Episode: Celebrate Eagerly to Boost Your Company’s Success

Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. The thing we’re going to talk about today is something that, to be honest, is really difficult for me, but it’s something you have to learn to do as a leader. We’re going to talk about leveraging intentional celebration to drive better performance in your team.

Megan: This is a really important topic, and it’s one that a lot of leaders struggle with, so if you’re like, “I am no good at that,” you’re in good company. Most people we talk to feel that way, including us at times. We recently hosted an executive team dinner (this was outdoors, Dad, on your back patio) celebrating the major financial goal we hit last year of exceeding our profit goal by 50 percent in the midst of the pandemic in 2020.

In our previous episode, we talked about some reasons for why we think that was possible, and you can learn all about that if you want to, but we want to talk in this episode some takeaways and lessons around why you should be celebrating as a team if you care about driving performance, how you can celebrate, and then just some practical tips and tools we’ve learned over the years.

Michael: One of the things I want to say about that goal, too… We didn’t say it last week, but I just want to say it this week. We never revised our original budget. Even after the pandemic hit…

Megan: Oh yeah. That’s important to say.

Michael: We held to the original budget. We didn’t revise it downward and now we’re sitting here bragging about the fact that we exceeded our revised budget. No. We exceeded our original budget, pre-pandemic, by 50 percent on the bottom line. That was an over 100 percent increase over the prior year. We already had an aggressive budget, but we exceeded that by 50 percent. So, just a little context.

Megan: Just a little context. So, there was a lot to celebrate. Actually, I have to tell another story. I did not come to plan this dinner all on my own. I actually had a meeting with one of my executives who was talking about… He kind of made an offhanded comment about how sometimes it can be discouraging that I’ll change goals and raise goals on our team. I was like, “What do you mean by that?” I’m thinking, this guy is so aggressive. I would be shocked to learn he didn’t like big goals, because that’s how he’s wired.

He said, “Well, sometimes we accomplish things and then just move on like it didn’t even happen.” I was like, “Oh.” I had that pit in the stomach, gut-punch moment. I was like, “You’re totally right.” Fortunately, in this case, it wasn’t too late to fix it, so I thought, “Okay.” I took that little thought, and I ran with it. I went and had a meeting with Erin, my chief of staff, and I said, “Erin, we have to plan an amazing celebration dinner for hitting this crazy profit goal, because I don’t ever want the team to forget it.”

So, that was the setup. I almost dropped the ball, and then at the last minute I didn’t, thank goodness. But we want to share some insights to that. First of all, let’s talk about why you need to celebrate. If you are not a person for whom this is intuitively obvious… Let’s just talk about some of the reasons celebration is important, not just for culture (though it is), but for performance.

Michael: I think if you don’t celebrate it, in essence, like your direct report said, it didn’t really happen. What you want to do is, as much as you can, wire this into people’s psychology, their physiology, every aspect of their being, so they begin to see themselves as winners.

Megan: That’s a great way to say it.

Michael: When a team is on a roll… Take a sports team, for example. If they’re on a roll, momentum sort of continues to breed success. People have to have a sense of momentum. That gives them the confidence to go out and try new things, to achieve new things. So I think it’s important, because you’re trying to push this confidence down into their being. This is probably not the last big goal you want to take on, and you want people to have the confidence to say, “Okay. I’m not sure how we’re going to accomplish that next goal, but we did it on the last one, so let’s roll.”

Megan: The other thing is that celebration creates a cause-and-effect relationship between the individual and team performance and success. We want people to be very clear on “I did this, and then this happened.” The reason that matters is because we want to make this explicit so it’s visible and repeatable.

We often think about making things explicit. Like, you might call a direct report and say, “Hey, I need to talk to you about the results for January,” or whatever, and it’s negative. A lot of the explicit conversations we have (what I mean by that is making it concrete, where it’s really out there in front of you and you can define it) are around negative things, but I want to make sure I’m making things explicit and visible for my team so they know what their own secret recipe for success is.

Every single person has things they do repeatedly that cause them to succeed, and I want them to know what they are. I want those to be celebrated and reinforced, because (we talk about this a lot) you get more of what you focus on or what you reward, and I want them to be able to do that more and more in the future.

Michael: I think you’re exactly right. I’ve been in organizations where the focus was always on what was missing, what went wrong, or whatever, no matter how close you get to the goal, and that’s demoralizing. What you’re saying is this builds confidence. One of the things we do in our organization repeatedly is we ask this question that we got from our mutual coach Ilene: “What was it about your leadership that led to that result?”

