🎆 The Year I Celebrated Almost Every Holiday
Eight Program Best Practices I Learned Along The Way
Hispanic and Latinx Heritage month marks one year since I celebrated almost every holiday. As so many internal communications stories begin, it all started with a post in an employee communications platform asking a question — how would we celebrate this month as a company?
I noticed the request immediately and tagged the Marketing team to chime in first. They jumped at the opportunity to participate and began planning an external campaign with a blog post and a social media series. But, there was a gap for employee engagement — Employee Resource Groups were highly encouraged, yet not supported by a full-time professional.
Recognizing the importance of elevating this month, in particular during 2020, a year of much social unrest, I stepped in to help. I developed a virtual event planning guide, a template for invitations and additional resources to support a successful internal program. After all, the creative investment in these resources was scalable — other employee clubs could draw upon these assets in the future. In addition, contributing gave me the opportunity to really get to know team members in an important way through their personal perspectives.
Ultimately, the internal event was incredibly moving. Team members shared personal stories, opening up in ways not ordinarily seen at meetings. It was complemented by an external marketing campaign recognizing team members, their heritage and stories. The feedback from employees was resounding — they wanted to continue to learn about each other's cultures, celebrate more holidays and listen to stories of their peers. So I kept going, mapping out the upcoming holidays on the editorial calendar and sharing them with my partners on the D&I Committee and Marketing team.
Over the next several months, I helped employees celebrate and recognize Veterans Day, Diwali (the Indian Festival of Lights), Thanksgiving, the December holidays with a Howl-iday pet show, Lunar New Year, Black History Month, Women’s History Month and many more meaningful moments. Along the way, I learned a lot about different colleagues, their cultures, past experiences and future aspirations for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as an organization.
As I reflect on the honor of celebrating almost every holiday, I’m sharing a few of the best practices I learned along the way.
1. Encourage Storytelling
Everyone has a unique story to share. It’s about identifying what that moment is to share with their peers. Develop a series of questions to help team members figure out what to highlight from their holiday or heritage. Encourage them to focus on telling one story to have the most impact. Set up 15-minute video chats for those who want to talk through their moment to best prepare them for posting.
2. Consider the Power of Photos and Videos
When sharing a story with a photo, team members can see an experience and relate to what is shared. I’ll always remember the beautiful story of a former colleague who shared a photo of her daughter’s quinceañera, the celebration of a girl's 15th birthday, in Spanish culture. Of course, videos take the story even further with expressions and personality. But, they must be short to keep the attention of team members, ideally no longer than 90 seconds.
3. Create a Dialogue
When team members feel they can participate in a holiday and connect with it in a meaningful way, it amplifies the impact. By posting on an internal communications platform with a question for team members to answer, it invites them to go beyond commenting but engaging in dialogue that can lead to meaningful conversations. Consider asking about a tradition or relating the celebration to the present.
4. Connect Internal and External Campaigns
It’s important for internal and external campaigns to complement each other. Invite employees to share their stories in a blog post and on social media. The stories collected for an external campaign can be shared internally with more of a behind-the-scenes perspective that isn’t published so team members get an insider’s understanding. The assets created can also be used as publicity for an internal event.
5. Create Toolkits
While every program is unique, there are key elements to consider when planning – what’s the theme, who will speak, what is our goal, when will we host this and many more questions. By developing toolkits with these prompts, it’s easy to empower others to organize, give employees the confidence to plan and save them time while working on the planning – keep in mind it’s outside of their daily job responsibilities.
6. Look Internally for Inspiration
Often, when planning a program, team members think externally about bringing in a guest speaker. Depending on budget and timing, it can be challenging to make happen. In particular, holiday moments offer a unique opportunity to showcase employees in a non-traditional way. It’s not about their work, it’s about their personal perspectives. By giving a team member this platform, it is a way to elevate them within the organization and connect employees to them in meaningful ways that can lead to mentorship and partnerships.
7. Empower Employee Champions
Since hectic schedules can compete with holiday celebrations, it is not always easy to draw a crowd to a program. By inviting team members to help publicize, you get their commitment to attend and their positive influence on colleagues. It’s important to empower employees at all levels to be those internal champions, from individual contributors to managers to leaders. Making time for holiday moments will help define an organization’s culture.
8. Think Creatively with Content
Teach a cooking class with a favorite food from the holiday. Organize an art activity to create a memory. Share a meaningful speech, article, podcast or quotes from a book. When employees come together, discuss lessons learned. Better yet, for the busy folks, schedule a screening or reading hour in advance.
There are so many ways to celebrate creatively. Take the time to consider what would be interesting to team members from different backgrounds. In this virtual world, consider incentivizing by sending food, drink or gift/swag in advance.
I will always look back fondly on the year that I almost celebrated every holiday. I hope others have the chance to learn about the cultures of their colleagues in meaningful ways through these special moments.