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Celebration Time

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Story by
Sue Musson leadership expert and author of Firecracker Leadership

Success of teamwork, joint achievement of goal in business and life. Winning team is holding trophy in hands. Silhouettes of many hands in sunset.

Sue Musson, leadership expert and author of Firecracker Leadership discusses the importance of recognition and celebration in the workplace.

Great leaders know how important recognition and celebration are to building an engaged, high-performing workforce and a positive organisational culture. They know that sincere, genuine praise is a powerful motivator.

Quite simply, people leave organisations when they do not feel valued and appreciated. The corollary is also true: employees will stay in even the most challenged organisations when they feel part of something worthwhile and when their efforts are recognised sincerely and appropriately.

Leaders want to be valued too

Leaders are no different to everyone else in that they want to be valued and appreciated for what they do. This is why it is so surprising when leaders make the mistake of only paying lip service to wins and achievements and dwell exclusively on problems. They err in thinking celebration is a nice-to-have or inappropriate. Nothing could be further from the truth. All positive behaviours are reinforced through recognition, so the best way to encourage more achievement is to recognise even small wins by celebrating who and what created them.

Insecure leaders fear they will look soft if they show appreciation and praise people. They worry that they will be labelled ‘Pollyanna’ or ‘Pangloss’, characters cursed with such an excess of naïve optimism that even catastrophes were celebrated as being wonderful and all for the best.

Great leaders do not pretend everything is always rosy. They tell the truth and are comfortable showcasing genuine achievement and encouraging effort to make improvements where needed.

Confidence and achievements

The confident leader knows that recognising others’ achievements is one of the most powerful tools they possess. The author Dale Carnegie wrote, ‘Nothing else so inspires or heartens people as words of appreciation.’ Dale Carnegie was also careful to remind readers that praise must be honest, sincere and evidence-based. People can spot a phoney or an ulterior motive a mile off.

Appreciation must be authentic, genuine and specific if it is to land well and meaningfully. Flattery creates the opposite impact of sincere praise, making people feel suspicious and uncomfortable.

Of course, the methods of recognition and celebration need to be proportionate and sensitive to the prevailing environment. If resources are tight, there are plenty of low-cost, high-impact ways to celebrate and express sincere appreciation that makes people feel good. These approaches are helpful in providing bursts of motivation that boost morale.

How to celebrate

Four different methods leaders can incorporate into the organisation to help celebrate, recognise and appreciate the efforts of others are:

  • Showcasing key events – Significant events – such as the pandemic – can provide a fitting backdrop to the most effective celebrations. Recognising the efforts others have made with awards or gifts in response to such an event provides a platform for showcasing the sense of connection and trust created in responding and can help the team feel appreciated and valued for their work.
  • Using symbols – Celebrating a particular performance goal within the organisation by awarding an inexpensive item such as a sticker or a chocolate bar can be a simple but effective way of showing appreciation. The item must be accompanied by genuine and significant words of thanks to become a meaningful symbol. With a genuine and authentic expression of gratitude, even the smallest item can become a desirable symbol that holds meaning.
  • Building gratitude and celebration into daily life – Finding routine and regular ways to highlight achievement is a powerful way to recognise effort and build morale. Encouraging open nominations of individuals and colleagues for a regular award is a good option as is highlighting personal and collective achievements in team brief arrangements. Setting the criteria to recognise those who achieve performance goals as well as those who demonstrate organisational values reinforces the importance of both elements.
  • Learning from mistakes – It may sound counter-intuitive, but highlighting learning from mistakes is a significant way to promote an open culture that is focused on improvement. Recognising individuals who identify when something has gone wrong and treating this act as worthy of recognition builds a sense of psychological safety. Praising – not blaming – individuals who call out a problem is an effective way to build a healthy culture.

These approaches convey sincere recognition and appreciation of the work of individuals and teams. They are helpful in creating a workplace where colleagues feel safe, motivated and valued. When accompanied with personalised, thoughtful feedback, these approaches can help build a positive organisational culture where sincere, meaningful recognition and appreciation become the norm.

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