You would naturally go to the negative. What was lacking in your leadership that caused you to miss the goal? Well, conversely, you need to ask the opposite. What was it about your leadership, the way in which you led, that produced these results in a positive way? Again, what you notice, what you affirm, you’re going to get more of. So, to take the time to celebrate it is a big way of noticing it and affirming it so you get more of it.

Megan: Right. The other thing is that people, when you celebrate them, feel acknowledged, they feel seen, and they feel appreciated. You, as the leader, may not appreciate how important that is. You kind of get other rewards or you’re at a place maybe in your career where you have a lot of confidence and it’s not as important for you to have those moments, but for the folks on our team (and I think, if we’re honest, it’s true for us too), we really need to feel acknowledged and seen and appreciated in front of other people. It’s very, very important.

Most people are terrified of being publicly embarrassed. The two of us, Dad… This is our literal worst nightmare. We hate being embarrassed. Yet most people want to be publicly praised in some way, and oftentimes, leaders are really stingy with that. Not on purpose, necessarily. They just don’t even think about it. But it’s critically important.

Michael: Another great question that, as a leader, we can ask ourselves is… Maybe you’re working for somebody who doesn’t do this or you’ve been in a situation where you weren’t acknowledged or celebrated for your accomplishments. What I would say all of us have the ability to do is to become the boss we wish we had, become the leader we wish we had.

Do you wish your boss would acknowledge and celebrate your achievements? Well, maybe they will, maybe they won’t. You don’t really have control over that, but you can always do that for the team you’re leading. So, be that person you wished you had leading you. Certainly, I think, for all of us, we’d like to have our achievements acknowledged and celebrated.

Megan: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, let me set the stage a little bit for this event we just recently did. I think this will illustrate some of the things we’re talking about today. So, we had this dinner for our executives, and we also chose to invite their spouses. That was strategic and intentional on our part.

Michael: Why?

Megan: Because, first of all, we believe spouses are integral to the success of our employees. For those folks on our team who are married, those people aren’t just roommates. They’re able to positively or negatively affect the performance of the person on our team, and we hope positively. We want them aligned with our vision. We want them to understand the nature and meaning of the work their spouse does, so we try to invite them regularly to events we do. Of course, we haven’t done much in person in the last year, but that’s starting to change. This was an outside event, so we thought that would be something we could safely do.

The other thing is it’s really meaningful to be celebrated in front of people who you respect and care about. So we thought, “Gosh, this would be so much more valuable to celebrate these executives on our team if their spouses were there. If they could feel proud of them, if they could witness them being celebrated, that would amplify the impact of what we’re doing.”

So, first of all, we had the spouses there. The other thing is we really think through the programming of a dinner like this. It’s not just left to chance. It’s not something that, you know, maybe there’s just a little toast at the end, but the rest of it is dinner. We actually think through every single part of it. First of all, we had the outcome in mind that we wanted people to feel celebrated, seen, and that this would be a positive reinforcement of what they had accomplished, so everything was working together toward that end.

So we had dinner questions. First of all, of course, we had a really nice dinner. It was catered. It was beautiful. The setting was really nice. All that was true and would have been true in any situation, but we had three questions we asked people to answer going around at dinner. If you’ve listened to our podcast for a while, we have a rule we call the one conversation rule that we got from a friend of yours, Dad, Luci Swindoll, who did this at dinner parties she had.

Only one person is allowed to talk at a time so you don’t have that bifurcated conversation thing that can be really overwhelming and unsatisfying at dinner parties. You have one meaningful conversation going on. We had dinner questions we had identified before we got there so the conversation would be meaningful. It wouldn’t just be empty chitchat; it would be meaningful conversation.

The questions were, first of all, “What’s the biggest thing you learned about yourself in pursuit of the goal?” Now, another thing we do when we have spouses at the dinner is we always try to make the questions applicable to the spouses so they’re not exclusive of the spouses. They’re something everybody can answer at the table. For the spouses we said, “What’s the biggest thing you learned about yourself in pursuit of a big goal from last year?” It could have been anything they were pursuing. That was number one. So, everybody at the table answered that.

Michael: Great question.

Megan: Yeah. Then another question was, “Where are you the most proud of your growth in the last year?” Again, we’re trying to make these areas of progress and growth visible so they can be repeated. Then the last one is, “What lessons will you take into the future from accomplishing something so significant?” So, those were our three questions. We found three questions are about the max you can have at a dinner unless you have just three or four people. If you have more than four people, three questions is about max.

Michael: We only got through two at my table.

