Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway and many other legendary products, once said, “You get what you celebrate.”
For many results-oriented leaders and entrepreneurs, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind of the business. The marketing team has campaigns to roll-out and blogs to post. The sales team’s focus is on capturing new clients and attending the next tradeshow. The operations team has an endless list of tasks and assignments to complete. And accounting, well, there’s always another bill to pay and another month to close. When is there time to stop and celebrate? And, is it even necessary in terms of your bottom line?
Paul Zak, a neuroeconomist and author of Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies, identifies recognition and celebration as critical components to creating a high-performance team. He argues that “All employees today are volunteers. Yes, they are paid, but they choose an organization at which to work, and culture can either promote engagement or drive them elsewhere.
What makes Paul Zak’s research even more compelling is that he explains what’s happening on a neurological level. Recognition and celebration of a team member’s accomplishments trigger a release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter – a chemical that transfers information between neurons, which helps to regulate critical processes such as movement, attention, learning, as well as a variety of emotional responses. Dopamine also contributes to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.
Dopamine also plays a role in addiction. While being addicted to gambling or cocaine is a bad thing, being addicted to engaging and rewarding work is a good thing, especially if you are building a high-performing team!
Be Mindful of What You Are Celebrating at Work
Of course, you can’t recognize and celebrate every little thing every single day. Too much of a good thing will dilute the impact of the act. And, it matters what kinds of things you celebrate, after all, these are behaviors, achievements, or accomplishments that you want to see more of in your organization.
Ask yourself the last time your team celebrated. What did you celebrate? What type of message were you promoting through that recognition? Author and speaker, Jack Daly, points out that many organizations give a “going away” party for a team member that is leaving. What message does that send to the team? Instead, consider the message sent by throwing a celebration to welcome a new member of the team or recognizing someone for their recent promotion.
Celebrating Three Levels of Organizational Achievement
Celebration and recognition should happen at three levels: the company, the team, and the individual. For each of those levels, you should clearly define success in a way that can be measured, and hence, celebrated. Based on Zak’s research and my own experience with coaching companies, here are some guidelines on you can incorporate celebration into your organization:
When we think about company level metrics worth celebrating, it can be helpful to think in terms of breaking this down into three basic types of milestones:
Start by identifying a handful of key metrics for the organization. These 3-5 key numbers will serve as the scoreboard for your company. In any sporting event, players know if they’re winning or losing based on the score. Does every member of your team know the score at any given moment? If not, start by identifying these critical metrics – a combination of leading and lagging indicators. Then, communicate the metrics daily. The scoreboard can be reported using an electronic dashboard, a whiteboard, or even a daily email. And when your team is “winning” the game or has made a significant accomplishment, celebrate!
Long Term Goals
Additionally, the company should have their sights set on a long-term goal. Jim Collins, the author of many books, including Good to Great, calls this 10 to 30-year goal a Big Hairy Audacious Goal – the BHAG. This long-term goal keeps the team focused on the bigger picture. And, just like a daily scoreboard, you should celebrate BHAGs as a team when you achieve significant milestones.
Additionally, recognize team members for demonstrating the Core Values of the organization. Core Values are at the foundation of the organization’s culture. While recognition from supervisors for exemplifying the Core Values is good, it’s even more critical to create a culture where team members recognize colleagues regularly for living up to the Core Values. Creating a systematic and ongoing Core Values recognition tool will build a culture of recognition.
Each department and team in your organization should also have a scoreboard composed of a handful of leading and lagging indicators. Using football as an example, the company’s scoreboard includes its score and the opponent’s score. The defensive team might have a scoreboard that consists of the number of turnovers created and the number of quarterback sacks. The metrics of each department should directly contribute to the success of the company’s score.
Just like at the company level, the department should celebrate when they hit certain levels. Starting in 2017, the defensive unit for the University of Miami Hurricanes football team put a giant gold “Turnover Chain” on any player that created a turnover during the game. Coach Mark Richt called the chain, “The greatest thing since sliced bread.” Emphasizing creating turnovers helped Miami finish 2017 with their best season in 10 years, in part, because they finished tied for third in the nation for forced turnovers. As Kamen said, “You get what you celebrate.”
Finally, each individual in your organization should have a personal scorecard. These individual scorecards should include 2-3 individual KPIs that track performance. I believe that team members should receive feedback and coaching from a supervisor every two weeks. During this review, KPI’s should be reviewed and discussed. When an individual is performing well, they should be recognized publicly. Paul Zak’s research found that public recognition is more important than private recognition. Interestingly, it turns out that public recognition has a positive impact on those that are not being recognized!
Timing Is Critical
A final important note about using recognition and celebration to build a high-performing team is that the recognition must occur close in time to the goal being celebrated. Having a celebration in February for a goal that was achieved in December will have a small impact. But hosting an unexpected all-hands meeting in the middle of the day to celebrate a team member’s sales achievement will have a powerful effect on the entire team.
Celebration and recognition are essential to building a high-performing team. As Paul Zak summarizes, “ovation that is unexpected, public, tangible, personal, close in time to the goal being met, and comes from peers has the most powerful effect on brain and behavior.” And it’s something that you can start doing today. Start celebrating what you want to see more from your team!
If you have any questions or comments, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rob Simons is a coach, facilitator, and storyteller – a unique fusion of skills that makes him uniquely equipped to coach entrepreneurs and business leaders to scale organizations. Using the Rockefeller Habits as his foundation, Rob has successfully trained hundreds of clients to build a culture of purpose, alignment, and accountability in organizations across a variety of industries. Contact Rob at email@example.com or 210-845-2782.