Education

Use holiday parties to climb the ladder

Having an office party? John M McKee shares his Top 10 tactics for climbing the ladder over cocktails.

"Coach John, my company is having a Holiday party again this year.  Will it hurt my career if I don't go?  These aren't really parties and they sure aren't fun.  But I worry that if I don't show up, it will get noted and I may end up with a black mark on my record.  I'd prefer to avoid it entirely, but assuming I should go - do you have any advice about how to make the best of it?"

-  Unwilling Ken, Des Moines, IA.

Ken, I hear similar comments each year about these company affairs, so I understand your feelings about attending.  However, this is one event that you really should attend.  As a former company leader myself, I've seen the party from both sides and I know that if your leaders decided to go to the effort of creating a holiday party; then someone thought it really was important.

So, my advice is: go. And don't go grudgingly - use it to your benefit.

Smart job pros know that schmoozing at a company event can be a real opportunity to advance their career.  Here are my "Top 10 do's and dont's for climbing the ladder over cocktails." 1. Determine an objective. In advance of the event, expert “schmoozers” noodle about a potential best-possible outcome, relative to career growth. Think through a few realistic scenarios of how you might work toward achieving your objective. 2. Debrief your guest. As important as it is for you to know who the “important people” are at an event, the same holds true for your guest. The person you've chosen to accompany you to a business function, and how they behave, reflects directly on you – either positively or negatively.

3. Make sure you're seen. Arrive at the event early. Make a point of speaking to and thanking your boss and/or the host of the party. Introduce your guest, and generally spread good tidings. Show your humanity and connect on a different level before things really heat up.

<!--[endif]-->4.  The gift of gab. Generally speaking, people migrate to those who make them feel most comfortable. Appearing at ease during a time when others are feeling anxious or uncomfortable will make you look more like a “natural leader".  Read the local news before going so you've got some common conversation topic (aside from work!) with others.

5. Maintain your visibility but be "camera ready" The location where you are situated should be highly visible.  After all - you've gone to the trouble of attending, right?  So stand, or take a table, in a place that is approachable. And recognize that there will always be someone who will be ready use his or her phone to take a picture. That's how it is today, so keep it in mind. 6. First impressions count. How you introduce yourself to people, especially superiors, is important. Develop more than one way of introduction, and keep in mind that the secret to a good first meeting is self-confidence, poise and emitting a generally affable air. Bonus Tip: Keep business cards with you at all times.  This one's often forgotten by those attending company meetings or social events.  Dole them out liberally. You want to remain top of mind and also be completely accessible, post-event.

7. Leaders admire those who can articulate. Being able to effectively communicate, off the cuff, what you do for an organization, without gloating or over-inflating, is critically important. Long-winded answers with ebbs and flows can render the actual answer lost in translation. When and if appropriate, use the opportunity to self-promote and impart any new ideas you may have in a way that will not be construed as bragging or credit hogging way. 8. Network sharing isn’t always to your benefit – Whether it’s an embarrassing recording of a speech, a photo of someone tripping on the dance floor, or simply a shot of someone who’s had too much to drink, your story could show up on someone’s wall or even blog. Facebook and MySpace are riddled with pictures which may have seemed like fun at the time; but later could be very bad for your career. 9. Grievances need not apply. A social business event is not the time to clear the air about things, or people, that have been bothering you, nor is it a time to speak at another’s expense. Talking negatively about others will be a greater loss for your image and career. 10. Imbibe thoughtfully. I know, this one's obvious, but I am putting it onto my list because it's still a big issue.  Bosses and HR Types are usually pretty aware of those people who weren't able to act responsibly when it came to alcohol.  Rightly or not, how you behave in social gatherings, can affect your career trajectory.

Finally, Unwilling Ken -Even if you only make a fast appearance, it's the smart career move.  And, besides, most of the folks in Des Moines are really great people.

