Playing To Win

The Power of Celebration

A Greatly Underutilized Business Tool

Roger Martin
7 min readFeb 19, 2024


Source: Shutterstock

Last week, I attended a celebration event at a large company. It was terrific in every respect, and both reminded me of and reaffirmed for me something that I have been arguing for years: companies don’t celebrate nearly enough. So, I am dedicating this Playing to Win/Practitioner Insights piece to The Power of Celebration: A Greatly Underutilized Business Tool.

A Dearth of Celebration

For years I have argued that companies don’t celebrate enough. Theoretically, a company could celebrate too much. Its people could simply come to work every day, just celebrate, and not get any work done. But in 43 years of watching and working with companies I have never seen one that celebrates too much. I have come to the point of view that if I haven’t seen a phenomenon in business in nearly half a century of watching, it probably doesn’t exist. More importantly, I have seen that most companies celebrate far, far too little. So, I am comfortable with the blanket statement that companies should celebrate more.

I have been talking about this for two decades — well, since at least 2005 when I wrote an article called The Power of Happiness in which I argued that there is a ‘trinity of happiness’ as depicted below:

Source: Roger L Martin, 2024

You are happier when you feel a valued member of a community, but not any community, only one that you value and is additionally valued by people outside your community. For example, a saleswoman is happier if she feels she is seen by the others in her sales organization (supervisors, peers, and subordinates) as a valuable salesperson; and she feels that it is a high-quality and worthy sales organization of which to be a part; and (for example) people in marketing and operations are known to comment on the quality of their sales organization.

Missing any one of those three legs of the trinity makes the person considerably less happy. Missing all of them makes any person very sad. It is consistent with Mother Theresa’s view that “one of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.”

Celebration plays a critical role in enhancing the trilogy. It enables individuals to participate in and identify more clearly their community and understand their roles in it. Celebration facilitates people being valued by and seeing the value of their community. And it often draws favorable attention to the community by people outside it. The Academy Awards is a perfect example of happy-making celebration. It helps actors, directors, producers etc. feel that they are part of and valued by an identifiable community. It shows (mainly) why it should be respected (there is lots of self-congratulation), and it is watched by hundreds of millions worldwide demonstrating that it is valued by people outside the community.

The World Loves Celebrations

Given their role in producing happiness, it is no surprise that the world is in love with celebrations. They span across cultures, religions, and geographies. Hindus have Holi, the Festival of Colors (pictured above) celebrating the triumph of good over evil. But they also have Diwali, the Festival of Lights celebrating the triumph of light over darkness. Seems you could consolidate those two — but why have one celebration when you can have two? Mexicans have the Day of the Dead, Japanese Obon, Buddhism Songkran, Judaism Hanukkah, Christianity Christmas. Americans have Thanksgiving (and Canadians too). Most countries have country-founding celebration days.

We make them up as we go along — Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, Halloween, Valentine’s Day. Catholics are clearly very enthusiastic celebrators, as they keep on adding celebrations of saints — there are now 20 days per year celebrating saints at my last count. America is up to twelve national holiday celebrations with the latest addition being Juneteenth as of 2021.

And if folks don’t feel they have enough, they just borrow one from someplace else even if it as zero significance to the borrower. Cinco de Mayo celebrates a great 19th century Mexican triumph over the French. But now plenty of Americans with neither Mexican heritage nor antipathy toward the French celebrate Cinco de Mayo because what is not to like about another celebration? Margaritas anyone?

Back to the Company Celebration

This brings me back to the terrific company celebration that I referenced in the opening. It was so very good for the sense of community in the company.

It created a sense of togetherness in which the participants could all see themselves as part of a community. Each person was invited explicitly because each was part of the community — and all could see that. The community was venerated. Speeches and presentations lauded the members of the audience for their contributions to the success of the company. There were aspirational stories told and dreams for the future presented that reminded the audience how successful the company and laudatory its mission is. Arguably, there were two distinct (though connected) communities together at the celebration and each went out of its way at various points in the celebration to value the other community, so everybody felt the added benefit of having their community valued by folks outside their immediate community.

So, in my judgement, each attendee left feeling a greater sense of being valued by their community, valuing their community, and having their community valued by those outside their immediate community.

The celebration also produced an array of functional benefits. There was an important affirmation of the mission of the company and communication of its future direction in an opening speech by the CEO. There was lots of learning from one another and from terrific guest speakers.

And there was plenty of positive affect — fun, warmth, and a goodly dollop of silliness, which I think is an important part of any celebration! (See Holi above)

The company plenty of resource (time and cash) on the celebration, but I bet the Internal Rate of Return is as high as on any investment it makes. That company is as good at celebrating as any company I have seen.

Practitioner Insights

Just start with the assumption that you are celebrating too little. Regardless of your current celebration intensity level, celebrate more. If you are among what I estimate to be the less than one percent of companies that are celebrating enough, I bet that you won’t hurt performance by celebrating a bit more.

When you are planning your celebration, keep in mind the trinity of happiness. Is your celebration helping the various members feel a valued member of an identifiable community? If you are the leader of a small department or team, it will be easier. It is one small community and identifying belonging will be more straightforward. Remember that you don’t have to ask anyone for permission to celebrate. Lots of celebration is free — gathering your team to celebrate a victory, no matter how small.

If you are the leader of a big company (or a big part of a big company), it will take more work to figure out how to help everyone in the organization identify a community of which to feel a valuable part. Show leadership by modeling celebration. If you show that celebration is important to you, celebration will become important to your subordinates.

It never hurts to start with your immediate team and help each one feel a valued member. I will always remember fondly when AG Lafley invited me to attend a party that he held for his Global Leadership Team (of about twenty-five members at the time as I recall) on the occasion of his retirement as CEO of P&G. He presented each one with a gift, which was a lovely wooden plaque with their name, a thank you message, and the cover of a music album (yes there still was a thing called an ‘album’ then) affixed to it. And for each of the twenty-five, the album had a powerful and often humorous connection to the person’s role and personality. I remember AC/DC, Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead, Aretha Franklin and more. Each of the twenty-five went away feeling uniquely valued by their leader who had demonstrated that he had made the effort to understand each at a profoundly deep level.

But making them feel valued is only one element of the trinity. You need to ask how your celebration can help each member feel proud of the community of which each is a part? Can members connect themselves with the community — and feel proud of their association with the community?

Are you helping those outside take notice, so that they value your organization? Can you get your boss to show up and congratulate your team on doing a great job? Are you using social media to clue people into your celebration? Social media is a boon for the third element of the happiness trinity because it helps you communicate the value of your community with people outside of it.

Celebration is an important business tool. Don’t be like most companies and underutilize it. Take the time to design your celebration to boost the trinity of happiness of your team and you will be generously rewarded.



Roger Martin

Professor Roger Martin is a writer, strategy advisor and in 2017 was named the #1 management thinker in world. He is also former Dean of the Rotman School.