Ceremonies, Celebration, and How to Create Meaningful Beginnings


Imagine the Olympics without the opening ceremonies.

What if the games just started. No torch. No sexy flag carriers, no dancers. No music. No costumes.  No human interest stories. No ceremonial coming together of divided political interests.

Just, “Up first, curling.”

Ceremonies and rituals invite us to stop and consider the magic of the moment. Ceremonies signal us to pay attention to what's coming next. They remind us that we're up to something exciting. AND that we're in this together.

The ROI of Investing in Workplace Ceremonies and Celebration

If you've heard my Build an Army of Brand Ambassador's keynote, you know that my favorite turnaround story as a Verizon executive was leading the dramatic transformation of our outsourced call centers. We were able to transform the channel from mediocre quality to almost all the centers (and their ten thousand employees) performing at parity (or better) in quality than internal centers.

It was a three-year journey of cultural transformation of results and relationships. My hand-selected team of enthusiastic change makers partnered with several amazing leaders at these partner companies to build and execute the plan. All sides worked relentlessly to change the mindset from that of a vendor to trusted strategic partner.  (See more here)

I suppose we could have just jumped in and started working on the new contracts, training, quality programs, and workforce planning that was the stew of our success, but I'm convinced it would have been a heavier lift if we had not paused for a bit of ceremony.kickoff celebrations

First, we changed the name of our organization from the “vendor management organization” to the “strategic partnership channel.” We banned “the V word” from any communication in either company, and I would even politely correct those in the C-suite who accidentally use the V word in our reviews. We staged a team contest to create a new logo and branded all of our correspondence with the new strategic partner channel (SPC) theme.

We brought the senior leadership teams from these (technically competing) companies together for a retreat and collectively built the vision of this new strategic partnership relationship. But we all knew, even if we were acting differently at the executive level, even with new investment and new approaches, it was going to take a lot of consistent communication and serious behavior change for life to feel different for the human beings taking the calls every day.

So we turned off the phones. And the strategic partner execs and I got on lots and lots of airplanes.

Okay, we didn't turn off the phones all at once. But over a month and a half period, we held 26 kickoffs across the country to launch the new vision. Every kickoff was different and was a clear partnership between Verizon Wireless and the Strategic Partnership company.

In Tucson, the team built a stage in the parking lot and rented chairs for 1000 reps to join the party, with balloons and noisemakers and lots of sports-team fun. In Boise they formed a remarkably high-quality rock band, singing new strategic words to “Red Solo Cup” — you can watch a video of that ruckus here); in every center, there were skits and noisemakers and recognition and prizes all reinforcing the why behind what we were asking them to do. We were crystal clear on our MIT priorities. And of course, the strategic partner execs shared the microphone with me as true partners, describing the vision and our commitment to supporting the teams with the tools they needed.

Our celebration signaled that something different and exciting was happening.

I know every penny of lost time off the phones; every hour we spent in cross-country flight, and every tee-shirt added up and would have to be made up in improved results. The ROI proved in, and we were given funding again to hold them the following year.

Those ceremonies punctuated the beginning of a new era. We demonstrated that we were going to do something that had never been done before by doing something that had never been done before.

Of course, not all change efforts warrant a parade, wigs, and noisemakers. But if you're really looking to change the game, consider—What could you do to turn off the phones, pause, celebrate and reinforce your new dramatic beginning?

Your turn. Have you ever a powerful workplace ceremony?

Karin Hurt, Founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was recently named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of 2 books: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss.