As the leader of your business, you’re driven by a sense of vision. You have (or at least, you should have) a clear sense of where you’re headed year after year, month after month… But how to stay the course, day by day? And how to keep your team motivated, excited, and bought-in on your vision in between those major milestones?
You’ve probably heard about the importance of celebrating wins as a business owner. But if you’re celebrating only the huge moments and neglecting all the small gains that get you from Point A to Point B, you’re doing yourself and your team a disservice.
In this article, we’ll explore how to celebrate small wins as a business owner—and why it matters so much to your ability to reach your mid-term and long-term goals.
Small Wins, Big Results
When it comes to growing a team of people who aren’t just task-driven, but who are self-starters and independent thinkers who are invested in the company vision, boosting team morale is everything. Your team needs to understand not just what they’re supposed to do—but why it matters, for the company and for them as individuals.
When you only celebrate huge wins, you neglect the essential, everyday work team members do week after week to consistently move your organization in the direction of your long–term vision. Conversely, pausing to celebrate the “small stuff” will help your team stay focused and motivated on bringing that long-term vision to life.
In order to encourage not just greater productivity, but more inspired thinking and genuine engagement, you must ensure that your team members feel appreciated, recognized, and respected for their contributions on an individual level.
From your right hand in management, all the way down to the intern answering the phone—celebrating your team’s small wins gives you an opportunity to personally recognize the contributions of every single guy or gal on the totem pole.
The result? When a team member feels that their work is contributing in a meaningful way, they are more likely to continuously respond with creative solutions and innovative output, rather than just punching in for the paycheck.
The idea of encouraging creative output begs the question—do our team members really need to be celebrated every week to continuously inspire high-quality work? Is our team’s performance solely contingent on external factors like recognition from higher-ups? Or is it possible to cultivate an internal dialogue that supports consistent satisfaction and inspiration on the job, even on days where things may not go as planned?
To answer this question, The Harvard Business Review spent nearly 15 years researching factors of motivation in employees at thousands of companies over numerous industries. What they found was straightforward, yet powerful:
“Of all the things that can boost inner work life, the most important is making progress in meaningful work.”
In short, “inner work life” is your team members’ daily, internal monologue. It’s the voice in their head that subconsciously says, “I’m part of something meaningful”—or, in cases where a rich inner work life isn’t being cultivated, “Take this job and shove it.”
Nurturing your team’s inner work life is just a fancy way of saying “building resiliency.” Even with our best efforts, we will occasionally experience setbacks. There will be bad days, both personally and on a company-wide level. There will be obstacles. How your team members respond during those setbacks is intrinsically linked to how respected, appreciated, and connected they feel to their work on an average day.
Celebrating small wins ensures that even when the going gets tough, your people still feel like staying the course is worth it.
The Science Behind Celebrating Small Wins
When we talk about celebrating wins as business owners, it can be easy to get caught up in the emotional benefits. Yes, we want our team members to feel motivated. But at a certain point, we need to know that they can take personal accountability and get the work done well, even when they aren’t feeling “motivated” or “inspired.” right?
Sort of. As it turns out, the concept of nurturing an “inner work life” is actually the link between surface-level, emotional benefits—and leveraging actual neuroscience to get the best possible performance out of your team.
On a biological and evolutionary level, our brains are pre-programmed to hold onto negative biases. This means that if you have an off day and chew out your receptionist, they’re likely going to hold onto this bad experience more deeply than, say, the office-wide Christmas party you shelled out for.
BUT—and this part is key—by making small celebrations a regular part of your work environment, you can build your team members’ self-esteem and confidence on a micro-level. Going back to the idea of resiliency, this means you can literally impact the way your team’s brain holds onto (or lets go of) negative events when they occur.
Just as humans come pre-programmed with a slight negative bias, our brains are also wired to respond to reward mechanisms. According to studies completed by the University of Michigan:
“Any accomplishment, no matter how small, releases the neurotransmitter dopamine which boosts your mood, motivation, and attention. It also signals you to keep doing the activity again and again.”
This means that by celebrating small wins, you’re not just “motivating” your team in a short-term sense. You’re literally giving their brains a dopamine hit that will keep them focused, in-the-game, and feeling fulfilled by their work on a long-term basis.
Practical Tips For Celebrating Small Wins at Work
When it comes to figuring out exactly how to celebrate your team’s success, every business should choose a way of celebrating wins that aligns with your goals, your team culture, and the types of actions you want to reward. Generally speaking, we recommend celebrating any performance that exceeds standards—and/or any performance that consistently meets the standard again and again over a long-term period.
We’re not suggesting business owners go around handing out participation awards or celebrating employees for doing the bare minimum; their reward for just showing up and completing their work is their salary. However, recognizing when a team member goes above and beyond, succeeds in facing a challenge, experiences significant growth, or blows a metric out of the water is a great way to keep your team engaged in the company vision.
When deciding how best to recognize your team’s accomplishments, you may want to consider:
- Your company’s personality. Do you want to cultivate a fun, relaxed atmosphere? Or is your organization a bit more buttoned up? Either way is ok, but be sure to choose a reward that correlates to the culture you want to create.
- Recognition from higher-level leadership. Being recognized by their direct manager is one thing, but your team members will respond especially well to recognition from leaders further up the chain. This is key to ensuring they feel their work is not only noticed by their peers—but appreciated and valued by those at the head of the organization.
- Praise without coaching. Coaching your team is a valuable skill as a leader—but there’s a time and a place for everything. When you’re celebrating a win, focus exclusively on praise and acknowledgment, and resist the urge to start talking about how they can do better or up the stakes next time.
- Recognition of personal growth. Sure, we know we should celebrate when our organization hits a revenue target or closes a big account. But when was the last time you celebrated a team member developing a new skill, completing a certification, or leading a tough conversation? Look for chances to recognize not only wins for the organization, but wins that reflect a team member’s individual growth, development, and contributions.
If You’re Struggling to Identify Your Small Wins—That Might Indicate a Lack of Clarity In Vision, Strategy, or Plan.
If you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, or like the daily wins you experience aren’t connected to your long-term desires for your life and your business—this is a huge red flag. It’s time to take a step back and get clear and specific on your vision.
One way to do this is to work with a business coach who prioritizes clarity of vision in their process. At Exit Momentum, everything we do with our clients circles back to the question of vision. We’re here to help you create not just a successful business—but a company that fuels the impact, money, and freedom you want to create through entrepreneurship.
Want to learn more about our process? Grab our free business strategy guide and get 5 ways to cut through the chaos, clarify your focus, and scale your business fast: