How to Celebrate Small Wins as a Business Owner

When employees believe their contributions are valued, they’re more likely to respond with innovative output, rather than just clocking in for a paycheck.

Cullen Talley
June 28, 2023

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

Celebrating Small Wins Boosts Your Team’s Morale

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.

Encourage Creative Output In Your Team

As business leaders, we often find ourselves looking for team members who are not just “order takers”, but who will own their role. We want innovators who are constantly asking smart questions and looking for potential areas of improvement. The thing is, you won’t attract innovators, creative thinkers, or effective mid-level leaders with an environment that leaves no room for creative output.

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.

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 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.

Wired For Reward

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 paycheck. 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

One of the most important factors in deciding which wins to celebrate, how to celebrate them, and how to link these wins back to your long-term growth is understanding how every little step forward plays into your long-term vision, strategy, and plan for your business.

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.

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