Celebrating your way to Culture Change

We are big on celebrating. Anyone who knows my family, knows that we don’t let any significant event just pass us by without some form of celebration and acknowledgment. You might even say that celebrating well is part of our family culture. Celebrating is not limited to our family life, this can be seen throughout our organisation. The nature of our work means that every year, the months of January and February remove us from the normal routine of daily life into a very intense work period. We love this season every year but it requires long days and nights and a willingness to invite a bit of chaos into our family life. When this ‘mission is accomplished’ late in February we take a few days off to rest and celebrate. We celebrate at work because people have gone above and beyond, stretched themselves and their skill sets and we celebrate because people have been completely generous with their lives. We also celebrate at home because we want to acknowledge that our kids have sacrificed quality time with us, missed sports events and birthday parties and live out of a suitcase for six weeks because they too believe in the vision. I guess you could say, making hard choices for the sake of a greater vision is something we believe in, so we celebrate it.

I’ve heard it said that, “Culture is what we celebrate and what we tolerate.” To be honest, I don’t know where the quote originated but I can’t take the credit. What I do know through my experience of working with many different teams in shaping culture is that this statement is very true. You can write down whatever you hope your culture will be on paper but whatever you celebrate or tolerate will become your lived culture. Think about it, if gossip is tolerated in your setting (workplace, family, team, etc.) than everyone will know that it is an acceptable way of ‘doing things around here’ and it will be repeated. If it were not tolerated, however, and people were to be challenged about the way they were speaking, you would start to see a change in the culture. Celebrating can have the same effect. When people see that something is celebrated, they know that, ‘this is important or valuable around here.’ Whether it’s for a new event or initiative, taking a risk on a creative idea or noticing a team member who consistently lives in line with the desired values, celebrating these things helps people know that they are important and are a part of our desired culture. Most of the time these moments are markers of where a vision has come to fruition. If you want to have a snapshot into a group’s culture, look at what they tolerate and celebrate. While both are very important, this for us is a celebration week, so in this post I’m going to focus on that.

In a busy world, it can be way too easy to avoid celebration and just keep pushing towards the next goal. When we do this, we rob a team of their opportunity to acknowledge growth and moving closer to their vision, remembering their ‘why’ and experiencing the gratitude and life that comes from sharing success, whatever that may be. So this may sound good in theory but how do we shape culture through celebration? The more I work with teams in defining and shaping their culture, the more I see how relevant and important these principles can be in family life too. So, I want to offer four practical steps to help you use celebration as a way to start creating your desired culture.  

  1. Have a Culture Conversation

There are many different definitions of culture but because I love things to be simple and transferrable, I think the best way to describe culture is, “The way we do things around here.” Some questions to help you think about your current culture are:

  1. What do you like about your current culture? What are the things that you would never want to lose from your culture? Are there things that you are proud to say ‘that’s us’ or ‘that’s the way we do things around here?’  This may be things like, I love how positively we speak, we build each other up, we do everything with excellence, we are authentic, we back each other up when things get hard, or we love to have fun.
  2. What don’t you like about your current culture? What potentially holds you back from achieving your vision? Where would you like to see change? This could look like a lack of trust between team members, complaining and negativity, a lack of accountability, a general mediocrity, or allowing busyness to take over and not making time to connect. It’s only when you become aware of what these things are for you, in any setting that allow you to begin to change it.
  3. What’s missing? What are some key behaviours or elements you would love to have as part of your culture? What would you love for people to experience when they walk into your office, event, church etc.? What are some new things you need to include to enable your vision to be achieved more effectively? This is where intentional celebration can be so helpful. When you start putting celebration around the areas you want to grow, just watch your culture change.

Hopefully this conversation will give you some great insight into your desired culture and can help you start to build a plan that takes you from where you are now to where you want to go, using celebration as a vehicle.

2. Define the ‘Win’

Before you can celebrate it, you have to know what a win or success looks like. For each group this will be different, so it’s important that you define it and ensure that everyone knows it. Maybe your setting requires creativity and a win for you is coming up with ‘outside of the box’ ideas, maybe its finding new clients or reaching new people. Perhaps it’s running an event that meets the need of your people or it could be a more unseen win like your team finally trusting each other enough to ask for help and share vulnerably. An example from our family is, ‘filling someone’s bucket,’ an expression for being kind to someone, making them feel special, helping or encouraging someone.  At night over dinner we ask each other: how you have filled someone’s bucket? By celebrating this as a family, we are saying that this is a strong value, this is a win around here and we should be trying to repeat this, everyday. It helps that my kids are competitive and if someone has not got a story to share (and let me be REAL, this happens!) they are determined to come up with one the next day.

