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Seven Ways to Create a Culture of Praise and Celebration in your business 

When did you last thank a member of your team? Yesterday? Last week? Can’t remember? For some of us, it comes easily. For others, it’s much more challenging. But one thing’s true. Praise and celebration make a massive difference in staff engagement. Yet they’re often overlooked or forgotten in the everyday busyness of work.

Why is this? It’s such a simple thing to do. Maybe it’s cultural. In some places, it’s like praise and celebration have been engineered out of the fabric of the workplace. Or could it be down to our education system focusing more on weaknesses than strengths? According to Gallup, two-thirds of staff can’t recall recent praise or recognition. What a sad state of affairs!

You’ll find praise and celebration hard if you’re anything like me. They just don’t come naturally. Looking through the lens of Gallup Strengths, one of my top five strengths is ‘Achiever’. No surprise there. I’ve always driven myself hard and thrive on goals. But the ‘basement’ of this strength is forgetting to praise, say thank you or celebrate success. It just doesn’t occur to me.

So, what are you to do if it doesn’t come easily? How do you create a culture of praise and celebration in your business? 

    1. Make praise specific

    Here’s the thing. You can’t praise or celebrate until you know what it is that you’re singling out. If someone says to me, ‘Well done, Dom. Good job!’ it’s pretty meaningless. The value of feedback (whether positive or negative) is its specificity. So better to say, ‘Well done, Dom, for doing X thing, which enabled Y thing to happen’. 

    So you need to get specific. What are the milestones you want to celebrate? What are the behaviours you want to call out? I’ve written before about clarity of expectation. This is critical. A good handle on KPIs and goals will give you the milestones for celebration. And a behavioural framework, based on your core values, will define the behaviours you want to call out and praise. Without these, it’s hard to make any headway with motivation. 

    2. Learn from children (and dogs)

    Once you’re clear on goals and behaviours, recognise that positive reinforcement is the way forward. If you’ve had any experience with small children, or dogs, you’ll know that praise and reward are the way to get them to do more of what you want. Training a dog with titbits or making a big deal out of children sharing/being polite is much easier. They will learn to behave in specific ways to get what they want. 

    It may sound simplistic, but it’s the same in businesses. Work out where your social currency or status comes from and use it as an incentive. Then everything becomes self-fulfilling. And if you don’t do it? Well, I worked for a guy once who never said anything nice to anyone. As a result, his organisation was in a permanent state of ‘learned helplessness’. The pervasive negativity resulted in people losing their sense of self-worth and self-esteem. No one cared about doing a good job, and there was little collaboration. People just existed. Terrible! I didn’t stay there long.

    3. Make praise deliberate

    If you know you’re not great at praising people or planning celebrations, ask for help. There will be others around you who are natural at this. Get them to keep their ears to the ground to spot when someone’s been helpful, solved an issue or gone above and beyond. Armed with this information, make a deliberate point of giving praise every single day.

    This can be transformational. It’s compelling when you notice more subtle things like someone’s diligence in finishing a project on time – the unremarkable stuff of everyday working life. It’s easy to catch the big, dramatic moments like someone working through the night to fix a problem, but you also need to notice when people quietly do their job well.

    And another great tip? Give your team control of the success budget. Then they can look forward to the big celebrations that they’ve helped to plan.

    4. Treat failure as learning

    Successful cultures see mistakes or failures as opportunities to learn. Even trying and failing should be a cause for celebration. This is important to psychological safety in the workplace.

    We turned mistakes into a celebration in themselves when I was MD of Peer 1. Our ‘Cock-Up of the Month’ award was legendary. We’d encourage team members to share embarrassing moments – both working and personal. This instantly built rapport and was an excellent sign when people could share. We used phrases like ‘There’s no failure, only learning’. We aimed to ensure people fessed up quickly if something had gone wrong and weren’t worried about any feeling of blame. 

    5. Make it regular

    Sometimes I feel like a stuck record, but I can’t emphasise the importance of rhythm enough. And this goes for praise and celebration too. You want your staff to come together often to celebrate – it’s a syncing-up activity. Without celebrations, there’s no collective sense of achievement. If your team have worked hard, it needs to be recognised and rewarded.

    Praise and celebration can become a daily habit. Horst Schultz, the founder of the world-leading Ritz Carlton hotel group, had a great example when I interviewed him for my Melting Pot podcast. Every day, his teams would come together in a daily huddle and read out one of their 24 service mantras. And then, a person would be singled out for praise, having embodied this during the previous week. Many of my clients use Friday Pulse – a great measure of employee engagement. Teams give praise and thanks every Monday and say how happy they are on a Friday. A great way to start and end the week!

    6. Get external validation

    There’s a sports analogy here. When teams from different areas play each other, it gives them external validation of where they sit relative to others. And this alone can be a cause for a grand celebration.  

    In the same way, I’m a big fan of awards because they give a third-party perspective to success. You may think you’re doing a great job internally, but how do you measure up in the broader market? Awards will show you how much work you must do to be the best.  

    In the past, some of the best celebrations have been at events like the Sunday Times Best Places to Work or the Management Today Service Excellence Awards. Dressing up in a black tie, going to a swish hotel and caring about the result. Sure, I’ve been to some that were a waste of time. Industry awards mainly. But it’s been exhilarating when it’s the best companies or places to work. Seeing a team that’s worked so hard win kudos is a massive boost. It increases confidence like nothing else and keeps the flywheel of your culture spinning.

    7. Set realistic targets

    But what if one of your teams isn’t winning? Even worse, it keeps failing. Maybe you’re setting the bar too high. If teams are missing their number over and over again, you need to re-evaluate. Lower the target to something you know is achievable, and once they hit that, celebrate. Then increase it incrementally.  

    This will build confidence, and they’ll climb out of the hole. I’ve seen this many times, particularly in sales teams. Something changed in the marketplace, or someone left. Everyone’s depressed. You need to reset and rebuild. 

    I’ve also seen it at the whole company level. When I took over as Managing Director of IT Lab, the company had lost shed-loads of money. We only had three months to live. But we reset and re-focused on getting the company to break even. And then moved on to growth. There’s nothing like survival to galvanise a company.  

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    Written by business growth coach Dominic Monkhouse. Find out more about his work here. Read his new book, ‘Mind Your F**king Business’ here.

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