Megan: Yeah, we did too. Same thing. People had a lot to share. So, that was the first part of the programming. Then I shared what I saw as the reasons that I felt like our team was able to accomplish this big profit goal.

Michael: So, this was after the meal.

Megan: When dinner was served… That’s kind of my cue. That’s like the speech cue from my perspective. Now we’re going to have the time where I’m going to share as the CEO of the company what I saw in my team. This is not about what I did at all. I’m totally taking the focus off of me. Certainly, I made a contribution to this goal, but that’s not important. What’s important is noticing and calling out their contribution.

I had three reasons, which we actually did in our previous podcast, Episode 159 (you can go back and listen to that; we’ll link to it in the show notes)…the three reasons I felt like our team was able to accomplish this goal. I’m really reinforcing their contribution. But I thought the best part of the night was I asked each of the executives to get up and talk about each other and answer the question you mentioned a little earlier, which is, “What about [peer’s] leadership enabled us to accomplish this goal?”

For example, Chad on our team or Jarrod on our team got up and shared about the other four executives and what it was about their leadership, from their perspective, that enabled them to accomplish the goal. Well, you can imagine. We were crying. We were laughing. We felt so connected to each other, so appreciated. It’s not just my appreciation or your appreciation of the executives. It’s really their appreciation and collaboration with each other. It was amazing.

Michael: That was my favorite part.

Megan: Mine too.

Michael: I think that’s one of the things we often don’t get in the work environment. You think to yourself, “I really appreciate Chad” or “I really appreciate Jarrod,” or whatever, but you don’t give voice to it. There’s something powerful about giving voice and to hear it from somebody who’s not your boss, who’s not somebody who works for you who’s trying to kiss up, or whatever, but it’s somebody who’s your peer who’s genuinely and generously offering this.

There were people, as they were sharing about other people, who teared up, choked up, and couldn’t get through it. A couple of times people had to stop. They just couldn’t get through it. I felt like everybody felt so loved and so appreciated and so seen, which is really important if you want a team that’s engaged and really moving forward together.

Maybe this could be construed as it was manipulative, like we had this design that we were going to engineer this so we get more out of our people. That really wasn’t it. It was purely celebration. What we’re talking about is the side effects we’re noticing after the fact, but we didn’t do this just so we could get more out of them next time or whatever. No. This was genuine gratitude on our part, Megan. That’s where it certainly started.

I think wonder and amazement, frankly, that we had accomplished this and knowing that if it hadn’t been for the team, there was no way we would have on our own accomplished this. This took the team. It took their genius and their work ethic, their creativity. That’s what made this happen and created it.

Megan: That’s right. So, then the end of the evening was you doing a champagne toast, which was really special. Do you want to say a little bit about that?

Michael: To be honest, I don’t even remember what I said. I think what I did was I toasted the accomplishment and toasted everybody individually and then just offered a toast to our future. Is there anything else I missed there?

Megan: I don’t think so. I honestly don’t remember that specific part of it either. By that point, I was kind of just basking in the gratitude of the moment. I think all of those little touches…the fact that it was celebratory, that we had champagne; the fact that there were beautiful decorations; the fact that we intentionally planned the programming for the dinner…

Obviously, there’s a way to do this very inexpensively to very lavishly. There’s a whole range of that, but the intention is what made this so special, and I think anybody can do this. Whether you have a couple of contractors who work for you or you have thousands of employees, this is something any leader can do.

Michael: One of my favorite sayings from Oprah is she says, “Love is in the details.” If you want to convey love to your teammates… Love is a very underappreciated attribute that needs to be expressed in the workplace…in an appropriate way, of course. I think it’s in those details. I think what you choose for the menu, how you decorate the tables, the thought that goes into the questions, the flow of the program…

Those are the details that convey “Hey, you know what? You’re a person of value, and you’re worth this. We’re doing this because you’re worth this. You’re worthy of this.” Last night we had a family birthday party. Megan, you were there. There was a lot of intention that went into that birthday party, because we want people to feel celebrated and feel loved and feel acknowledged and have their special day. This, for our team, was that kind of experience.

Megan: Okay. Let’s make this practical for a minute. Let’s just talk about some ideas for how you could celebrate. Again, maybe this is not something you’ve done a lot of or you don’t feel super competent in. That’s okay. We have some really practical ideas. The first category of how you can celebrate people is in the area of praise. This is probably one that comes not as easily to people, but it’s very high impact. So, a few ways you can do that.

