mark nottingham

How to Throw a Holiday Party

Thursday, 22 December 2005


One thing I detest about many technology companies is their tendency to treat employees like overgrown 15-year-olds with no social skills. This was most evident at Java One’s “Social Event” as previously discussed, but you also tend to see it in Silicon Valley holiday* parties.

So, here’s a tip for people who do these things for tech companies; treat your employees like adults. You’ll be surprised at how they’ll rise to the occasion, and thank you for doing it.


A perfect example (and the exception the proves the rule) is Intuit’s holiday party. I’ve been lucky enough to go for the last two years (my wife works for them), and let me tell you, these people know what they’re doing; I’ve overheard many conversations where their holiday party serves as a draw for new employees, as well as a sizeable retention incentive.

Why? Well, this year, it was held in San Francisco’s city hall, and they encouraged (but didn’t require) formal wear. Parking was arranged and paid for, and upon entering, you were greeted by a fleet of vintage cars on display, greeters and a rotunda full of elegantly-clad employees and their partners. Live jazz and dancing was on in one side room, a good cover band in the other.

The theme was “A Stardust Evening,” so there were professional dancers showing us how it’s done on the floor as well as the staircase. The speeches focused on the people rather than the corporation.

There was food everywhere, including a 100-foot+ sushi bar with multiple sushi chefs churning out the goodies, a six-foot chocolate fountain, and lots more; you were eating a meal, not the normal frozen party nibbles. In a few nooks, there were full self-service wine and cheese tables, with excellent selections of both.

One of the rooms was also full of tables for (non-monetary) gambling, and there were four or five places where you could step in front of a background with your date, get your picture taken, with the print to be picked up (free of charge, natch) at the end of the evening.

This is clearly not your average tech company holiday party.

Did it cost a lot? I’m sure it did; the planning alone must have been a monumental task. Was it worth it to the Intuit shareholders? I think emphatically yes; you can’t put a value on the good will that this sort of thing creates (well, I’m sure some economist out there probably has…).

One Comment

Bill Brown said:

At our holiday party, Go Daddy’s, Bob Parsons gave away $60,000 in cash plus plasma TVs, iPods galore, and gift certificates like you wouldn’t believe. Great food and a great speech rousing the troops.

Monday, December 26 2005 at 1:55 AM