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Celebrating successes

Celebrating successes throughout our change is a vital way of keeping momentum going and people engaged. Our brains often tend toward the negative, especially when there is uncertainty (e.g., we tend to value losses more than gains, we tend to revert to the status quo even when it is detrimental to us). This is in line with human evolution and the scanning of threats for survival. Celebrating successes is our intentional way of focusing back on the positive. It also helps us celebrate individuals and groups, and reward their contributions to making the change happen.

As with our other activities, celebrating successes is done most effectively when we are honest and authentic. That means celebrating successes that matter the most to people (even if they might be considered small, as this signals we are paying attention and value people’s efforts to support the change), in addition to major milestones that signal progress to the leadership team.

Further, we may want to encourage the celebration of success by other stakeholders, as there is an increase in motivation and positive emotions when we celebrate others. For more, see Collie W. Conoley’s Celebrating the Accomplishments of Others: Mutual Benefits of Capitalization.

How can we celebrate successes?

How to motivate individuals in our workplace

When thinking of how we can go about celebrating successes during our change it can be helpful to understand human motivation. Frederick Herzberg, an American psychologist, conducted studies on what motivated and de-motivated individuals in the workplace.

He found that there were two main categories: 1) dis-satisfiers, which tend to de-motivate individuals when sufficient attention is not paid to them; and, 2) satisfiers, which tend to lead to higher job satisfaction when sufficient attention is paid to them. These are:

Company policy and administration
Supervision (technical quality of oversight)
Supervision (relationship with supervisor)
Working conditions
Relationship with peers
Personal life
Relationship with subordinates
The work itself (job content)
Advancement (e.g., promotion)
Growth (personal/professional development)

For more on Herzberg’s work, see The Motivation to Work by Herzberg et al. (1993) and Job Satisfaction: Putting Theory Into Practice by J. Michael Syptak et al. (1999).

Crucially, for Herzberg, we can alleviate the dis-satisfiers but they are rarely effective motivators (rather, by alleviating the dis-satisfiers we are removing demotivating forces). In contrast, satisfiers were not challenges to be solved, rather they were actions for us to take that could, if done transparently and authentically, increase motivation.

The point here is that we can enhance our change effort by encouraging adoption and participation in the change by focusing our efforts on the various satisfiers and mitigating as much as possible the dis-satisfiers.


The activities we choose to implement to celebrate our successes will be unique to our change. A few traditional examples include: DM/ADM/DG message(s) thanking people for their efforts, recognizing individual successes and linking our vision with the recognition of present and past achievements; awards; and, recognition at other events, such as milestones.

We can also look at other, non-traditional themes for recognition. In addition to celebrating the completion of milestones (e.g., the completion of a deliverable, the completion of focus groups) we can also focus on important moments that might not have a clear connection with a particular milestone. These could include:

  • Acts of kindness or compassion that helped an individual move through their transition process – a good question to ask an employee or colleague is “How can I support you?”
  • A show of commitment to the change by visibly modifying behaviours (even, or especially, when no one else has yet shown this commitment) – this is a great opportunity for role modelling (e.g., ADM participating in a carpool at a building with limited parking)
  • Ongoing efforts to reinforce morale and instill hope
  • Efforts to talk about our purpose and our possibilities that not only strengthen commitment to the change, but improve on it
  • Activities that honour that past and link to our future (e.g., keeping items of significance and displaying them in a prominent location that employees have access to)
  • Collaborative efforts to show how they led to better results (e.g., leader highlighting how a product was made better through working collaboratively, showing a combined effort and ensuing result)

These types of behaviours are often neither measured nor highlighted. While this is understandable, as they are hard to measure, they are actually often some of the most important behaviours to illustrate and reinforce that the change is happening.

Next steps

Celebrating our successes is an important part of keeping momentum going with our change. It also helps us to build our change muscle and set the stage for our next change.

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