Create More Big Wins by Celebrating Your Team’s Small Wins

Michelle Riklan  |  October 9, 2015
last updated

Praise-the-Small-Wins Company leaders always want to celebrate those big wins, but you’ll actually create more big wins by celebrating your team’s small wins. About 65% of employees don’t feel valued by their boss, according to a study by CareerBuilder, and this attitude is often created because employers often overlook the normal, day-to-day successes of their employees. You might think it’s time consuming or expensive to celebrate an the accomplishment if the activity is just a small progress in an ongoing project, or an otherwise unnoticeable upward movement in a long term goal. It’s not like your team was just awarded a huge 100 grand deal, right? Well, those quick “attaboys” mean a lot to your team, and they are a great way to build camaraderie.

Celebrate the Small Wins to Build Teamwork

However small or insignificant a “win” is, it’s still worth celebrating. When the going gets tough, it’s the recognition and celebration that comes from small wins that pushes your team to keep going. Even if everything is going wrong, withholding praise or recognition on a legit accomplishment or progress sends the wrong message. Say that sales are down, but one of your team members closes a small contract that moves the sales team closer to their goal. Most managers will wait until the goal is completed before instilling praise on the group, but a quick praise of the salesperson who accomplished the small win will make encourage the other salespeople to follow suit.

Progress Principle: Progress toward a Goal is Hugely Influenced by Attitude

Prior to becoming Nobel Laureates for building the DNA Structure, James Watson and Francis Crick observed that the amount of progress they made towards their work was hugely influenced by their attitude. This effect was later called the ‘progress principle,’ which states that meaningful progress (small wins) increases people’s motivation more than any external or internal factor.

3 Tips for Encouraging Your Team using the Progress Principle

  1. Cheer them, Cheer Yourselves, Cheer Everyone: One account manager finally convinced a hesitant client to push through with a campaign? Celebrate that with the team. That account manager isn’t the only one supposed to be celebrating. When you celebrate one team member’s success as a team, everyone gets to bask in that person’s limelight, and in turn feel they’re a part of the effort and win. Cheering or celebrating as a group solidifies your bond as a team.
  2. Celebrate Itty-Bitty Milestones: When most leaders think about progress, they imagine a long to-do list finally completed. To most managers, a win is a major dent in a long-term project spanning months, not something that only took days to finish. While such big wins are amazing, they take much longer to come to fruition. Do you expect your team to slave off continuously at their 100% best without any boost from you? No. Only robots can do that. That’s why big projects have to be broken down into manageable to-dos. Small milestones provide a quick boost of morale to everyone at a more frequent pace. Ask individual team members to set their own goals in line with their current responsibility. For instance, a team member assigned to meet prospects and close deals can set a small milestone win after every five prospect meetings. Having team members track their efforts will also help them remember their progress, especially on bad days.
  3. Keep it Positive: Sometimes, even the most well-meant praise can sound sarcastic. For instance, phrases like, “About time you hit that quota!” or “I’m glad you finally finished that report,” will have a negative effect versus a positive one. While you might be really appreciative or glad of a subordinate’s progress, such statements can be construed as a complaint, or sarcastic praise. Keep constructive feedback to formal coaching sessions. For now, let your employees bask in the glory of their accomplishment.

Mementos and Trophies

On a final note, don’t be hesitant to give tangible rewards when it’s well deserved — even for a small win. Some managers don’t know how to do this, or they just don’t know what to give their employees. In this case, remember that you’re giving a symbol of their accomplishment, not necessarily a monetary reward.

Remember how much you liked trophies, medals and awards as a kid? It’s the same for your employees. Even adults like to receive awards.

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Michelle Riklan is president of Riklan Resources. She is based in the New York, NY Region. She is a specialist in corporate team development and public speaking skill classes.
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