Here's to your career!

john

Leadership Coach

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

51 comments
NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Was the farewell party for the spouse's employer. They had been bought out and were being "merged" after the new year. Since the old company would no longer exist, there were a LOT of logo'd tchotchkes available, enough so that everybody got a cup and thermos set and a polo shirt (in the correct size) as an attendance gift. Then there were the jackets, hats, pens, pencils, and coffee cups. We also had door prizes and the drunk DJ, BJay. (No, I'm not kidding! That [u]is[/u] his name.)

hug.login
hug.login

Actually I don't like to go to parties where everybody is just trying to get up the ladder! I rather prefer to talk to other workmates which I hardly know and learn more about them and their ideas, values and motivations. If there is good food and something nice to drink (not too much of course) it can be fun.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

a BusinessSuccessCoach.net party.

jck
jck

Yeah. The last thing I want to do while at a party is go "You know, I have these great ideas for leveraging our existing synergies into increased profit margins in our troubled cost centers." I'd be more likely to say "You know, I have this great idea...I'm getting another long island iced tea!" :^0

JamesRL
JamesRL

"You know, I have these great ideas for leveraging our existing synergies into increased profit margins in our troubled cost centers." I'd probably say; "Why the frack didn't you bring this up before, with a real proposal, at the office. Instead now I get the half baked version of it here? Are you just trying to suck up?" If its a really great idea, he will arrange to meet with me at work a day or two after the party. If it was just a half baked scheme, he will slink away. Sounds like win/win to me. James

jck
jck

I like how you think!!! :^0

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

"I'm sorry, you'll need to excuse my lack of interest...the gorgeous new temp still has clothes on and I have all of this tequila..." :)

jck
jck

I wouldn't humiliate them. I just wouldn't talk business. I'd try to be subtle. If they insisted, I'd say: "Listen. It's a holiday. It's a time to relax, reflect, and enjoy what you've done in the past year. Don't live to work. Work to live. Life's too short to worry about job all the time." Then I'd say "OK. Now, go get me another drink!!!!" :^0

JamesRL
JamesRL

I've said exactly the same thing. And I've used my position to humiliate the sucker. I don't review business plans at parties either. James

jck
jck

I'd just say: "Excuse me. I need a refill. Talk to me Monday." :^0 If I'm relaxing, part of that isn't going over business plans.

seanferd
seanferd

"I have this great idea for a better business model, and a less stupid corporate culture. You in?" :D

jck
jck

"Sure am. Hey, do you know where the kegs are?" :^0

symowallo
symowallo

Aaargh! Stop this "Happy Holiday" BS. It's Christmas, people! Nobody else is offended!!!!

TheSwabbie
TheSwabbie

Absolutely. Who CARES if anyone is offended by a holiday? People are TOO PC these days.. some businesses think they have to be totally devoid of ANYTHING that offends ANYONE.. ANYWHERE.. ANYTIME.. yep.. I agree with you.. BS.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Christ.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

That's just cold-blooded, man!

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

If you don't believe in God you can't to to Heven. Conversly if you dont believe in God then the Devil and Hell is out as well. So no going to Heven or Hell then. Will be in Jamaica I think. Marvelous Indeed! Merry Mas!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

The majority, sure. But some companies hold New Year's Eve parties. I'm positive if there's a party at Hebrew National, it isn't a Christmas party. I'm betting the publishers of Jet or Ebony hold Kwanzaa events. But don't hesitate to let the phrase "Happy Holidays" ruin your month. It adds to the seasonal spirit when you actively seek out reasons to find offense, and livens the mood when you rant about something harmless. "Season's Greetings!"

JamesRL
JamesRL

Let people use whatever term they prefer, as long as their intent is genuine. James

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

held 2 weeks after Christmas (bring presents) -- LOL

JamesRL
JamesRL

I was new so I couldn't tell if it was a) political correctness b) disorganized social committee c) cheapness I think in retrospect it was a combination of b and c James

Modular Nebula
Modular Nebula

We have one, Friday, 6 to 10or11 PM, rented party hall, decent food, open bar, dj, couple hundred employees and their spouses or guests. We all work our arses off all year and the party is a "thanks" from the leaders. We get a whole bunch of gifts (baskets, gift cards, gadgets) from our vendors/contractors and give them out in random drawing raffles. A few years ago one dude got all crazy with the air guitar and wild dancing, but he's a nut anyway so it may not have been too much drink. His boss later reprimanded him severely for just acting foolish. The year before that a young guy was hitting on lots of chicks and was definitely in no shape to drive home (and didn't), but he's since shaved his weird goatee and gone through a leadership training program and advanced in his position, so it didn't wreck his career even though the leaders were aware that night. Overall it's a pretty good party. Not a Dead concert or ReggaeFest or anything, but still, not bad. We don't do it to schmooze, we just relax and have fun. I'm sure the bosses notice who says hi and thanks and chats for a bit, but it's not gross brown nosing by any means.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Ahnyone who expects this sort of rubbish from me will see me continuing my career somewhere else. A place where the length and flexibility of my proboscis is not important....

JamesRL
JamesRL

Last year and this, big holiday parties were cancelled at my firm. Even if deposits were non refundable, management took a stand that in a year where there are wide scale layoffs, the idea of a showy celebration was not appropriate. Instead we will have department sized inexpensive events like lunchs instead. I've been taking my team to a a BBQ chicken place every year just before Xmas, that will become our "official" event. But when we return to "normalcy" I would consel, as I've done here every year that people should attend. I do think the idea of using the event to climb the ladder is a bit um "crass" and declasse . But I do think its a good opportunity to talk to people outside of their normal work mode, and bond. Sometimes those relationships can help in your long term career, more often they help out when you need favours, but I wouldn't make a formal plan for who you will or will not spend time with. Jame

jdclyde
jdclyde

Find out if it is casual, semi-casual, or formal. I have seen people show up VERY casual to a formal party because it was on "my time, and I will dress any damn way I please!" Not always easy to watch people sink because they are stupid or have a very poor attitude.

jck
jck

Why is it, given it's not in an office or business or official setting, that people "...are stupid or have a very poor attitude." if they choose to go to a non-professional event in clean, sociable attire? I've gone to things where everyone else was wearing slacks and golf knits and some even a sport coat, and I wore jeans and t-shirt and a sweater. Having your own mind and not allowing your job or others to dictate your individuality is not stupidity or poor attitude. It's called being an individual...instead of a lemming. As for what's wrong when having an event, it is proper to inform ALL of your attendees of the suggested or required dress for the occasion. And if someone is not dress appropriately with *required* attire, it is considered quite bad to allow them into the event anyway. Having to find out what is needed or required for an event you're invited to...shows poor planning and disregard for your attendees on part of the person organizing it, and in social circles is considered quite uncouth.

jdclyde
jdclyde

The same as if I threw a party in my home and it was known in advanced that it was a "nice" occasion, and you wore jeans and a tee. I would not bar you entry, but would not be happy about it. As for the company party, any function thrown by the company is a company function and should be treated accordingly. Do as you will. If you think it makes you cool, knock yourself out. No sweat off my sack if you think you have something to prove.

CareerCoach
CareerCoach

If you were the boss, would you have a Holiday Party for your firm?

TheSwabbie
TheSwabbie

Its not about just having a party, its about people getting to know each other better and fostering better working relationships. When you get to know people on a more personal level productivity increases. Considering that on average you will spend more time with your co-workers than you do your family in a weeks time. In the Military we were trained and understood the value of "Team Work". Its just as pertinent in a business sense where the end goal is the sucess and continued prosperity of a business. Of course sometimes All of the goodwill created goes out the window if alcohol is in attendance and people start acting like horses A..es.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

You're working from the premise that holiday parties actual result in people getting to know each other better and developing better relationships. I submit all they result in getting to know false fronts and displaying embarrassing behavior. How many sailors do you think got to know each other better at formal dinners in dress uniform? How many do you think spend the entire time worrying about minding their manners in front of their superiors? I know that's how I spent mine.

jck
jck

Hell yes. And, it would NOT be at the office. It'd be off site at a bar or restaurant. My people would not be allowed to talk work to me, unless it was an emergency...period. I'd make my people relax and enjoy themselves. It would not be a corporate function. I'd probably pay for it out of my pocket. And, no it wouldn't be open bar. I am not THAT stupid :^0

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

How do you 'make' people relax? Do you really think they'd let their hair down and act 'normal' around the boss?