  3. Celebrate in a way that is authentic to YOU

There is no right or wrong way to celebrate. Maybe as you’re reading this, you are thinking celebration means throwing a party. As much as I love a good party and would love to be the one who gives you an excuse to throw one, it is not the only way to celebrate. If your team is spread out across the country or globe, this may be as simple as a group email or iPhone video that takes a moment to recognize the hard work and heart that people have poured into a project. Maybe it’s a gift for someone who consistently ‘walks the walk’ and embodies the values of your business or drinks after work when a particular goal was smashed. In our organisation we heavily rely on the generosity of volunteers and whenever a new volunteer is accepted, we ring a bell and everyone cheers. It’s small, but it reminds us, whatever we are doing, what our work is actually about. It can take the mundane tasks and breathe a new life and purpose into them by helping us be reminded of the bigger vision. Or perhaps it is taking your family to San Churro’s for chocolate fondue to thank them for being amazing and supporting your work. I don’t know how you do celebration but it’s worth you knowing, or thinking about, so you don’t let these moments just pass you by. Each one, when acknowledged, have the power to shape your culture.

4. It’s never too late to celebrate!

There is no perfect process to do this, it doesn’t require any overthinking, it just requires you to pick something and get started! The notion of ‘celebrating a win’ may be foreign to your current culture and you could even feel a little uncomfortable introducing this concept. The truth is, any kind of culture change can be very challenging and take a while before it becomes normal or a habit, but when it’s a positive change, it is definitely worth it. Sharing success, working together, feeling appreciated and valued and giving our best to contribute to a vision, are all worthy of celebration. The more they are celebrated, the more they are repeated and before you know it, you are creating a culture that people are not only drawn to but that they can thrive in.

I’ve continously seen the power of celebration bring teams together, offer hope and motivation, pull people through challenging times and give people a strong sense of purpose. I hope these four steps can do the same for you and help you begin to build the culture you hope for. Now we would love to hear from you, how do you celebrate?

How Death Inspired New Life

My New Year’s Eve didn’t turn out as I expected. After all of our planning and excitement to welcome in a new year, we were settling in for a great night of celebrating with good friends. As we sat down for dinner, I got a call from my mum, telling me through her heartbreaking sobs that my grandmother had just passed away. My scene quickly transitioned from clinking glasses of champagne to making cups of tea and bringing in the New Year with my family by my grandmothers bedside. It was such a strange feeling of deep sadness to say goodbye, combined with a deep gratitude for her long beautiful life, as well as a relief that this race was finally over for her and she could rest, eternally. Death has a strange way of drawing life back to the basics. Family, love, relationships, and asking the question: what matters most to you? As I held my grandmothers hand, in that moment, I was reminded how precious and fragile life is. The quote that stayed in my mind over that time is from Mary Oliver’s poem, A Summer’s Day, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I’ve heard this quote many times, I have friends who have it up on their walls and yet, I’m not sure if I’ve tried to put words to the answer. So I started to break it down and ask myself daily, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life…today?” 

Everyday my response has been different but the common theme is that each day, this question has given me the courage to do something a little different. Today? It led me to write this blog. Yesterday? It inspired me to take my kids out after their bedtime for ice-creams at a lookout that showcases all the lights of the city. Last week? I tried a new class at the gym I’ve been wanting to go to, but hadn’t, because I knew no one and didn’t know If I had the fitness to make the whole class.  Who knows where it will take me tomorrow. There’s something about this question that, for now, has a way of clearing out all the petty things that I can get sucked into and injects a bit of perspective back in my day. There is a strange thing about death that gives you an immense gratitude and hunger for life. I don’t pretend that this will last forever, being hyper-aware of what each day can hold but I’m going to ride this wave as long as I can and hopefully then, create reminders for myself. Because…


It is no accident that you are here, in this moment in history. I believe that everyone is made with purpose and for a purpose. Your purpose is different to mine and what is brave, daring, creative and fulfilling to you will look different to others. All the more reason for you to live it, TODAY. Even just a little bit, just a step. You can make a decision any day of the week that could have a profound impact on the direction of your life. Send the email, connect with that friend, forgive that person, have the hard conversation, write the song, go for the run, take that class, learn that language, say that prayer. I have no idea what ‘doing something a little different’ today looks like for you but I know for me, even just the smallest, seemingly insignificant actions, have brought so much joy to my everyday life lately. That’s why I wanted to share it because as I said, I’m sure this awareness of the fragility of life will not always be as prominent as it is in this season and I will want a reminder, so maybe you do too.

Although it can sometimes be confronting, death also offers the beautiful reminder to make the most of everyday. Not to put off the things that we want to try, live or experience. Most importantly, not to put off being with the people we love. Nana, I’m sure you didn’t intend to give me deep life lessons or crazy inspiration by your bedside, but you did, and I’m forever grateful. Thank God for the gift of your life, Merna Wilson, I love you forever.

So now, you tell me, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

P.S We have LOVED hearing your stories from around the world about your planning and dreaming dates! Please keep sharing your thoughts and inspirations with us!

Creating a Compelling Vision for the Year Ahead

New Year Planning Date

I absolutely love the week between Christmas and New Year! The excitement of a new fresh year, filled with empty days, ready to be lived. If you’re anything like me, I’m sure those ‘empty’ days become filled very quickly and before we know it June has rolled around. There was a season in my life where this pace felt overwhelming and I felt like I was just surviving and going through the motions of life, trying to keep up. With so many demands from many different directions, I started to wonder when I would get time to actually live the life I wanted to live and do the things I dreamed of doing. I remember at that time, reading a book by John Maxwell that introduced me to the concept of intentional living. Taking time out to really think about the life that you want to live: your hopes, your dreams, the way you want to make a difference in the lives of others, the things that bring you life and meaning and breaking those down into bite-size steps that you can live out everyday. For me, not only did this help me to create a really practical process for achieving my goals but it also gave me a greater sense of purpose in the everyday, something I had been craving! Maxwell went on to explain that he takes the week between Christmas and New Year to reflect on the year that was and plan and dream for what was to come in the following year. He also mentioned that he took his wife out to a really nice restaurant and they would discuss it together- nice dinner, wine and future dreaming- sounds like a great plan! So I borrowed his idea (Thank you John!) and it has become a habit for Mark and I ever since. The first year I was a bit intense with white boards, multiple templates and the need for planning perfection. However, since then, we have come up with a process which has really helped us and here’s hoping it might help you too! I want to add, obviously because we are married this process is done together but if you are single, you can follow the same steps and maybe even share with a close friend or family member.

  1. Individual Reflection
    Before we move into the New Year planning, we reflect on the year that has been. For us, with faith being such an important part of our life, this reflection always begins with prayer and asking God to lead us through this process as we believe He is the one who places these dreams and desires in our hearts. Some of our guiding questions are: What did we do well? What are we proud of? What didn’t we do well? What are areas we need to grow in? How did we do with the goals we set for ourselves? It’s really helpful to know where we are, before deciding where we are going.
  2. Go Somewhere Inspiring
    This may sound strange but there is something about escaping the normal hustle and bustle of life that helps us to dream. If I’m at home, I get distracted by the dishes and laundry that needs to be done and I’m not really in the mindset to see beyond what is right in front of me. For us, this means getting a babysitter (we usually try for a whole day) and heading to fun cafes, great restaurants and beautiful scenery. These options may not inspire you, so make sure you find a place that does.
  3. Dreaming/Visioning
    This part is fun! This is where all rules are out the door and you just write down the things you would love to do with your life. Don’t be afraid to dig deep, sometimes the things we are called to are buried under the fear that we could never get there. What are the things that you hope for? What are the gifts God has given you to make a difference in this world and how can you share them? How do you want to grow? What would an amzing year look like? This doesn’t just have to be for the year ahead, maybe it’s a long term goal or something that may take 10 years. Make sure you write it down, on a whiteboard, note paper, your phone, whatever, just make sure you keep a written record. Even just sharing these dreams with each other is an awesome experience, to really know what the other is hoping for can be very insightful.
  4. Creating the Goals
    This is where you break down the dreams into really practical goals and steps. Something you can do every day or once a week and create habits out of it. You can honestly make this process your own but for anyone wondering, we do create goals around a number of different areas. I know this is a little overkill with the alliteration but it helps me remember: faith, family (kids and marriage), fitness, friends, finances and work (or the ways we want to serve people). These are the things that are important to us and I guess the question we ask for each section is, “How do we want to grow in this area next year?” It may sound silly to have goals around these things but if you decide that it’s important to you, it deserves intentionality. One of our strongest values for both of us is to have a strong marriage but we know this doesn’t happen by accident. So one of our clear goals next year is to have a weekly date night. This doesn’t always have to be going out but it does mean that one night a week is permanently blocked out for time together. I can confidently say, if we were not intentional about this, with our crazy life, it would not happen. Whatever your goals are, it helps if you are as specific as possible.
  5. Create Accountability
    If I’m really honest, this one is hard for me. I’m not a naturally structured person and sometimes the thought of working on goals can feel like another ‘to-do’ list. This is where the power of my WHY comes in. It helps me to come back to the dream, the bigger picture vision for life. I know that without the daily discipline my dreams may never come about and this is what keeps me going. For us, this practically looks like reviewing our plans and goals on a Sunday night once the kids have gone to sleep. Not only does it keep us on track but also helps us have new focus for the week ahead and get on the same page.

A few tips…

  • Don’t make too many goals, decide what is most important and set yourself up to win. We don’t commit to more than 10, focus is really helpful.
  • It’s helpful to pay attention to the season you are in and be realistic about what you can achieve. For example, we moved house and had a new baby last year so we went pretty easy on the goal setting.
  • YOU are the one creating your goals, you are allowed to change them. They’re meant to serve you and if they are no longer doing that, it might be time to re-evaluate.
  • After working with many different people on creating and smashing their goals, I can definitely say that you have to find what works for you. You may need to find your own style and language around it. I know people who are put off by the concept of ‘goal-setting’ and prefer a different language to describe how they plan for the things they desire in life. Find what keeps you motivated and bring others along for the journey!  
  • ENJOY IT!!! How amazing is it that we have the freedom to create and plan this beautiful life we have been given.

We pray that 2019 is an amazing year for you and know that we are cheering you on as you seek to live this life to the full!