Business leaders have had to spend a lot of time lately talking about how to deliver bad news to our teams. It’s not surprising, since the bum economy has created a lot of bad news that needs delivering.
My oldest son says the worst day of his life, other than when he lost his mother at a young age, was the day he had to lay off some of his staff. The large international company he works for had already cleared out underperformers, so the day my son references is one when fine folks and excellent employees were being told they no longer had a job.
In such cases leaders try to take the lead from Julie Andrews—and apply the idea that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. My son did what he could to help the team members being cut to land on their feet, including calling people in the business community to create lines on other jobs.
Having so much bad news around us means that it’s extra important to celebrate both the good things that happen daily in our shops, and the big positive announcements. Not only is celebration of good news a great antidote to the prevalent negativity, but it can help you develop the rapport and trust you and your team will need to weather the ups and downs of the future.
Here are some strategies that have worked for CUES to celebrate day-to-day gains and big successes. I think you’ll find they translate well for use in your credit union.
- Have celebration traditions. At CUES we have an annual staff picnic, a holiday party, and birthday and employment anniversary celebrations. We also celebrate by sending out emails with subject lines like “Terrific Tuesday” or “Wonderful Wednesday,” in which we share the day-to-day positive exchanges we have with our members.
- Tell great stories. Repeat as needed. At CUES’ CEO Institute III: Leadership, Alec Horniman, a professor in the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business in Charlottesville, says cultures survive by storytelling, by handing down the stories that define you as a people. The same thing goes with companies. There are things that define us. It’s important to tell those stories, the funny ones, the poignant ones, the instructive ones. For example, during CUES full staff meetings, we tell stories of what we’ve just experienced in our work, such as witnessing a visit of the caped and masked “credit union man” during a CUES council meeting. During employment anniversary celebrations, we recall stories—often funny stories that have been told many times before—about good times working together. For example, one vice president surprised us years ago by being exceptionally skilled at hula hoop. We still talk about it.
- Use humor. It’s hard to imagine a good storytelling session without some laughter. But the value of humor bears repeating. After four difficult budget years, CUES is currently celebrating a really good year. During CUES’ most recent all-staff gathering, my head of accounting and I teamed up to tell employees in a funny way. He started reporting on the month before the end of the year and I called out, “Boooringgg!” Then we shared the great news about the last month of the year—that we were well above our budget.
- Mark celebrations with gifts that matter. Because we’ve had a good budget year, we’re going to be able to give staff a financial thank-you for the first time in several years. But, interestingly, it was a variation on a different gift tradition that got the most positive reaction from staff. Each year at our staff picnic, everyone’s name goes in a hat and I draw a certain number of names. Those drawn receive a “gifted” day, an extra day of paid time off they must use in the current calendar year. After I draw the pre-set number of names, staff and I laugh together as I’m “cajoled” into drawing more (and more) names. After I’d drawn 15 names this year, my plant among the staff said, “Why don’t you just give everyone a gifted day this year?” Which of course was my plan right along. This is the kind of thing staff tell their families about over the dinner table at night.
- Provide ways for staff to celebrate each other. When I was an army captain, I saw first hand that while a soldier might sign up to serve his country, he fights for his buddies. So it’s not surprising that our CUES staff recognition program is so popular. CUES staff members can complete a form recognizing a colleague for going above and beyond in their work. I meet with each nominated employee and thank them for the job well done. Interestingly, when the dollars once associated with these awards had to come out of the budget, staff asked to have the program continued without any associated monetary compensation. And the nominations continue to roll in. At the end of the year, we reward the “most recognized” staff member with a gift card.
Celebrating successes of all sizes needs to be part of every organization’s culture. And every culture will be a little different, as I noted on my trips to several credit unions to deliver the top 2012 CUES Golden Mirror Awards. But make sure your culture brings people together around successes—it’ll build the rapport and trust you’ll need to fall back on if times get hard.