Too often, when planning a company anniversary, people get caught up in “stuff” like logos, merchandise, parties, websites and everything else. But are those things important? No one is really affected. Nobody’s feelings about the company change. Nothing is really different than before.
To create a successful business anniversary, you have to focus on what is important: the people who made the company great and the story of their journey. Here are six steps to make this happen.
Decide why you want to celebrate your anniversary.
Simply reaching a significant number of years in business is not a valid reason to celebrate a company anniversary. You must decide what you want the anniversary to accomplish. It might be to help you enter a new market, launch a new product, deal with increased competition or raise the profile of your CEO. There are many good reasons to celebrate an anniversary. Just make sure you have one, and build your celebration around it.
Elect a champion.
Celebrating an anniversary right is a big undertaking, and you need one person in charge who is excited about making it happen and has the authority to make things happen (or has the complete backing of someone with that level of authority). This person must be organized and capable of motivating people, and a sense of humor is a definite plus.
It is the job of the anniversary champion to:
• Organize and run a committee to create the celebration.
• Assign tasks and assure they are carried out.
• Set a budget and track expenses against it.
• Be the liaison between the company and all outside parties pertaining to anniversary matters.
• Keep the entire company apprised about anniversary activities.
• Generate enthusiasm for participating in anniversary activities.
This is not usually a full-time job, but it is a big job. So be sure that your anniversary champion can devote at least one-quarter of their time to this task.
Commit the resources necessary to succeed — including CEO buy-in.
The first job of the champion is to do a rough budget and get approval to spend that amount of money — or adjust it until it is approved. The champion should also set a minimum budget below which a celebration will not be possible.
Budget approval is one of two absolutes to the success of an anniversary celebration. The other is the total and enthusiastic support of the CEO. If you don’t have this, your anniversary celebration will eventually be pushed aside when “real” work has to be done.
Tell the story.
Every company has a story and a storyteller. The story is the lore about how the company started and where it’s going. It’s the early struggles, the milestone successes, the heartbreaking setbacks, the eventual triumph and the bright future. There is usually one person, or maybe two, who knows the story better than anyone else — someone who actually embodies the story. Everybody usually knows who they are, so they won’t be hard to find.
Engage your storyteller. Get them to tell the story — the big story and all the little stories that comprise it. It won’t all come out at once. Stop by their office every week or so, and ask them, “Could you tell me again about that time …” It will inevitably lead to more stories. Gather a group of employees occasionally to talk about the old days with your storyteller. Having a bunch of people around often encourages them to open up. And a little wine can help.
Then write your story in a way that conveys its mythical meaning. Be sure it has an overarching theme. Then chop it up into bite-size chunks that are easy to tell and that can be categorized so that a part of the story can applied in almost any situation.
Then, weave the story into the reason for your anniversary so that everything ties together — and so that the reason behind your anniversary is authentic to the company and its history.
Make it about people, not stuff.
Too often, company anniversaries are about stuff, like an anniversary logo, gifts emblazoned with the logo, a special anniversary website, an incredible party with amazing food or myriad other things. These things are fine and good, and they can certainly help you create a memorable celebration, but they are not what the anniversary is about. An anniversary is about people.
Always keep people at the center of your planning. Make sure that every important aspect of your anniversary involves identifying and celebrating the people who made it possible for the company to survive and thrive for so many years. This is more than the people who work there. Broaden your reach as far as you can to involve as many people as possible — customers, investors, alumni, spouses, children, vendors, suppliers, reporters who covered the company, maybe even competitors. Find a reason to include lots of different people — not just by inviting them to an event, but by lifting them up, showing the role they played in making the company great and thanking them.
Do one memorable thing.
Focus all your energy on doing one thing that people will remember for the rest of their lives. Spend about one-third of your time, energy and money on this one thing. I can’t tell you what it is. It is unique to your company. Be thinking about it all the time throughout this entire process. Sleep on it. It will come to you, but it will take work for it to reveal itself.
I have not provided a checklist of anniversary ideas you can work your way through. A successful anniversary is not the product of a checklist. It is the result of love. Follow the process outlined here, and you may find yourself falling in love with your company and the people who made it. From that will emerge an anniversary truly worth celebrating.
(Originally published in Forbes.)