Celebrate Small Wins, Little Successes -The Leadership Tip

Jack Welch joined GE as a junior chemical engineer in the year 1960. He was in charge of commercialising a new plastic material from the lab and it went well. For producing new plastic material in bulk quantities, GE had to put a new manufacturing plant. The company made Jack Welch as the General Manager for the new polymer products division.

Image from Inc.com

Suddenly, Jack found himself in charge of selling the new material named ‘Noryl’ to new unknown clients. His team had to think of the potential applications for the new material, explore the possible clients, contact them, convince them, coax them to try a sample & experiment, persuade them the benefits and then induce them to place a bulk order. It was like starting a business from scratch. It was a long road ahead. Jack had the challenge to keep his team motivated and energetic for the long journey. What did Jack do?

One of the Motivational Techniques -When the team brought the first order for Noryl, Jack celebrated the moment with his team. Then he celebrated the tenth order, twentieth order and so on.

When a client placed an order of $500 for plastic pellets, he called for a celebration. He posted the names of those clients on one of the office ‘walls’ under “500 club”. As they added clients to the ‘500 Club’ Jack called for celebration for the addition of every tenth client. He constantly looked for an opportunity to celebrate.

Similarly, whenever his team members or subordinates got promoted, he celebrated with the team. Every bonus, every raise for team members were also a cause for celebration.

His team worked with enthusiasm. Noryl became a winning product and crossed more than $1 billion in worldwide sales within a few years. Jack successfully built a business.

Jack began to rise up in his career and by 1981, he became CEO of General Electric. Within twenty years he grew his company’s valuation from $12 billion to $280 billion. He transformed GE’s business and revolutionised the company’s entire corporate culture with his distinctive, highly personal management style.

Are You Celebrating? -Jack writes that for too many people, the work is just a job. It need not be like that. It has to be fun. They should enjoy it. They spend more time at the workplace than at their home. He strongly felt that celebrations at the workplace are a great way to energise an organisation.

When he was CEO, he would keep asking his people “Are you celebrating enough”.

When the answer was ‘No’, He had replied, “I can’t celebrate for you. We are not going to have a vice president of celebrations at GE. You have to consider yourself the manager of celebrations. You’ve got the authority. Go back and make it happen. You don’t have to hand out a new Mercedes. It can be a keg of beer or a dinner for two. Your job is to make sure your team is having fun while they are being productive”.

Celebrating small wins of yours as well as others is a necessity for every future leader.

Why do we need to celebrate small wins? In the case of building ‘Noryl’ business, the goal of reaching one billion dollar business would take a long time. Will you wait till you achieve that goal to celebrate? How will you measure your progress? How will you keep yourselves enthusiastic, energetic and motivated?

The research shows that when a big win is a rare event and would take a long time to achieve, the chances of people losing motivation and giving up is very high. Without motivation, an employee is like a dead mountain. Unless the employees work with intense energy all the time, the business would not succeed.

Jack believed that focusing only on the end goals would sap employee’s energy if the goals were of the long term. So, he was of the opinion that a leader should focus on the small and significant steps that would show progress and also would motivate the team to reach their goals.

Those small celebrations also helped Jack to have a great influence on his employees. He also observed that celebrations of incremental progress increased people’s engagement in the work and their happiness during the workday. He spread the success stories of his colleagues across the company and publicly celebrated their wins. It boosted the relationship among team members and helped in building a strong internal brand culture. Celebrating small wins is one of the important keys to success.

Small Wins Are Celebrated Everywhere-In a cricket match, winning the match or the series or the tournament would be the ultimate goal. But the players celebrate many small wins even within a single match. When a bowler bowls a delivery that beats the bat, other fielders clap and appreciate him. The appreciation boosts the bowler’s confidence & energy and he feels better. It further improves his bowling line, length, swing and so on. Soon, it helps the bowler to grab a wicket. It becomes a cause for wild celebration from the bowler and his teammates join him. It further boosts his confidence and rhythm. The ‘celebration’ is a vicious motivational cycle.

For batsmen, reaching milestones are a cause for celebration. He celebrates when he reaches fifty runs, then one hundred runs, one hundred fifty runs and so on. His teammates stand up and applaud his performance. These celebrations and appreciation show him that he is making progress and he is on the track to help his team win. If there are no mini steps for celebration, even viewers would not be interested in watching these games. Can you play football for nine hours like Cricket? The mini celebratory steps in the football game are lesser compared to cricket.

In the 1996 Sahara Cup cricket tournament’s final qualifying match(Famously called ‘Desert Storm’), Sachin Tendulkar of India scored a magnificent hundred against Australia but India lost the match. Every Indian cricket fan celebrated Sachin's century for a variety of reasons. It helped India to qualify for the final. What else that hundred achieved? It boosted Sachin and his teammate’s self-confidence and morale. It showed them that they could win against mighty Australia. Winning the match was the ultimate goal but doesn’t mean that we would be a failure if we didn’t achieve the ultimate goal. In the next match, in the final, India went on to defeat Australia. While going towards our goal, be it in professional life or in personal life, we are unaware that we are achieving something or the other. We let go off opportunities to self-pat on our backs and celebrate our achievements. We are the judge and victim of our actions.

In Tennis, every game and every set is a mini battle and a cause for celebration. If a player gains a set by breaking an opponent’s service, he or she celebrates wildly as that’s a major step in gaining an advantage in the game. Winning a set is celebrated. An ace in service is celebrated. Without opportunities for celebration, the game would not be as interesting as it is now. The players would not be as motivated as it is now.

Even in schools, when we were studying, we were rated quarterly, half-yearly and annually. There used to be mid-term tests within those periods. Every test and exam was a celebration for us if we score well and it showed our progress. It motivated us to further study well.

Celebrating small wins was part of everyone’s life from their first day in school. Many of us stopped it once we entered the professional life or entrepreneurship phase. What was the need to stop?

We don’t realise that cherishing our small wins and the small strides we took can be the difference between failure and success.

Being Productive -As Jack mentioned, every celebration of a small win is an indication of progress towards your goal. Teresa Amabile and Steve J.Kramer write in their HBR article that the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.

They further add “The power of progress is fundamental to human nature, but few managers understand it or know how to leverage progress to boost motivation”.

The Positive Emotions and Time to Increase Responsibility -Through research, Amabile and Kramer found out that the days when a person made a progress and received appreciation, he or she not only felt motivated and happy, he or she was ready to face a significantly higher challenge in the work. They also expressed more joy, warmth and pride in their work. They were intrinsically motivated by the interest in and enjoyment of the work itself. They saw their teams as more mutually supportive and reported more positive interactions between the teams and their supervisors.

Lee Iacocca, Former chairman, Ford and Chrysler, advocates. “When you appreciate, reward and celebrate an employee for his achievements, he would be in the best frame of mind and that would be a wonderful time to increase the responsibilities of an employee. It is the best time and would be easy to motivate him to do even more”.

The Flywheel Effect -Let me end with a quote from Organizational theorist and psychologist Karl Weick “Small wins have transformational power. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion to favour another small win and another small win until the combination of these small wins leads to larger and greater accomplishments.” It is similar to what’s happening in sports.

Constantly look for an opportunity to celebrate in your personal life or in your professional life which will help you to succeed. If you are in a leadership role, constantly look for good things in others and celebrate. Make it a habit.

References: The Power Of Small Wins -HBR article by Teresa Amabile and Steve J.Kramer, Jack, Straight from the Gut by Jack Welch.

Secular Humanist, Business Growth Consultant, Design Thinker, India. Reach me at mmshah8@gmail.com. or https://www.shahmohammed.com

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