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I’m a manager at Algolia, and my role is to help my team pick the right actions and do them right in a safe environment. Giving celebrations is a great tool to guide my people toward success and to keep them on that road. In this blog post, I’ll tell you why, what, and how to celebrate to foster an uplifting culture in your organization, focused on achievements.

Culture sets standards

Culture shapes mindsets and behaviors in the workplace. A study from the Reward Gateway company found that nearly 7 in 10 employees want their companies to do more to motivate them. The top two reasons cited by the surveyed American workers as to why they felt demotivated were a lack of recognition and feeling invisible/undervalued. It’s the culture of the companies that defines if and how managers recognize or motivate their reports.

Demotivation is not limited to Americans. For example, I’m French, and I can speak from personal experience that we French tend to focus on the bad instead of the good. Claudia Senik, Professor at the University Paris-Sorbonne, known for her work on sociology of happiness, said that the French are « taught to be gloomy by their culture ». She found that « most of the French unhappiness is explained by “Mentality” and “Culture” (in addition to the usual socio-economic determinants) rather than by extrinsic circumstances ».

A story from a few years ago illustrates this point. I was on-boarding in a company known for paying attention to its employees. This company was based in another country so I was far from my family and grumpy as a bear. One of the engineering directors, on his way to a meeting, noticed I had a long face, so he stopped and gave me a high five. I had never worked with him, we had barely spoken before. That move was so unexpected that I giggled the rest of the day. With that high five – as with all hands-on (pun intended) experiences – I knew there was something to learn:

  • Even the smallest celebrations can uplift people: a smile, a congratulatory email, a handwritten note, a “well done” said in front of coworkers. Or a good ol’ high five.
  • Managers are the sales people of the Culture for their team, and also within the whole company. Look around. If you see something odd or concerning, don’t hesitate: it’s your responsibility as a manager to reach out to people – even to those not on your team.

Celebration benefits

Celebrating individuals reinforces their self-esteem because they see their value in the team recognized and the meaningfulness of their work confirmed. Employees who are the most committed perform better and are less likely to leave the organization. 

The team sees that all deserving people are celebrated, not only the most senior/valuable/fast players. We’re all in this together and the acknowledgement of the company/manager/peers should reflect that. 

Projects can come with months-long goals, sometimes too far from day-to-day activities or personal development. Celebrating often reminds us that continuous improvement comes from baby steps, even for everyday activities.

By recognizing your peeps’ work and other teams’ success, including from other departments, you build trust and care vertically & horizontally, which will give you and your team visibility across the org.

What to celebrate

There are a ton of things to celebrate in order to create a positive mindset:

  • People who go above expectations
  • Team members overcoming challenges, unexpected or not
  • A great customer feedback
  • Contributors in their early years who need recognition for successful small steps
  • People embodying the culture of the company
  • Colleagues from other teams who help or have an impact across the organization
  • Things from their personal life (e.g., family, art, sport)
  • Great initiatives
  • Chores done swiftly and regularly 
  • A fruitful collaboration / meeting

How about celebrating failures?

Managers have to ensure that their team members can experiment and have ambitious goals, that providing a safe space is a good thing. There will be a couple of missed goals, red OKRs, and that’s fine. Yet, there’s a thin line between acknowledging risk taking, chores, and learning, and giving the feeling that no one cares about results, or that nobody is accountable. I believe we should help the team move on, not by celebrating failures, but by celebrating great reactions to failures.

How and where to celebrate

A key ingredient in our recipe for Culture is a Slack channel we call #celebration, in which every employee participates. Everyone – not only the managers – is encouraged to go there and give kudos to other people, to highlight a colleague’s birthday or when a big contract is scored. Running a company is a team sport and we care about other players. On a normal day, we have 1 to 5 celebrations in that channel and a bunch of people cheering on every one of them. Additionally, major successes are discussed during our weekly all-hands events. 

Regular team activities (e.g., weekly syncs) or content (e.g., recap mail, boards) are also a good place to give kudos to members of the team. Having a moment in retrospectives to collect celebrations is a good motivator: it helps the team conceptualize what good outcomes and great behaviors are, and it creates a collegial effort for acknowledging merit, notably from other teams.

Be sure to keep those celebrations in your notes, as they are great material for performance assessment and discussions in 1-1. Discussing celebrations can help employees find what it takes to duplicate a peer’s success conditions. It can ensure that your own manager is aware of your celebrations and acknowledgements, it can prepare or even unlock discussion on compensation raises or promotions. Ideally, employees want all that to be known way before the discussions even start.

The « Release early & release often » mantra that developers embrace also applies to kudos: waiting for a major progress or the end of a project before celebrating will create a tunnel effect for your feedback.

When an individual has not been celebrated for a long time – like more than a quarter – it may be a sign that you have to ask yourselves questions: As a manager, are you caring enough? Did you miss some things? How does your team evaluate its own performance? Do they feel empowered/guided enough? What do they need to do to get from average or good to awesome?

Not for everybody

Getting in the spotlight can be troublesome for some folks. In her post Questions for our first 1:1, Lara Hogan highlighted that some people may not be at ease with public recognition and need to get it « on their terms ». You’ll have to find alternative and mindful ways to celebrate: think of a handwritten note, a small 3D object printed just for them, or their favorite food – which also works very well for remote teams. It’s all about them being able to « enjoy the moment rather than feel really uncomfortable ».

Celebrating is caring, which is part of our DNA

If you’re looking for a new gig and are interested in working in an environment where empowerment and recognition are a key part of the culture, head over to https://algolia.com/careers, we’re always looking for smart and kind human beings to push our products further. And to give high fives. 

 

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