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Tangled Lights and Leadership Insights: Unwrapping Griswold's Guide to Corporate Culture

“I don’t know what to say… it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.” - Ellen Griswold

Many people and organizations I know seem to share Ellen’s perspective this time of year. Even in my own home as our family celebrates the advent season, I reflect on all our ‘joyous’ (said sarcastically) activities. From the many boxes of decoration we haul out to tracking Lenox (our Elf on the Shelf) throughout the house daily, we somehow seem to go over the top in our attempt to ensure ‘the best holiday experience’ for the family. This is of course on top of ensuring professionally we’re hitting all year-end milestones.


This week we found time amidst the busy ‘joy’ of over-scheduled and over-decorated activities to continue our kids’ classic holiday cinema education with an introduction to the Griswold family. Our daughter and son found it hysterical comparing our holiday activities to the movie’s antics, clearly giving us pause on our parenting and use of double entendre! 🤔


Amidst the humor and slapstick moments, #StrategyIRL moments hit me as hard as the power of 25,000 twinkle lights. ✨


Clark Griswold personifies the stressed leader trying with all his might to show gratitude and holiday zeal to his family. He’s run off the road, falls through his attic, staples himself, nearly burns down his house, and is almost arrested – all to show that he is a strong leader able to provide the best for his family.


What Clark does to make for an engaging family holiday is not that different from what leaders do in hopes of elevating staff culture. From lavish holiday parties to company swag gifts, significant planning, time, and cost go into end-of-year efforts to show staff appreciation. But do these acts secure the measurable effects of a positive corporate culture? We all know the answer, but yet - like Clark Griswold - we go forth doing more and more despite increasingly de minimis results.


As you finalize your organization’s holiday celebrations and year-end thank yous, consider learning from these evergreen pitfalls from the National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.


“He worked really hard, Grandpa,” Audrey Griswold says. “So do washing machines,” replies Grandpa Art.

Just as Audrey shows pride in her dad’s light extravaganza, so too might you be really proud of all the work you or the holiday planning committee does. Remember though to focus on the often less-ostentatious work that is done on rinse and repeat cycles throughout the year – that is where appreciation is to be most celebrated.


"Looks great. A little full. A lot of sap."

Extravagant gifts may look as good as the biggest tree, but no one wants to be stuck with the sap. Generous presents can have their own kind of sap… taxable income. Remember to give creatively so that the gift doesn’t leave the recipient feeling sticky or stuck with the bill. (Good reason to avoid that “Jelly of the Month Club,” too!)


“In seven years, he couldn't find a job?” Clark asks. Ellen replies, “Catherine says he's been holding out for a management position.”

Cousin Eddie may be an extreme metaphor for poor performing employees, afterall he wasn’t employed. He does, however, serve as a reminder that general staff holiday appreciation shouldn’t be confused with performance incentives. Analyses from the Incentive Research Foundation underscore the importance of clarifying intent of any tangible or intangible appreciation so as to not inadvertently undermine your organization’s performance management techniques used throughout the year.


"If you're good, Santa knows it. And if you believe in him, and you believe in your mom and you believe in your dad—if you've been good all year round, Santa Claus is going to bring you something." — Clark Griswold

The reality we all know is that the efforts of one month per year fall short in impacting annual engagement, experience, and success. In kid lingo, it’s why we need to be good all year not just in December to be on Santa’s nice list. Consider allocating your holiday ‘thanks’ or ‘gift’ budget for staff across 12 months. The Society for Human Resource Management similarly advocates thinking about extra paid time off and other work/life benefits that can maintain a more meaningful impact throughout the year.


Ellen Griswold, like many who get mired in the hectic expectations of this month, may have seen her family’s holiday antics as misery. But Clark’s leadership, even ill-executed, ultimately was anchored in gratitude, giving, and his plight for excellence. As you think about the effort and resources you invest in your staff this season to convey gratitude and enhance your culture, learn from Clark. Don’t overload the power grid with your lights nor overcommit your resources for a pool you can’t afford. Carry the energy, engagement, and spirit throughout the year. It will help you ratchet down the stress and spending, and go a long way to improving sustainable employee engagement.


“And that's all that matters tonight. Not bonuses or gifts or turkeys or trees." - Clark Griswold


NBG Strategy Consulting helps you get and stay on the nice-list throughout the year, charting pragmatic approaches to strategic growth and engaged leadership.

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