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Claire Logan

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How to celebrate success when there isn’t any


It’s always easy to celebrate the good times, but what happens when the results aren’t so great? Claire Logan outlines some of the options available to reward and recognise in challenging times.

It has been accepted wisdom for many years that the culture of an organisation can affect its performance. Throughout the late 80s and 90s organisations launched culture change programmes, with varying degrees of success. Whatever people believe about such programmes, one of the aspects most people agreed on – and something that has endured into the current trend of employee engagement initiatives – was the importance of celebrating success.
A great deal of effort was put into designing ways of celebrating, such as corporate events and pay and reward structures which linked individual and company performance. An industry even developed to provide managers with a range of creative ‘treats’ for high-performing staff including adrenaline packed activity days.

Costly ways of celebrating success are a thing of the past

Celebrating success in these ways should not simply be seen as a thing of the past. When there was more money around and an organisation’s performance was strong it made celebrating in this way easier. Managers could throw money at team building events, bonuses or even one off payments that took the edge of an employee having to work their socks off on a difficult project. Now two things have changed – there is less positive news around and discretionary spend is significantly reduced. Neither of these, however, change the basic truth that employees need to feel positive about their contribution to an organisation. So how can managers and leaders celebrate success when many of the standard approaches are no longer affordable?

Remember that money is not the solution to lack of motivation

Maslow can always be relied on to remind us that to motivate employees, the basics need to be taken care of. For most organisations, especially at the middle and senior management level, the basic ‘need’ such as salary is not the issue. Fair and transparent reward mechanisms which really can be influenced by the individual can be important, but generally money is not the solution to lack of motivation. Losing that discretionary spend could be just the prompt you need to think about the following areas.

Be interested in your employees as individuals

The general principles around motivation are well known, but what really motivates each of us is different. Managers should be encouraged to get to know their teams – it may not feel very comfortable at first but it will pay dividends.
If you can work out what makes your team tick you can change your behaviour to get the most out of people. Can you do practical things like structuring work so that is more interesting for individuals, regularly praise high quality work or hold regular team lunches in the canteen?

Give employees something to talk to their friends about

Having something positive to say about your organisation when talking to family, friends or customers can change the way you feel about your work. Positive re-enforcement from others can encourage pride in the organisation you work for. What talking points can you create in your organisation?

Think about recognising contributions rather than just achievements

When major successes are sparse, don’t fall into the trap of saying nothing. Balancing a ‘lessons learnt’ approach with a positive recognition of contribution can create a more fruitful dialogue. Can you give specific, positive and regular feedback about things that you want your people to continue doing? This is much more motivating than simply a ‘job well done’ statement or a small end of year bonus.
But there are some notes of caution:
  • Don’t assume you know what motivates people – you need to ask
    What is valuable to a group of senior managers might not be valuable to other staff. Don’t make the mistake of investing time in an activity that is not valued by employees. Using employee consultation forums or working groups can be a really effective way of drawing ideas from the floor and these are much more likely to hit the mark.
  • Be authentic in your approach
    If there is not a great deal of success around don’t make a big deal of small achievements. Be authentic in your celebrations and if something doesn’t feel like it should be shouted from the tree tops then don’t!
  • Look at your actions through your customers eyes
    Banks celebrating success too early in the current climate are receiving negative press. When you start celebrating again, think about what your customers would think and the associated impact on your brand. Ask yourself, is this what you want to see in the headlines?
In some organisations keeping your job will be viewed as the new bonus but for others, even if the days of exponential growth seem far away, HR does have a role to play in helping managers celebrate with their teams. Injecting small doses of celebration is an easy way to impact the motivation levels of your employees and remind us all that work can be satisfying.
Claire Logan is managing consultant at PA Consulting Group

3 Responses

  1. One persons notes of caution…

    …are anothers top tips. Nice piece, lots here I can and will use.

    Here’s a link to a great video on Youtube/TED about the science of motivation. Dan Pink the speaker talks engagingly about autonomy, mastery and purpose. Derek Irvine first drew my attention to this and it supports your post well I think, hope you enjoy watching it.


  2. Celebrating Success…meaningfully

    Excellent article and suggestions. Two points in particular are very important in establishing a culture of recognition. First, yes, recognize contributions and not just achievements. Better yet, when recognizing those contributions, tell the employee how the effort reflected a company value in contribution to a strategic objective. Not only are you telling employees you appreciate what they’re doing, but you’re also giving them the bigger picture — why their individual work matters. To many, that alone is an important element of meaningful, engaging work.

    Second, yes, you must understand what motivates individual employees. The best answer — give them the reward of choice. Let them choose for themselves what is personally meaningful and, critically, culturally relevant.


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