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

My department director invited me out with the group while we were on a conference. I carried on, business as usual...right down to hitting on the local girls at the bar and having a few mixed drinks. No one ever freaked, nothing was ever said.

jck
jck

Otherwise, don't come to the party and ruin it for everyone else! :^0

jck
jck

[i]"Do you really think they'd let their hair down and act 'normal' around the boss?"[/i] Once they got to know me? Yeah, they would. I believe in using decorum, and more importantly...when and where to use it. For instance, some of my office co-workers consider themselves something special. One is a loud-mouth who you can hear half-way across the office (and a rep on the phone could hear her clearly) and has no regard for what others are trying to do on the job. Another one considers herself a "Christian", but she will refer to openly gay public people as "f***ing fa***ts" outloud. When people are trying to work, you usually don't want to stand outside in an open area laughing and talking about your driving and how you saw this cool lawn thing at Wal-Mart for 20 minutes. And, I don't consider it professional decorum to sit and call people biggoted, hateful names involving swear words in front of all your co-workers. It would be known it was a private thing party though, and that company rules were not in play. If you got sexually harassed, it wasn't a workplace issue and you could feel free to belittle the idiot as much as wanted. But, law still applied and anyone that tried to leave my house and drive after drinking I would call the cops on. I'd even pay for people a cab home if it came to it. I'd show my employees that not only am I their boss who wants them to give me their best at work, but that I'm a human that cares about them more than just as a work asset.

Jellimonsta
Jellimonsta

You WILL relax and you WILL like it!! ;\

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

to these types of events, but I get prompted by managers often enough, by asking me to do some 'thing' at it (like setup a computer to do some task). That entails setting it up on site and taking it back later as well. When I go, I usually dont have too bad a time, but its not my preferred thing either, and I usually avoid alcohol at these events beyond a drink or 2.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

...I'd have a pot-luck lunch. Ask for volunteers to coordinate, and set a date and time (11-1 on some Friday, probably). The firm would provide a main dish (catered turkey or chicken) and a dessert (cookie tray). Reduces costs, invites employees to coordinate/work/spend time with one another, and gives the team a little 'breather' during a work day. Wins all around.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

And it gives those who want to a chance to show off their favorite recipes. I usually make chili or chicken salad. Some departments invite senior managers with no expectation of them bringing anything more extravagant than a 2-liter soft drink.

Shellbot
Shellbot

Up untill last Christmas, I despised the annual party and did my best to get out of them. Had some bad experiences at the first one I ever attended and it stuck with me. It was a communal party at a hotel, maybe 5-8 other compnaies attending the dinner/dance. Everyone in my company got stinking drunk and it was so embarrassing. I'm talking strip tease dances..a bra landing on the Directors head...I was mortified as the other companies thought we were animals. I drink very little at company functions..max 3 .. you never know who's watching, or what you might say.. I'm interested in climbing the ladder, so I will use this years to my advantage.. if your not interested in the ladder..why bother going if you don't want to..

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I do work on company time, and don't do 'work' on my time. I'll gladly stay late to get the job finished, but when I walk out the door I'm done for the day. I avoid events like this one whenever possible; it's an attempt to pretend a work event is a social one. I won't drag my shy wife to one, and I would never dream of putting even indirect pressure on subordinates to attend one. I think there are plenty of opportunities to suck up during the work day. Fortunately, I'm not in a position where failing to attend will impact my job. If I were in a position to hold one, it would probably be a catered lunch on site, with the rest of the afternoon off. It would probably cost less than catering a full dinner and a facility, more people would attend since it isn't on their time, and the atmosphere would probably be less tense.

Al_nyc
Al_nyc

After hours parties are not fun. Especially since now some places are not allowing family to attend in order to cut costs. I don't even bother trying to attend as there is no point to go and get some mediocre food. If the party was during work hours I might consider attending. After work, forget it. I have other things I need to do.

kirk.bare
kirk.bare

I think if the company is paying for the event as a thank you and best wishes then an employee should really consider going. To me attending the event is the saying "you're welcome" to the corporate "thank you". Then there are the companies that pay a large percentage of the expenes and have the attendees pay a small amount (this may be done for a number of reasons, valid and not valid). If the employee doesn't have any plans for that particular night, and probably afford it, then I think they should go. For those events where the expenses are 'Dutch' then to me that is just the company's management trying to organize a successful party. If you enjoy the company (the people, not the business) then go, if not, there is no obligation.

walt.robertson
walt.robertson

Management often thinks they will be considered the grinch if they don't throw an office party. But, there is a way to be thoughtful and festive at the same time. Shut the doors and hold the party during working hours. Some places can't do that at Christmas - the busiest season of the year. Then throw a New Year's party on Dec 30th instead.

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