you've given the holiday party a pass, take an opportunity to celebrate your people and your company.
The key is to create an event that gets your people excited about the year ahead. Here are four things to remember as you plan.
1. Create a unique event for your people.
The point of a start-of-year event is to show your appreciation. This can't be faked. A cheese plate and some beer won’t make anyone feel valued and appreciated, much less start the year off with some hype. Make sure there's a bar or drink tickets, food for everyone and professional staff like bartenders and servers. If you're allowing your team members to bring guests, take them into consideration, too.
Find an idea that suits your people. If your team members are more introverted, maybe they would prefer a game tournament over a swanky night out on the town. If your people are dripping with high-end elegance, make sure they would be on board with a costume party before hosting a retro prom. If they’re goofy creatives, any theme should be easy to sell. And if you have a healthy mix, you can focus the most on good food and drinks, plenty of recognition and a cool environment that will make people happy.
That being said, remember to be a responsible host and plan ahead to manage alcohol consumption. Alcohol can help people relax and loosen up, but it also carries the risk of overindulgence. You don’t want people embarrassing themselves, and you don't want those who aren't big drinkers getting upset. Make sure everyone knows a company party is still a professional environment.
2. Use the party to build bridges.
This should be a fun, comfortable event for employees, but for leaders, it's work. Shake some hands, hold some babies and introduce people. I barely ate at our Thanksgiving potluck because I was busy walking around, admitting I hardly knew people and taking every opportunity to introduce people to others they might not have met yet.
Be proactive in your leadership, and build bridges to and between others. The benefit of a smaller organization is that everyone can pretty much know who everyone else is. These parties are perfect for making that happen, but leadership needs to be intentional and use the event to make a cultural impact.
Depending on the size of your organization, consider appointing cultural ambassadors. Get these people excited to facilitate connections before the event and follow up with teammates afterward. These individuals can also help with accountability. For example, if you tell an employee before the event, "I really want you to meet Chuck in accounting," those ambassadors can help you make sure you follow through on that intro.
3. Don't make attendance mandatory.
You can’t force fun, so work hard to create something people want to attend. According to a U.S. survey by Randstad, 90 percent of workers would rather get a bonus or a few extra vacation days than go to a company holiday party. This is tough competition for priorities, but a bigger bonus doesn’t build culture or get your teams unified around a purpose.
To create an event that’s worth their time, don’t make it too corporate. Have a toast, and talk about the vision, but don't make it a meeting. That's not the point of this sort of event. If you’re struggling for ideas to fill the night, talk to employees to find out what excites them.
4. Don't blow your budget.
Renting out the top floor of the Ritz doesn't necessarily translate to culture. Use thoughtfulness and creativity to cover any budgetary gaps. There’s often a wealth of resources connected to people you already know.
We have a friend who was working as a DJ at one of our cultural events and he wanted to bring his “hype man” as well. We told him up front that we couldn't afford his normal rate, so we offered half the price but added free food and drinks throughout the night. The hype man was amazing – starting parties, dance-offs and generally creating an incredible atmosphere.
As we end one year and begin looking to the next, business leaders are thinking about ways to get everyone on board with the company’s goals and direction. If you don’t want to obliterate your chances of building excitement, don’t try to celebrate people or build excitement with a PowerPoint presentation. Show people that your company is something worth throwing a party for.