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Celebrate the Good Times How to throw a shindig that thanks hard-working employees

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Q: My company is doing really well this year, and I'd like to reward my employees. But how do you pick one incentive program over another? I have business associates who tell me about what they do, and they're all over the map. One has a cash incentive, another uses merchandise. Both say they work well. A third colleague says he doesn't offer any incentives and seems to do OK. Is there any objective data to tell which is the most effective?

A: Congratulations on a great year! I am pleased that you want to celebrate your success with your employees. I'm confident that companies that choose not to celebrate their successes will have fewer successes in the future.

Most managers think that a celebration is all about food and drink. That's because from the first birthday cake, almost all our successes and milestones are associated with food and drink. However, if you really examine it, food and drink are just used to set the stage. The celebration is all about recounting what the person or persons did and how they did it. Celebrating in the locker room of the team that wins the World Series is always associated with lots of champagne, but what do they do with it? Most of it is shaken up and squirted on the other players. When the microphone is stuck in a player's face, what he begins to talk about is what the various players did that got them to the championship.

I define a workplace celebration as "an opportunity to relive an accomplishment." It's an occasion for employees to talk about how hard they worked, how smart they were and how creative they were in achieving a goal. It is the manager's job to facilitate the reliving. Any tangible item given should only serve the purpose of anchoring a memory of the accomplishment. The item need not be expensive. The primary consideration in choosing an item as an anchor is how to make the item (whether it's a T-shirt, a cap or a coffee mug) something that your employees will keep as a memento in their pockets, on their desks or on their walls. While I say that the item doesn't need to be expensive, it certainly could be. It's just that giving expensive items is not necessary to have an effective celebration.

Here's what I propose that you do. Get your employees together. Explain what was accomplished and its importance to you and the company. Make it brief--no more than five minutes. There is a negative correlation between the length of a management speech and the enjoyment of the celebration by the employees. End your speech by asking the group how they accomplished what they did. This starts the celebration. Make them feel comfortable by telling them that they can talk about what others did, as well as what they did. Give them time to respond. If employees are slow to talk, you may need to ask someone to tell the group something he or she did of which you have personal knowledge. In the beginning, people are often slow to respond, but as they see others participate, you'll have no trouble getting people to talk. If someone brings up a problem or makes a critical remark, respond by saying that this session is only about what was accomplished and that you'd be happy to discuss the problem at another time.

Once everyone has had an opportunity to participate, you should bring out the item you've chosen as a memory anchor and say something like, "By the way, in order to help you remember what we've accomplished, I have these personalized baseball caps for everyone."

I believe that if you think of a celebration in this way, you'll have many other occasions to celebrate in the future. And as I've always said, companies that don't celebrate success will eventually have no success to celebrate.

Aubrey C. Daniels, Ph.D., founder and CEO of management consulting firm Aubrey Daniels & Associates (ADA), is an internationally recognized author, speaker and expert on management and human performance issues. For more about ADA's seminars and consulting services or to order Aubrey's bookBringing Out the Best in People: How To Apply The Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement, visit, or contact Laura Lee Glass at (800) 223-6191 or

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

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