It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Know how I can tell? Because no one in the corporate world wants to talk about, think about, or do much of anything until “after the first of the year.”
But I’m also reminded of the following reference from “A Christmas Carol”, by Charles Dickens: “You’ll want all day to-morrow, I suppose,” said Scrooge. The clerk [Bob Cratchit] observed that it was only once a year. “A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every 25th of December!” said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. “But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning.”
Now I love the holidays as much as the next guy, maybe more, but let’s be reasonable. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s occupy only three days on the calendar, and Hanukkah only eight, and yet it sometimes seems that many non-retail organizations start closing down the store on the third Monday in November and don’t come fully back to life again until the Twelfth drummer quits drumming – a span of about 7 weeks.
Can your business afford to run on only one or two cylinders for 14% of the year? If not, consider what successful leaders do to celebrate the holidays, productively, without coming off like Ebenezer Scrooge.
First, they acknowledge that not everyone celebrates the same holidays, but they avoid falling all over themselves in a game of political correctness, a game which never produces a winner. Exercise open-mindedness and tolerance, allowing private expressions of comfort and joy consistent with each person’s culture, while making public and collective observances more general.
Let people decorate their private workspaces to reflect their homes – a menorah, a Santa Claus, or a Nativity figurine, as long as the expressions don’t distract or interfere with work. Every minute an employee spends being offended at perceived inequities in holiday observance is a minute that employee is less than 100% productive.
Wise men and women know that celebration is good for the soul, and for the bottom line. And so is an unrelenting attention to why they’re in business…to take care of customers, many of whom want to do a little business amid the holiday excitement.
Reinforce the point that customers don’t receive a price break for work performed around the holidays (Disney World doesn’t reduce its admission price after Thanksgiving), to wit, they deserve the same attention to quality and quantity that they expect the rest of the year. And if the job involves making decisions, being creative, or crafting solutions to year-round problems, good leaders don’t allow people to “put everything on hold” until the new year.
To strengthen the bonds of community, use the season to learn something about cultures less familiar to you. Learn, for instance, that Hanukkah is not “Jewish Christmas”, and don’t treat it as such. If you don’t know the significance of a holiday someone observes (whether at year-end or not), ask them, respectfully. I’m sure they’d be honored to explain what the holiday means to them.
As they say on Wall Street, “don’t fight the tape.” The fact is that, around the holidays, people are in the mood for some celebration, and they’re going to celebrate, whether you sanction it or not. So find a way to sanction and support it, within reason. But tie it unmistakably to the business. Go ahead, haul out the holly and have your holiday party, the relative extravagance of which is determined by the degree to which the organization has met some preannounced production and customer service goals.
And make sure people have something, in addition to the holiday itself, to celebrate. Celebrate the fact that you have customers who keep you in business. Do something nice for some of those customers, on a given day. If it’s been a good year, celebrate your victories; if not, hold a toned-down celebration of the future, which must certainly hold more promise than the recent past. Closer to the focal day, celebrate your prosperity via an organized demonstration of support for those less fortunate.
Finally, when business requirements mean people must work on the actual holiday, good leaders make it a point to be there with their people.
So, go on, get out of your warm house, go to the plant or office, just sit for a while, and then leave. You don’t have to say anything. Your people will tacitly know and understand that you know that they’re working like the Dickens to make you look good.