It’s November. The chill is in the air. Thanksgiving is around the corner, soon to be followed by Christmas. Essentially the year is over, but we’re really just in the final lap.

It’s around this time that I usually get my first call from Bernie Plagman, the Chairman of the Techpar Group — a great friend, mentor, and former partner. Bernie’s calls to give me a heads-up on the holiday party and industry get-together he sponsors, which is now in its tenth year. The reason I bring up Bernie’s call is that it’s a potent reminder of the importance of marking the passage of time with professional friends.

Now if you’re reading this column, it’s likely that you are an IT leader with a staff who report to you. So here’s my question and the central point of this post: How do you plan to end the year for your team? What do you have in mind to mark the end of 2010? How do you plan to close the book on this year and set the foundation in place for next year?

I’m writing about this because I don’t think it is a trivial topic. My personal experience with this matter has run the gamut from incredibly powerful and motivating to downright boring and lackluster. (Unfortunately, the latter descriptions tend to be the rule not the exception). And I believe that as IT leaders we owe it to ourselves and our people to end the year right.

It’s not just a party

So what do I mean by ending the year “right”? Well, at the core, I mean to say that you shouldn’t just let the year peter out and end with a bunch of semi-vacation time. A year is coming to an end. Mark it. Celebrate it. Make it memorable. Let your people know that you noticed what took place in their professional lives over the last 12 months and that you actually care.

What I am talking about is more than a holiday party. That’s nice to have, but it’s not a marker with any professional significance. It’s a “gimme,” one of those things that everybody does and that managers tend to think is more valuable to their staff than it truly is.

So how do you stand out? How do you mark the end of the year in such a way that it has impact with your team? My experience has taught me that there are three elements to a successful end-of-year marking, they are:

  1. Commemoration
  2. Inspiration
  3. Celebration


Commemoration is about recognizing your people and their accomplishments over the last year PUBLICLY. You may have said thank-you a dozen times in your one-on-one meetings, but doing it publicly in front of peers is a lot more powerful and meaningful.

The simple way to do this is to make up a number of award categories. A few of my favorites include:

  • Leadership distinction award (chosen by you or the leadership team)
  • Peer distinction award (chosen by the person’s peers)
  • Customer distinction award (chosen by your customers)
  • Problem-solving award

Have a nice certificate printed up and framed. And along with the distinction, give the honoree a check or an American Express gift certificate. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money, but it needs to be something more than just a piece of paper.

The possible list of awards is endless, so be creative. Just be careful not to give everyone an award. For an award to be meaningful, it has to be something special that not everyone receives.

If you want to honor or mark the accomplishments of the group as a whole, which I fully  endorse, create a separate set of team awards.

Giving out these awards will provide you an opportunity to talk about your group and its accomplishments and to fully mark your achievements. It will also give your people a very good feeling knowing they have really been noticed.


On the heels of the award ceremony, with everyone feeling pretty good about themselves and the group, it’s time for a bit of inspiration: A little pep talk about the upcoming year and all the great things that are still ahead for the group.

Now here is where I have seen a lot of people get it wrong. This is NOT, I repeat NOT, the time for a presentation and review of the IT strategy for the upcoming year. Nor is it a time for you as the IT leader to share all your ideas about how Social Media or Cloud Computing is going to change everything. This is a time for personal and professional motivation. A time to make people feel good about their jobs, their organization, and their future. A short speech (under 10 minutes in length) with NO PowerPoint is what you are shooting for.

To help with the inspiration (and if your budget allows), consider hiring a professional motivational speaker/entertainer. When choosing a presenter, err on the side of entertainment and fun as opposed to motivation. There are many professional speakers who do an excellent job of making a crowd feel good about themselves and their professional mission. Obviously, if you have the budget and you’re hiring a professional speaker, they will speak for more than 10 minutes. If they are good, and they better be, it won’t be a problem at all.

Over the years, I’ve used ex-professional athletes, magicians, linguists, ventriloquists, reporters, and even former TV stars. In each case, they spoke about different material. But in all cases, they left the audience with an insight about themselves and feeling good about their future. Following that up with a short (3-minute) inspirational message based on the theme the professional speaker presented was then pretty easy for me.


With the “serious” stuff behind you, it’s time to party. I trust that I don’t need to tell you how to organize a party. But if you’re not quite sure or are uncomfortable, hire a professional party planner. Not only will they make sure the celebration goes well, they will help you hire the right speaker as well.

Now, before I get 100 comments on how your company doesn’t allow this thing or that, let me say that I understand that is the case for many of you. And you have my sympathies. For the rest of you who have a bit of latitude or the ability to hide the celebration inside a department “event” or “meeting,” here are a few tips to making your end-of-year party really deliver:

  • Get out of the office (or decorate it so much that it’s barely recognizable).
  • Food is less important than booze.
  • Music makes the party.
  • Do an end-of-year slide show with funny pictures of the team and work.
  • If you have a small team, share the party with another group.

OK, get to work

So there you have it, a plan for ending the year with a bang. Go out and plan it while you still have a bit of time. You’ll be happy you did. And while we are on the subject of ending the year right, stay tuned for an upcoming post on starting the year off right; there’s a proven formula for that too.