Company Culture — the power of ritual

Big Red Car here.  Wonderful morning — clear and bright — in Austin, Texas.  Makes a 1966 Impala Super Sport cherry red convertible glad to be alive.

The Boss is on to church this morning.  An exercise in ritual?  Hell yes, says the Big Red Car irreverently and really in a low class boorish way.  Get back on the high road, Big Red Car.  It’s Sunday for goodness sake.

What is ritual?

Ritual is a part of life.  Rituals, observed well, can become an effective glue which brings a community together and thereby provides a bonding experience through their presence or conduct at the ritual as well as the planning and execution of the event itself.  This is a huge opportunity for empowerment and team building.

It is the conduct of an event or celebration in a prescribed manner.  In the context of a strong Company Culture it is being used to describe the events and celebrations of the company undertaken together.

While there may be some virtue in making the events a bit standard from a planning perspective, the Big Red Car is not suggesting that they have to be rigid.  Plan with some structure but execute with great flexibility.

Try different things. In this context it can mean the following events:

1.  A monthly celebration of birthdays or anniversaries of employment;

2.  A celebration of longevity milestones such as 1, 5, 10 year employment anniversaries;

3.  A celebration of the attainment of a significant business triumph such as attaining a sought after contract with an important client;

4.  A gathering to announce promotions or a performance based reward;

5.  An event to celebrate a social milestone such as a marriage, a new baby, a used baby, the attainment of an educational degree;

6.  A meeting to hand out training completion certificates;

7.  A periodic meeting to discuss company performance and results perhaps on a quarterly basis;

8.  A holiday celebration;

9.  A potluck meal;

10.  Burgers and dogs cooked by the company clown or CEO or CFO or Controller;

11.  A happy hour — lemonade maybe and be careful, careful, careful about ever serving alcohol on company premises; and,

12. Any other event that would add to the positive energy of the team.

This list could grow a bit more but these dozen examples are enough to provide a bit of context to the discussion.

Content of successful rituals

The execution of rituals must be planned — initially just the identification of the rituals themselves and then how they will be conducted.

1.  Successful rituals likely will include food and drink as these are elements which will do double duty and drive attendance.  An event or celebration at lunch time is likely to get every hungry team member to the celebration without much more prodding.

2.  Events should always include more than a bit of communication — a forum to reinforce the Vision, Mission, Values of the company and community.  This is the CEO’s opportunity to reinforce these critical bonding elements.

3.  As part of that communication theme, a clever CEO will also ensure that there is two way communication by asking each and every team member — “what’s new in your life?”  This may seem tedious but it is how team members invest their energy in the meeting.  Once an accountant shared that her son was headed off to Afghanistan.  His safety became a very important concern for the entire company and she routinely shared pictures from her son’s combat exploits.  When he came home safely, The Boss gave him his Longhorn football tickets at the 50-yard line in celebration.

4.  The CEO should answer questions — about anything and everything.  He should force the questions out of the folks if necessary.  And, he should give truthful and detailed answers.  This should be a bit of a trial by fire for good CEOs — why not?  These folks are going to decide whether you are able to attain your vision for the company.

5.  The team should put on the event and they should be drawn into its planning and execution — and clean up.  This team building exercise is very important.  It is what empowerment looks like at the grass roots level.

6.  The CEO should play a bit dumb and ask who has put this event on?  And, then he should profusely thank and express gratitude to each and every person involved.

The company’s ritual history — the Wisdom of the Campfire

Ritual, in the telling of the tale, is as powerful after the fact as it is while it is being observed.  This is the echoing of the drums from the edge of the camp fire.

In the telling of the tale, the story goes from folklore to wisdom.  It is literally the Wisdom of the Campfire.

Get pictures.  This is sometimes so obvious that folks forget to do it.

Put the pictures on the company’s internal website and put hard copies in a leather bound book which captures the company’s history.  Every single employee’s picture should make it into this book and it should be left wherever the folks routinely eat lunch.

This is a talisman and is almost as important as the original ritual itself.

It will also tie into the company’s rewards, recognition, communication and education themes.  Ritual — the Wisdom of the Campfire — is the glue which holds it all together.

Casting the stone into the pond

In conducting rituals do not miss the opportunity to make the impact as broad as possible.  Let the ripples race from the event multiplying the impact.  One way to do this is ensure that every ritual has a bit of a “tail” to it.

WTF, Big Red Car, a tail?  Have you gone mad?

Say you have a company event to present an award to someone for a job well done.  You decide to serve cupcakes from that wonderful cupcake joint up on Burnet Road.  You know one I mean, right?  Delicious.

Package up 4 cupcakes for each team member to take home.

Why, you ask?  Why, Big Red Car?

Because when they get home and share those wonderful cupcakes with their families and loved ones, the story of the ritual and event will be told and retold thereby cementing it in the mind of the team member and their audience.  In this manner, the ritual has a tail which reaches into the larger community of the team itself.

The next day your team will be telling each other about the reception that the “tail” — the cupcakes — received at home.  You are creating buzz.

Of course, the Big Red Car could go on forever but alas he cannot.  We shall talk about this more but you get the idea.

I’m So Excited, the Pointer Sisters

But, hey, what the Hell do I know anyway?  I’m just a Big Red Car. Be kind to yourself.  You deserve it.