Why we shouldn’t forget the importance of celebrating ‘wins’

Celebrating wins isn't about giving staff gold stars, but fostering a coherent sense of engagement, culture and community, says Leslie Zemnick-Folsgaard:

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Sep 12, 2023

To many hardened business executives, the notion of “celebrating wins” may feel superfluous at best and indicative of a competitive culture at worst.

To some it harks back to the days of elementary school ‘gold stars’ – days that in the corporate world should be long behind us, especially now that we’re ‘working professionals’.

But I would say this is misguided.

The reality is that by acknowledging and celebrating milestones (big or small), it creates a more engaged workforce and ultimately leads to greater outcomes for the business – a win-win all around.

Think small-wins, not just big-wins

Looking for moments of celebration and recognizing your team members may be easier than you think and can have a powerful impact across an organization, department, or team.

Wins are often identified as big milestones when tangible outcomes emerge, such as a sales team hitting a certain number, breaking into a greenfield market, or delivering a high safety score.

Of course, these are great moments that should be reinforced and recognized.

But often systems are already in place to acknowledge these milestones (just ask any sales team to see the gongs…).

Instead, think of a win as anything/behavior that you want to see repeated.

Looked at in this light, smaller day-to-day successes should be counted as wins too.

For instance, managers could be encouraged to recognize team members for handling challenging clients with good grace, or successfully leading a productive call.

This recognition could be during a weekly team meeting, sent via email, or even right after the win. It doesn’t have to be a glitzy public demonstration of success.

Celebrate shifts in performance

Wins don’t have to be measured quantitatively but could be anything that shows a positive shift in performance or process.

This helps keep colleagues engaged in their work and feeling valued in their role by receiving recognition for contributions to the organization’s strategy or performance.

Given we’re all working in an increasingly uncertain macro-environment, tying individual and team contributions into the broader vision can help prevent people from feeling like a cog in a machine.

At a time when human capital is being discussed as a line item for companies, celebrating human-driven progress will help organizations successfully navigate talent-related challenges like retention and returning to the office.

But what should be the basics.

I suggest that when it comes to celebrating wins, there are three key elements: recognition, appreciation, and engagement.

Recognition: highlighting a job well done

When day-to-day work feels the same, HR recognizing specific an employees’ specific efforts can make a big difference to their productivity and engagement.

Clients often ask me, “Why should I recognize someone for doing what’s in their job description?”

My answer: recognition is more than a participation trophy or codling your team.

Recognition is reinforcing a job well done and highlighting to other team members what ‘good’ (or even ‘great’) looks like.


  • Celebrating this win could come in the form of a personalized video from a senior leader to a team that has been working hard on a key element of a company initiative.
  • It could also come in the form of a shout-out in an internal newsletter, or even a handwritten note.
  • Even saying something face-to-face, like: “Your facilitation was so seamless and you answered client questions with a great level of product insight,” can help people feel confident knowing that their effort isn’t for naught.

Highlighting a job well done for no or low cost with minimal time lifts will impact the bottom line.

When people know that other departments or senior leaders are seeing the impact of their work, it can help reduce complacency or headwinds and reframe it as a reason to rise to the occasion.

Appreciation: gratitude for dedicated work

Everyone wants to feel appreciated and know that their contribution to the team have been both valued and valuable.

Clearly demonstrating appreciation sparks additional drive to continue to build on progress. Getting that vote of confidence and then feeling a sense of gratitude can even lead to a stronger bottom line or better business.

For example, if a team is testing a new process for a legacy initiative, they may feel on edge or unsure about how it will turn out. Simply sharing your gratitude for their commitment to the work and highlighting their previous track record of success will support their confidence to try something new.

Their efforts need to be recognized early and often so they can build the confidence to develop and improve upon new iterations of old systems without feeling inhibited. Do this and it can lead to greater innovation and a competitive edge.


  • Words of gratitude are always welcomed, but sometimes appreciation is shown in other creative ways such as a team lunch, an extra day off, or a gas gift card (especially when prices reach noticeably high peaks).
  • Showing appreciation through tangible kudos can encourage greater engagement from employees and higher levels of dedication to the work. When team members know that their efforts will be celebrated – and potentially rewarded – they are more likely to give their 100%, lend a hand to another department, or go the extra step to see a new process or initiative through.
  • Appreciation is even better if it’s something that isn’t expected, as it builds the awareness that their contribution is noticed.

Engagement: building strong community

An unsuspecting byproduct of celebrating wins is the development of community.

The challenge is to strike the balance between awareness and boasting.

The key to this is finding ways to democratize the system.


  • Consider recognizing teams or having team members recognize each other.
  • Consider finding a way for people to nominate colleagues who deserve a shoutout.
  • Wins can be shared on public platforms like in an internal newsletter or in a dedicated Wins Slack channel.
  • Sharing wins broadly allow for awareness to be spread of team engagement, team members efforts, and delivery of positive results.

Wins highlight progress while building culture and community

In sales-based organizations, it’s easy to see who does or doesn’t achieve a target.

But for other measures of success, being able to find everyone who is putting their best foot forward is important.

When a team or team member is publicly recognized for their work, a ripple effect of progress is created within the organization.

A positive feedback loop is created when employees know their wins will be celebrated.

By clearly demonstrating appreciation and recognition, teams spark additional drive to continue to build on progress, increasing motivation to perform well across different initiatives and teams.

While the days of elementary school ‘gold stars’ are long behind many working professionals, the power of a genuine “thank you” and recognition of their efforts and energy remains.

Recognizing, appreciating and engaging with smaller wins along the way will help improve culture and business outcomes.

The positive feedback loop created by being authentic and celebrating enhanced products, processes, services, and innovation yields business outcomes both tangible and intangible.

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