I used to work at a place where they threw a big party for you when you left. When someone would head to a new job or to go back to school, they would get a cake from a really nice bakery, take them out to lunch and spend a significant amount of time talking to them about how important they were and how excited they were to see where they would go next. At first I didn’t really get it, it seemed like a lot of time spent on making someone feel special when they were about to stop being a productive member of your organization.
But the longer I was there, the more I understood. No one ever really goes away in a state level policy world and it was likely they would run across these people again. It made sense to value the former employee because it would lead to a better relationship with the organizations they were going to in the future. They wanted those future relationships to be positive.
The experience gave me a question that I take with me doing organizational ethnography or entering new organizations and trying to understand how they function.
What does the organization celebrate?
There are a limited number of things that one can celebrate. Every day can’t have cake and special balloons. So what will you set aside as an organization and consider to be worthy of attention, time and perhaps even a cake?
Here are a few different options for what might be celebrated:
- Organizational successes, such as product launches, the end of a particularly big project, goals that are accomplished or even completing a certain number of years at work.
- Endings such as retirements or when someone leaves for a new job or to go to school, or when they are promoted out of their team/organization.
- Team relationships or the weekly rhythms such as special events on Fridays or summer events. Maybe there are goofy office olympics or awards for best cubicle, or for the most interesting costume on halloween, or for that person who is nice and cleans up in the break room.
- Family changes or personal events such as birthdays, marriages or births.
It’s worth noting that there are many people within an organization that can be celebrated beyond just employees. Consider colleges who help their alumni celebrate the birth of a new child by sending them a “Bachelors of long life” or a store helping a customer celebrate their birthday with a cupcake. There are lots of options for who to celebrate.
What an organization celebrates is a useful insight into what the organization values.