Celebrate Big Things. Celebrate Little Things. Celebrate Often.


In my last blog, I shared some of my recent experiences with groups mastering the aspects of problems related to people. Just as meaningful to me has been some recent experiences related to groups’ discomfort with celebrating accomplishments, including having fun together.

Typically, teams are aware of the need to celebrate, but they claim it’s not something they do well. Several of them seem to find it quite painful to consider how to have fun — as if it’s a completely foreign concept related to the workplace. Yet we all know that teams that play together can work together better and feel more connected to each other by sharing experiences (meals, bowling, volunteer work, etc).

I can’t help but wonder how this reluctance to celebrate and enjoy each other’s company impacts our work.

Accomplishment Motivates People to Climb the Next Hill


I can vividly recall people complaining of feeling like they are on a treadmill, working hard with no sense of arriving at any level of success. The days and weeks run together with nothing to show for them but exhaustion.

Celebrating doesn’t just mean having a party. But recognizing achievements and milestones like reaching a new level of performance and finishing projects brings closure and a sense of accomplishment. It’s a way to step off the treadmill to pause and consider the progress made so far — and it motivates people to climb the next hill.

In our leadership program, we teach that positive recognition is considerably more powerful than corrective feedback. Specifically, giving recognition and corrective feedback at a 10:1 ratio.

People are naturally drawn to what feels good — recognizing behaviors and/or accomplishments (no matter how small) motivates people to do more. We are not recommending recognition to just make people feel good, it’s a strategy leaders can use to increase the right behaviors needed for better results.

Optimizing People’s Contributions and Engagement


Over the last few years, my colleague Peter Hines and I have focused on People Value Streams. In essence, this theory says: we need to work with how our people naturally flow to optimize their contributions.

Peter has guided me through a range of academic research that outlines what has been understood scientifically about human motivation and ways to leverage this in the workplace. Not surprisingly, positive reinforcement is highly regarded as a driver of human behavior.

My favorite quote from Peter says: “people don’t start jobs disengaged.”

The question to consider is: “What happens after day one that causes disengagement?” Not having a sense of accomplishment or not feeling recognized for your contributions are the types of issues that lead to disengagement.

Positive Reinforcement Drives Good Habits


Leaders and managers often remark, “I don’t need anyone to acknowledge my work, so why should I recognize my team members for just doing their jobs?”
These people are the same as everyone else, but are often overlooking the benefits of celebrating our successes.

I worked with a coach once to help me build better organizational habits. She asked me to structure anchors or cues that would help me remember to activate good habits.

Next, she suggested that I have a broad range of treats that would celebrate little accomplishments along the way. It seemed silly to me at first, yet sure enough the cues worked and so did the little treats. I guess Pavlov works on most humans after all!

What was fun about this experience was coming up with a really long list of options for treats.

So how does this apply?

Benefit from a Variety of Ways to Celebrate


People can benefit from a wide variety of ways to celebrate. I once knew a leader that celebrated every little increase in productivity and efficiency — usually on Fridays. They did:

  • Pizza
  • Doughnuts
  • Leave 30 minutes early
  • Cookouts
  • $5 gas cards
  • Small gifts
  • St. Patrick’s day parties
  • Bake offs
  • Bowling
  • Games, and more

The trick was coming up with so many ways to celebrate success that it never got old and people kept having a fresh sense of getting somewhere new.

Out of 20 facilities, the one with consistent positive reinforcement had the greatest level of improvement. After studying the plant manager’s process, it struck me that he had a good but average team. The difference was the focus on celebrating even minuscule improvements every week.

Celebrate big things. Celebrate little things. Celebrate often.

Just keep your eye on positive momentum to get wherever you are going.

Make this a practice that’s used in many places. Get really clear on what celebrating means and why it’s powerful. Tell stories of the impact celebrating has on individual teams. Read up on positive psychology and have leadership team discussions on it.

Please share in the comments: how have you found celebration to work in your workplace? What are your struggles with recognition and celebration?

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