Why do some teams seem to perpetually stay motivated while others fall flat? You probably know the answer if you search deep down. You’ve likely worked for leaders who are great at keeping their teams motivated and for others whose teams have no energy at all.
So what is the secret to their success? That’s what one coaching client recently wanted to know.
“Matt, my team is on the edge of burnout,” a coaching client said to me recently. “We continue to grow, but the pace has slowed down. Two years ago, everyone was so full of energy. Now it just seems like everyone is going through the motions.”
As I probed into the company’s background, the client revealed something important. I already knew a lot from earlier sessions. The company was three years old, had grown from a one-man show (my client) to a 14-person team. Last year, they passed the $5,000,000 mark in sales, with almost $750,000 in profit. The growth is incredible to say the least.
But it was during this conversation that a glaring problem came to light. He mentioned how they had won awards, been featured in the news, and how they had passed one important milestone after another. Their first $10,000 order. Their first $50,000 order. Their first on-site warehouse. Their first international order. Their first this, their first that. They had a string of firsts and a huge list of milestones they hit.
“Did you celebrate any of those?” I asked.
“Well, yeah,” he replied. “When we hit the $5,000,000 mark for the year last December, we had a big party and gave the team the rest of the year off paid.”
“That’s great,” I said. “Sounds like a big reward for a big goal. But how about small rewards for small goals?”
Celebrating the small milestones
I’ve chronicled my failures as a leader in numerous posts (here, here, and here for examples), but one team member who worked for me years ago explained why I was still somewhat effective:
I’ve never worked for a leader who celebrated small victories as well as you do. I’ve never worked for anyone who made even the smallest accomplishments feel so valued.
I was young and not yet jaded by corporate reality, so when a new piece of code that saved us five minutes a day in reporting time rolled out, I would run into the programmers’ space cheering. High fives would ensue. We’d buy them lunch.
When someone worked a long weekend to finish a project, they’d get an X-Box or 50-yard line tickets to an NFL game. I was known for loud celebrations that resonated through the office hallways, often for the smallest of achievements.
I remember vividly staying up late into the night with our CEO and CFO when we were still a five-person operation to see if we would hit our first big milestone: $1,000 in sales for one day. We refreshed our stats page so often, I was afraid we’d crash our server, but we pulled it off. At 11:44 that night, we passed the $1,000 mark. I cranked up some K.C. and the Sunshine Band…celebrate good times, come on! I danced. I sang. I woke up the next day more energized than I had been in weeks.
That one milestone…no, that one celebration kept me going for weeks.
The monotony of success
I don’t remember hitting the $50,000 mark in sales. Or even the $25,000 mark. I don’t remember hiring our 50th person or countless other small milestones.
Somewhere along the road of our success, we forgot to celebrate the small milestones. We fell into the monotony of success. We moved from one achievement to the next until one day the momentum stopped.
That’s what was happening to my client. His team never took the time to celebrate the small milestones. They never stopped to acknowledge all that went into each small step in the larger journey.
People grew tired, never being re-energized by celebration. Soon, small milestones took on no significance. Goals were met, quotas hit, awards won, and the question was always “what’s next?”
“There is nothing wrong with continuing to move forward, with wanting to constantly achieve more,” I told him. “But your team needs to enjoy the milestones. They need to celebrate as a team. They need to be rewarded. Celebration is invigorating.”
This client is on his way to becoming a more inspiring leader. His new mantra is “Celebrate Big. Celebrate Small. Celebrate Often.”
I encourage you to do the same.
What small milestone can you celebrate today? What is one you’ve celebrated recently?
How have you found life to be when you have followed your ‘thing’?