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Celebrating Baby Steps

Clint Maun, CSP

You can’t run an organization or even exist in one today, particularly in health care, with all the existing layers of activity going on, without stopping to celebrate success. One problem many organizations have is that they never get to that celebratory moment to recognize something great that is occurring or something fantastic that just happened.

In fact, we encounter many organizations that think they need to have a great big home run before they can have all the fans stand up and cheer, rather than cheering some singles, some stolen bases, and some doubles that get people on base so that we can score a run. They don’t cheer for that fantastic pitch that sets up the next one for a great strikeout.

In the Kansas City Business Journal, management consultant Bill DeGenaro, of DeGenaro & Associates, is quoted as saying that “Lack of recognition is a common thread among both political defectors and disenchanted employees—the feeling that one’s contributions don’t matter.”

What we’re suggesting is that to be successful today, particularly in team-based initiatives, you have to celebrate baby steps—the small steps that take you steadily and determinedly where you need to go.

What do I mean by baby steps? When you have a brand new baby and you bring him home, everyone goes, “Gootsy gootsy, goo.” And “mmm, mmm, mmm.” Now, when the baby gets to be nine months to a year old, is beyond crawling, and starts standing up and trying to walk, you don’t put him on the other side of the room and shout, “Walk, walk, walk. Get up. Walk, walk, walk, walk, walk. And if you don’t walk, I’m not gonna feed you.” You don’t do that. You let him take that little step. And watching this process are you and your parents and your evil in-laws all over there saying “hurray!” and going “mmm, mmm, mmm” and clapping. And when the baby takes another step, you do the cheering routine all over again. You celebrate those baby steps.

Those celebrations are extremely important in organizations today. The book The Power of Self-Managed Teams points out that “recognition is considered to be the #1 motivator of human beings.. . . [It] not only makes people feel that their effort was worthwhile, but it also creates commitment to keep up the effort.”

A team that had a great meeting, when it’s never had one that rose above mediocre, needs to stop and celebrate it.

A team that has never started a meeting on time but finally does, needs to celebrate the fact that it did indeed start on time.

A team that has reached a constructive outcome at a meeting rather than generated a desperate set of analytical despondencies needs to celebrate that success.

A team that hit some targeted numbers doesn’t need to wait for six weeks to celebrate it. They need to celebrate it now.

Bosses and other supporters to the team, board members, and executives need to recognize small step successes and say something good. If you are submitting weekly reports on team-based initiatives as we recommend, somebody needs to read those reports and recognize those great things that happen, when they happen. They need to comment on it. Write a note. Make a phone call. Leave a voice mail.

On the website Entrepreneur.com, management expert Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D., points out that celebrations can be “done with a smile, a conversation or even a note.”

If you don’t stop to recognize small movements toward winning the game, you’re never going to be successful waiting for the entire game to be played before deciding if you want to clap or not. It wouldn’t be good enough even then. You’d have to play the whole season to decide if you’re going to cheer or not. Do you recognize the team only if it wins all of its games and the championship?

That approach simply doesn’t work. You have to break down success into small components and opportunities to recognize those baby-step accomplishments. You have to include that as an integral part of your plan. Put it on your calendar. Your to-do list needs to include looking for small opportunities to recognize success.

The culture of the team needs to be set up to recognize what goes right. You might even make a habit of starting meetings with spotlighting what happened right yesterday or this week, and what’s occurring around here now that’s going well.

Aubrey Daniels also notes that “Often, people just like to be assured the boss knows who did what.”

Keep asking yourself, “Who do we need to snap a picture of and celebrate?” Take a tip from what we do with those babies as they successfully take one more step. Stop to cheer, take a picture, and celebrate. One of the answers for today’s organizations is to get out that Kodak or digital camera and snap those pictures of great things that happen. Who are the people who do those great things, work double shifts or pick up extra ones, fix the problems, deal with the customers concerns? Snap those pictures.

And have storyboards with the pictures out there to show that the baby steps are being accomplished.
“Gootsy, gootsy, goo!”