First, sending people cards, whether it’s their birthday or a thank you card. I always keep a stack of cards with addresses of my direct reports, as well as stamps, in my desk drawer so that when I think of something, I can just send a card to someone. That needs to be right at the ready. It could just be a small thing. “Hey, I noticed when you did that. Thank you for the way you did this” or “I’m so impressed by this result you created.”

When you send a card rather than an email… First of all, it’s way more personal, but also, if the person is married or maybe they have roommates, or whatever, people get to see that come in the mail, and it makes it a bigger deal.

Michael: It does. That’s why I like to send it to their home: so the spouse can also see it.

Megan: Exactly. The other thing is public acknowledgement. We were talking about hating being publicly embarrassed. Publicly acknowledging people positively is so beneficial. This can definitely be supervisor to supervisor, but you can also set something up, like we did, where it’s peer to peer. That may be even more valuable.

Then, finally, celebratory events. This could look like a year-end banquet where you give awards. It could look like a small dinner party, like what we did with our executives. It could look like something much smaller…happy hour outside around your bonfire. Whatever. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but intentionally thinking about events is a great way to celebrate people.

Michael: Okay. So, that’s praise, one way to celebrate people. Another way is perhaps the most obvious: financial rewards. That can take a lot of different forms. It could be a spot bonus for a specific promotion or a specific initiative, but just to acknowledge there was some extra effort there and we want to reward it.

Then there could just be bonuses. One of the things we do at Michael Hyatt & Company is that everybody is on a bonus program. Everybody’s pay or compensation is related to the performance of the company. So when we won, we had the privilege of handing out bonus checks, and because we exceeded our profit goal, we handed out even bigger bonus checks than we anticipated because we don’t have any cap on those bonuses.

There could also be prizes too, where people compete for fun things. I just had this crazy experience where we won this certain prize in an affiliate contest and I got this wonderful gift I would have never bought for myself, which was an electric scooter.

Megan: Oh my gosh! At the family birthday party, all of the kids were on that. Thankfully, no one got hurt and everyone had a lot of fun.

Michael: I was like a kid when I got that, because I would never buy that for myself, especially at my age. But I rode it, and I rode it a lot this weekend.

Megan: That’s awesome.

Michael: So, those kinds of little things can be a tangible way to recognize achievement.

Megan: A little pro tip on this. If you’re going to give a financial reward, it’s really beneficial if you also write a note. You want to reaffirm whatever it is the person did to earn the reward. You want to call that out. You want to make a big deal about it. My least favorite way to give people financial rewards is just through direct deposit as part of payroll.

It’s like it doesn’t really mean a lot that way. They’ll notice it eventually, but it might take a little while for them to see it. But if you can send a physical check, there’s kind of an artifact of it. If you’re able to send a note with it or hand a note with it, it’s so much more meaningful. It makes it more of an event. So, that’s just a little pro tip.

Okay. The last area where you can be intentional about celebration is gifts. This is something we do all the time at Michael Hyatt & Company. We send flowers. When people have babies or move into a new house or get promoted or come back from parental leave, we send flowers and we celebrate. Sometimes we send balloons, or whatever, but we just want to mark occasions. We want to be a culture of people who notice important events or accomplishments in the lives of our employees and celebrate those things.

Kind of along the same lines, the other thing we do is give presents from time to time. That might be a reward for something or it might just be spontaneous, but it just kind of says, “Hey, I see you. I see that thing you did, and I’m celebrating it. I’m communicating that I know you. I know things you like, and that’s on my radar.”

Michael: Okay. Pro tip as we wind this up, because I know we’re about out of time. If you’re not good at celebrating… Maybe this is just not a muscle you’ve exercised enough to get good at. I would be in that category, although I think I’m getting better at it. Delegate this to somebody who is good at it. There’s probably somebody on your team who’s fantastic at celebrating, who likes to plan parties, who really likes acknowledging other people. Give the responsibility to them. All you have to do is define the win on the front end, kind of what you’re after, and then let them run.

In addition to that, another pro tip… Establish a budget for this kind of thing. Have a budget where you can do the spot bonuses or send the flowers or get cards or special gifts or all of that. This is a worthy investment in your team. This is not frivolous. It’s not optional. It’s not extra. I think this is an essential expense, because your team is the most important asset you have.

Megan: Thanks so much for joining us. I hope you’re really inspired that you can create a culture of celebration in your organization, not only to drive greater and greater performance, but also to create engagement, to foster a sense of connectedness and teamwork and a sense of being known and acknowledged in your organization. It’s so worth it, and it’s so rewarding. Thanks for listening. Until next week, lead to win.