How about a culture that celebrates the work, not just the wins?

Celebrate the Work, Not Just The Wins

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The headline of this article from Kellogg School of Management might make you groan — “Creative Cultures Fuel Growth!” — because that’s a whole lotta buzzwords and really, does anyone care about culture anyway? Isn’t it kind of an amorphous blob of a word? The overall article is very much in the mold of most business journalism these days, which is to say: “Number In Headline + An Assertion That You Will Solve This Business/Leadership Problem + Headers and Bold Copy in the Body,” but there is one interesting part. Namely:

Once a staff feels supported and safe, Williams recommends the company celebrate the work, not just the wins. Rewarding your people when they do good work, even if that work does not land the next big project or contract, “sends a powerful message to your people that you’re on their side no matter the outcome.”

This is admittedly pretty fraught in some respects, because with a lot of companies (i.e. public ones), their fiduciary responsibility is to make money for shareholders. You really need to celebrate big projects or contracts or clients in that context, right?

The other fraught aspect is: how do you “celebrate the work?” Isn’t that kind of like the professional equivalent of hanging a rather-shitty children’s drawing on the fridge simply because it’s your kid?

Those two (large) problems aside, there’s something here. Companies can often preach “transparency” and “relationships” as their end goal, but then the only thing you see the top dogs celebrating and rewarding is landing money contracts or clients. That can seem like a disconnect to the rank-and-file.

“So wait, the focus is relationships? But all we do is talk about the big fish we landed?”

That’s kind of dumb, right?

Some companies are trying to embrace this idea of “establishing purpose,” because thought leaders and consultants are in the boardrooms saying the next generation wants/needs it. (It might not be true.) Well, if you want to establish “purpose” for people but you can’t necessarily pay them more or promote them or give them the oft-cited “stretch assignment,” maybe one way would be simple:

Walk the walk and talk the talk. 

Phrased another way: set up a culture of trust through transparency.

So instead of coming to every all-hands meeting and saying, “Well, Q1 targets were…” or “We landed a deal with…,” maybe do a little 3-minute spotlight on Betsy and Jane and Tom and Mosah and the projects they work on. They’re not big-money projects, per se — they might not ever be directly tied to revenue — but they’re doing good work and showcasing the brand in a positive light to the outside, etc. There is value in that. At a certain point, all a business has is their name and what weight that name carries.

Try to celebrate the work and not just the wins. Try to shine some spotlights on the rank-and-file even if they’re not the people bringing in the big money. Try it. See what happens.


Ted Bauer

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