It’s the festive season again. If, like me, you’ve had an interesting but challenging year with your change initiatives, you will be starting to relax and wind down towards the festive break. Work Christmas parties can play an important part in this. However, if you are working on a controversial, emotive or unpopular change, you may find they are not as relaxing as you hoped. Here are a few pointers to help change managers get through the work festive season.
One party or two?
Are you in charge of organising the Christmas festivities? It is tempting to throw a work Christmas party for everyone you have worked closely with over the year. You need to be careful, however, of mixing colleagues running your change with those affected by your change. There is often tension in change project between these two groups of people. So if you mix them together in a social situation the results may be troublesome.
Think about holding two parties instead. An informal celebration is fine for your project team. But organise a more respectful and sedate one for your key stakeholders. You can use the opportunity to thank your key stakeholders for all their work whilst recognising how difficult the change is for them. Keep it short and quite formal e.g. a sandwich lunch in the workplace. Invite those leading the change, including senior execs and your project sponsor, to thank people for their effort and support. This type of event shows that you recognise how difficult the change is for people, and may help strengthen trust and relationships.
Celebrate subtly with your team
If you are working in an atmosphere of tension, suspicion, or even hostility to your change, you also need to make careful arrangements for your team party.
Stakeholders who are unhappy about your change will not appreciate seeing your team celebrating and having fun. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy a festive party. But the following pointers will help you and your team to relax without upsetting any of your key stakeholders:
- Hold your party off site. Then no-one can see you having fun. The team will relax more away from the workplace, too. If you have to hold the party on site, have it after hours, or when most other people are away
- Be careful about using project funding to pay for your party. Stakeholders will be unhappy if they find you have used project money to celebrate – especially if your change involved cutting costs. Parties can be run very cheaply if everyone brings a bottle and some food to share
- If you have had a tough year with your project, be aware that team members may need to let of steam. Make your party a safe place where people can offload and discuss what has bothered them most, if they want to
Be wary of attending other team parties
As you will have been working with many different teams throughout the organisation as part of your change, they may invite you to their work Christmas parties.
I have attended many of these over the years. They can be a good way to build relationships and connect in ways not associated with your change. However, if your change is unpopular, not everyone in these teams may be pleased to see you there.
If so, these pointers may help you navigate a potentially awkward situation:
- Arrive early with some nice food
- Talk politely to people about non-controversial subjects
- Leave early so people can let off steam about your change project in a safe space
- Whatever you do, don’t get drunk and have intense conversations about the change with emotional and vulnerable stakeholders. It will do neither yourself or them any good.
‘Tis the season to be jolly
Change management is a tough profession. If you take a bit of time to plan your work Christmas parties, you should be able to navigate the opening of the festive season successfully. All is left then is to go home and have a well-earned break until the New Year.