Everyone wants to be part of a winning team. We also want to be part of a team that keeps winning. And one of the best ways to keep your momentum going is to celebrate your accomplishments. One reason why the business world is so rife with conferences, award ceremonies, and galas is to commend great work and spark competition.
But the realities of workplace politics can turn these celebratory moments into something of a tightrope walk for the managers of winning teams. You want to give credit and encouragement where it's due, but don't want to be seen as boastful. At the same time, your accolades have to feel inspirational and memorable, or else they lose their purpose. How do you make your team feel like they’ve won a Super Bowl ring, not a participation ribbon at the Pinewood Derby?
Keep your account of your team’s achievements specific and meaningful. Many accomplishments in the business world involve some sort of numerical benchmark, but you need to talk about that benchmark in an exciting way in order to show why it matters.
Sometimes small numbers can have enormous impacts—a tenth of a second may not seem like much, but when you’re running a 100-yard dash, it’s the difference between winning and losing. Or to take an example from the business world, if you're Sun Chips, saving a quarter of a penny on every bag of chips is a tremendous accomplishment. Multiply that quarter-penny by 100 million bags per week over 52 weeks per year, that’s $13 million in savings.
Whatever accomplishment you're commending, make your case with energy and passion, and give it the broader context that lets everyone share in it. Nobody has ever been inspired to go the extra mile after looking at a pie chart.
Next, describe the twists and turns in your journey. Sketch out the hurdles your team overcame to achieve its goal. Talk about how you felt when you faced setbacks. Then talk about how you felt once everything started to come together—like a tennis player rallying from two sets behind to come back and win the match.
Emphasize your team’s grit and determination, and don't get bogged down in details that anyone who wasn't there won't grasp. When you talk compellingly about the challenges you overcame together, you can inspire your team to keep reaching for ambitious goals. What's more, you won't turn off others in your audience who weren't a part of the achievements you're celebrating—in fact, you might inspire them, too.
Give credit to your team members and everyone else who contributed to its success. After discussing the challenges you overcame, always remember to acknowledge those people by name. The focus must be on the team, not on you as their manager. If you had a breakthrough marketing strategy, for instance, be sure to give credit to your teammates who played a role at every step of the way, from idea to implementation.
There's a certain power to hearing your name spoken out loud. Many years ago, I was the speech coach at a PepsiCo bottlers’ conference in Singapore. At every single event of the conference, I was recognized as being part of their team. I felt so proud and honored every time my name was spoken—it was a remarkable gesture. So remember to say your team members’ names out loud, don’t just post a list of them on a PowerPoint slide.
Finally, paint your team a picture of what this accomplishment might lead to next. What doors did it open up for your team and for your organization? What new opportunities are on the horizon? You’re at the top of the hill—now you can see the mountain in the distance. Leave your team with a reason to be inspired and strive to get to that future with you.
This way, everyone who's listening to you will understand not just that individual contributions matter, but why they do—and not just to your own team, but for the entire organization it's a part of.