After a successful change management project for which I was consultant, I was invited by the client to join them for an evening celebratory dinner at an upmarket venue overlooking the sea. Upon arrival, I was surprised to find one table reserved for nine people – as it turned out, the eight executives and the consultant. I felt honoured and the meal was indeed a sumptuous celebration, but I knew that the people who had actually made a success of all the needed changes in the company were the middle managers and employees. They had worked tirelessly to get all the projects completed on time. They had put in the discretionary effort to ensure disciplined execution and seamless transition from the old to the new. They were the real champions. At a point in the conversation and just after the main course, I asked the CEO the necessary question: “How are you going to celebrate with the managers and the employees?” There was suddenly silence at the merry table and a few cleared their throats. The CEO answered honestly: “We don’t have any plans”, and then followed with a question: “Do you have any suggestions?” Without going into detail of the actual suggestions offered, my reply included some or more of the following principles:
- Everyone needs to be acknowledged and rewarded for great work – recognition is a basic human need. From recognition, employees derive a sense of self-value and esteem, the same of which contribute to feelings of well-being. A healthy self-image leads to confidence, determination and extra effort being applied.
- Recognition leads to motivation – Gallup Business Journal suggests that money alone is not enough to keep most employees satisfied and doing their best work. In actuality, praise and recognition are often more meaningful and effective ways of motivating workers. Employees need to know what they are doing right, the repetition of which would lead to further accomplishments.
- Celebration of successes reinforces desirable behaviour – it illustrates expectations and gives people who are performing below par the opportunity to rise to the occasion. The celebration itself is a form of encouragement and sends a clear message that the company wants more of the same achievements.
- Celebrations need to be timely, specific, sincere and inclusive – as close as possible to the actual event, related directly to the company goals and values, genuine and authentic expressions of gratitude and encompassing all staff who were part of the achievement (even the cleaning employees).
- Celebrations need to be fun – a voucher to spend at the local supermarket, although helpful, is not fun. Creativity is needed to make the celebration a memorable experience – one that is talked about fondly in the future.
- Executives need to participate – standing on the side and “watching” the proceedings is not what is needed. All managers need to dress up and immerse themselves in the celebration. This is a time to connect and engage with the employees.
- Celebrations should be used for impactful communication – a celebration is an ideal platform, not only for outlining why this success was meaningful for the company and for acknowledging those who participated in the achievement, but also importantly for illustrating the way ahead. The “big picture” view should be presented together with the part that everyone needs to play in order to arrive at this future destination.
Celebrating workplace successes effectively breed future successes. Managers can harness the ensuing energy and enthusiasm and channel it appropriately. Employees need recognition – celebration of workplace successes develops pride and a sense of contribution satisfaction. Everyone needs to understand the specific value that they offer.