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Celebrating success fundamental

“The reward for a good job is no punishment,” growled my drill sergeant in Army Basic Training when someone asked about our platoon’s reward for successfully accomplishing some assigned task.  It was the sergeant’s way of instilling discipline and also saying that doing a good job was normal, not something special.  Not long afterwards, our platoon won a certain contest against other platoons. The sergeant took us all to the Post Canteen for a few rounds of “near-beer.” A good time was had by all. At the end of the evening the sergeant said, “Now that’s how you celebrate success.”

What the sergeant knew was that the celebration was appropriate to the success, and that it met each individual’s need for recognition. Many organizations understand the benefits of celebrating success, which is a fundament element in reinforcing the mission and meeting the recognition needs of those who made the success possible.  The key thing is to know is what motivates the individual employee or volunteer.  For some, it is recognition while for others it might be special favors, gifts or even just a pat on the back.   

Awards are a popular way to celebrate success.  When giving awards, it important to give the award in person.  It is also preferable to give the award as soon as possible after the accomplishment.  This works well when a company is having a sales contest or a special project, but it often customary to have awards presentations at the end of the year if the organization is a community, civic or nonprofit group.  Most organizations have an annual celebration of one sort or another.  Chambers of commerce, for example, use the annual banquet to celebrate success.  These functions are useful for recognizing volunteers, committee chairpersons and outgoing officers.  When done well, such events are uplifting and satisfying.  When done poorly, the groans are almost audible across the room.  It is possible to have too much recognition at such affairs.  On the other hand, when recognitions are not given appropriately, it can be embarrassing.  Imagine how someone must feel who has invited the family to an awards banquet only to hear an announcement that the awards are on the table at the back of the room and that the recipients should pick them up on the way out.  “We now turn to our guest speaker who has traveled a long way to be with us tonight,” can overshadow the event.  If the speaker is more important than the honorees, then the sessions should be split.  

Often it is appropriate to include the employee or volunteer’s family in the celebration of success.  This might mean having the family as guests at the celebration function or perhaps an even grander celebration.  Bob works as an agent for a multi-line insurance company.  Each year the company takes the top producers on an all-expenses paid trip, including spouse, to a resort destination where recognition dinners and social activities are held.  Bob says that what he likes most about the trip is that his employer is showing his spouse how much his work is appreciated and that the company educates the spouses on what the company is all about.  He says that his family helps him win the award every year because they feel included.

Sometimes, celebrating success is not a public thing.  There are times when it is not appropriate to give public credit.   Anytime a member asks not to be recognized, that request should be honored.  Sometimes it is tempting to give recognition to someone because of the value of the public learning of that person’s support of your organization.  Many celebrities, for example, do not want to let it be known which organizations they support.  

And then there is the case for the pat on the back.  I have an acquaintance who is the government relations and communications manager for a large corporation.  I’ll call her Christine.  She will often arrange for the CEO of the company to speak to a civic club or other outside group.  Christine tells me that every time the CEO gets before an outside group to speak he always mentions Christine by name and says that the company is fortunate to have her.  Christine appreciates that, but something gnaws at her.  She wonders if the public recognition is just a ploy.  Does the boss really mean it?  She says that the CEO, to whom she reports directly, has never told her one-on-one that her work is appreciated or that she is doing a good job.  

Celebrating success can also occur every day, whether it is ringing a bell when a restaurant employee gets a good tip for extraordinary service or posting the sale of a vehicle on a public board at an automobile dealership.

Celebrating success is not only about looking back at accomplishments it can be a way of looking ahead to the future.  It is a time to reinforce the mission of the organization and to demonstrate the values of the organization.  


Phil Hardwick is coordinator of capacity development at the John C. Stennis Institute of Government. Contact him at phil@philhardwick.com.


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