I was reflecting on the ritual of the inauguration of the 46th President of the USA and whilst the inauguration ceremony wasn’t what we have seen before it retained key anchor points of ritual and ceremony. The presence of former Presidents, the swearing-in on the ‘family’ bible, the singing of the National Anthem by a national treasure, and the inclusion of a poem by a celebrated poet. It contained all of those along with row upon row of flags symbolising the public unable to attend because of the COVID lockdown and previous unrest at the Capitol.
In our lives, we have many ceremonies and rituals – birth, marriage, death, key milestones, sporting achievement, academic achievement and so much more. Ceremony and ritual matter because they offer an opportunity to come together to witness and reinforce key values and truths.
Whether it be the hope of a better democracy, or the joy of new life, or the potential embodied in a loving union…in every significant ritual, we can see the underpinning of hope, truth, love, freedom, justice, joy…the fundamentals of life.
When we look at our organisations it’s equally important that we have in place, and value, our own rituals and ceremonies and consider their meaning and the messages we are seeking to convey. Whether it be the annual conference or the way we mark success, the way we say thank you or showcase loyalty. Each of these can seem like things we just need to tick off – we must have a long service award programme, we must have a sales bonus and reward programme and so on – but what attention do we pay to their impact and messaging of values and truths about the organisation? A local handing over of a letter and a trinket for 25 years of service can feel somewhat ‘underwhelming’?
And what about the transfer of the baton between senior leaders such as when a new CEO starts or there is a reorganisation. Opportunities exist for us to apply a little more thought to the ritual and ceremony surrounding these events. I’m not suggesting a huge pomp and circumstance affair, but I am suggesting that we shouldn’t treat them as ‘shadowy’, under-the-radar events either. These events have an impact on people and their sense of connection and motivation – or at least they should if they’ve been done for good reason, and they deserve more than just an all-points bulletin.
Transferring the baton is an opportunity to recognise and reinforce the core values underpinning an organisation and its community. It’s an opportunity for celebration and hope as a community. It’s an opportunity for broader messaging that feels credible and connected – weaving together the fundamentals that guide an organisation beyond any one individual.
Ritual and ceremony help us connect to that deeper part of ourselves where we touch into belief – the belief in something bigger, something more fundamental – love, hope, truth, connection, goodness, oneness…let’s ensure we afford them due respect.