Don’t minimize the importance of celebrating small wins with the entire team at work. It is more important than you think. You might believe it is too costly or time-consuming to get your team together to celebrate a recent deal or that award your team won. But, rest assured, it might prove even more costly if you don’t take the time to celebrate.
As a leader, you have to understand how important recognition — especially shared recognition — is to you and your employees.
As Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick have noted in their recent management books (“The Carrot Principle,” “The Orange Revolution” and “All In”), fewer than half of managers even try to recognize their people. So, if you do, you will have a strategic advantage over most of your peers and competitors. Further, as they note, “When resources get tight, you might think about cutting back on recognition. Don’t. Recognition is what motivates and energizes employees to make things happen. Stepping up recognition in tough times sends the strong message that you trust in employees’ ability to turn things around.”
So, based on the research and practice, some tips are offered below:
Acknowledge the small steps , not just the big wins. Record the small wins so you can feel a sense of accomplishment. Big wins can be relatively rare. If, however, we acknowledge the smaller wins, we can boost our mental health and mood, and that of our entire office. This is because we are making progress in meaningful ways.
Show visible progress toward the long-term goals. Research shows that when people can see visible progress and experience small wins along the way, they become more engaged, productive and creative in their roles.
Share the celebration. Elton and Gostick talk about a “cheering culture.” When you bring the entire work unit in to celebrate the success of something the company has accomplished, then everyone gets to share in the success and feel a part of the win. This is powerful. As Elton and Gostick note, “Cheering is unifying. It creates an atmosphere of camaraderie and a willingness to accept each other and buoy one another. It acknowledges that each person on the team, by himself, will be unsuccessful unless everyone works together in a balanced, concerted effort.”
Focus on the positive side of things when celebrating. We have all heard managers say things such as, “It’s about time this team made some progress.” While the manager’s intent might be to recognize progress, the words might be viewed as negative. Avoid sarcasm, and use celebrations as a time to be positive.
Don’t delay. Employees need to see the connection between the celebration and the actual work. It is more important to do something quickly than to wait to put on a major production. Celebrate in a space that is convenient to employees.
Be specific. Make sure to identify and personally thank those who contributed to the award. In addition, go one step further and thank others in the organization who did their jobs successfully so that the team that won the award was able to have the freedom to do outstanding work. By recognizing everyone’s role, you are enabling everyone to feel that they can share in the success, and that they are all part of a winning team.
Create a symbolic memento. This could be a certificate or some small gift that represents the award. Often, managers get stumped by this and are unsure of what to give, thinking either that employees don’t care or that they might give the wrong type of gift. Yet, a small gift or note can be meaningful to employees. I once knew a manager who gave the candy Certs when his team members completed a program and received their “certificates.” Most of them put those Certs candies in a special place in their offices displayed to everyone who walked by. Just as all of us hold onto those trophies we got from our high school and college days, employees want something symbolic to show they had a small win.
Build a culture where employees root for each other. It shouldn’t just be the managers or leaders who cheer employees on. It is powerful if employees encourage each other instead of fighting with each other.
Remember, without the small wins, there would be no big celebrations. So take the time to celebrate. Bring everyone in so that you can help all of your employees be part of acheering culture. Most importantly, be sincere when providing recognition. It will make a difference.
Joyce E. A. Russell is the vice dean and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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