Why We Celebrate

One of the core values at Benefitfocus is "Celebrate!" We have learned the importance of frequent celebrations as we have grown. We often get asked about why we do this so much and why it is so central to who we are as an organization.

Outside of work, our lives are filled with all sorts of celebrations. We get geared up for the Super Bowl. We have birthday parties. When the little league season is over, we take the kids out for pizza. There is Saint Patrick's Day, Valentine’s Day, Hanukkah, Christmas, first day of Spring, graduation from High School, graduation from College, graduation from Kindergarten, Fourth of July, Martin Luther King Day, President's Day, Opening Day of Baseball, March Madness and so on. There is so much routine remembrance and celebration outside of work that it is only natural that we bring that into our work-life and our extended family.

What we do at work can be hard at times; most worthwhile endeavors are. Designing software and engineering complex systems take a lot of talent. Factoring in hundreds or even thousands of variables when creating awesome software can make your brain hurt. Taking software through the process of testing and then delivery to production is very time consuming. It is even more challenging when it is being used by so many people that rely on it to run their businesses and insure their families. If you do not schedule routine times to stop and congratulate each other, it may otherwise never happen.

When our company was smaller, we made a decision to hold software release parties. I had previously worked at a large company and the software release process was miserable. The projected delivery dates were always missed, in some cases by years! Late delivery and going over budget with a bunch of angry people was not a recipe for success. So when we had our own delivery process to create, I wanted it to be fun, visible to the entire company and on time. One secret ingredient was to have the departments outside of engineering throw the parties. This would get them involved and also send the message to the engineering team that everyone appreciated them.

We now have four major software releases each year. So every 90 days, we throw a "release party.” It starts on Friday morning when the department who is hosting the party that week greets folks as they come into the parking lots and buildings. They create their own themes and the food and costumes line up with their theme. One of the funniest ones I remember was a "70’s" theme and the managers dressed up in crazy outfits from the 70’s with big hair wigs and all. It was fantastic. They have all been so much fun. It makes the releases exciting events rather than something to be dreaded. Everyone gets to participate, as the food and fun is for everyone in the company, plus guests!

If we do not stop and celebrate the milestones along our way, we will get worn out. As in sports, we need to create a rhythm of seasonality so we get a new start followed by a celebration. At Benefitfocus, we feel that this needs to be a very deep part of the fabric of who we are. It needs to be taught, it needs to be reinforced, it needs to be done every day in every way.

This past Friday I was meeting with one of our folks in a conference room. The door was open, and as we were speaking we heard a bunch of folks clapping and ringing bells followed by a lot of laughter and loud voices. We looked at each other and said, "That just never gets old.” We talked about how cool it is to work at a company that has that happen pretty much every day. We thought it was funny that we did not even know what they were celebrating or even what team it was. It is just part of who we are.

It has taken many years to get our culture to be so comfortable that this happens spontaneously. We’ve had to work at it. We’ve had to teach it. We’ve had to do big bold things, even when folks were "too busy with work", but it has paid off. Earlier that same Friday, I was visiting with some guests who consult with many large employers. It was their first visit to our campus. The first thing they said when I met them was how open and energetic our environment is. I smiled and thought of how hard we have worked to create that culture. I also smiled when I thought of how powerful it is to be doing big things as a group.

Give it a try. Celebrate the smallest things your team accomplished today or this week. Buy some cupcakes or just walk your team outside to enjoy the sun for fifteen minutes. Tell them you are proud of their accomplishments. Then repeat a thousand times. Somewhere along that path it will become part of who you are. And I guarantee it will be one of the most valuable things you will ever do.