I remember reading in John Kotter’s book Leading Change years ago about the importance of what he calls “short-term wins”. These are the small victories along the way when you are trying to leverage change that, when accomplished, give persons reason for hope. Whether the change is related to a personal goal such as changing your diet and exercise routine to lose weight, or tackling a “debt snowball” to get your financial house in order – we all need short-term wins. They are the measures of progress. They provide immediate, in the midst of it, feedback that our efforts are worth it. They keep us moving forward.
Translate this same thinking to the often more challenging work of leading a group through change and the same principle still applies. A short-term win might be getting the group to collaborate on a project in a new way. It might be just getting all the stake holders to sit down at the conference table and look at a challenge together. It might the first step toward a much larger adaptive challenge that faces your organization.
But here is what Kotter added to the importance of those “short-term wins.” They should be celebrated! That’s right – don’t just achieve the win, celebrate it. Acknowledge the victory. Spike the football. Raise your arms. Clap your hands. Give a high five. Celebrate!
Why is this important? When we are asking others to join us in the hard work of change, their participation – and especially their achievement – merits recognition and celebration. It builds momentum and team spirit. It keeps people engaged and more likely to take the next step – which in change is often going to be an even bigger step.
The fact is that celebration is a practice not only of a personal or organizational nature in leading change; it is a spiritual practice for those of us who follow Christ. Listen to what Richard Foster* writes about the importance of the practice of celebration:
This (celebration) deep-rooted character formation brings balance to our lives. Anger, bitterness, resentment, rancor, hostility, deceit – these things simply do not have the same control over us they once did. We feel the impact of this in all our relationships: with our spouse, with our children, with our co-workers, with our neighbors, with our friends. Even with our enemies.
Joy is at the heart of celebration – the engine that keeps the entire operation going. Perhaps the most important benefit of celebration is that it saves us from taking ourselves too seriously . . . gives us perspective on ourselves.
I have yet to be part of an organization that would fail to benefit from the very things Foster suggests the practice of celebration introduces, have you? I have watched groups celebrate short-term wins in the longer journey of change and seen the impact it brings to collaboration, buy-in, and group morale.
As the calendar has now turned to February many of us are well into the work of leading our self or some group we are part of toward those goals we named back at the first of the year. What is there to celebrate thus far? This (celebration) just might be the boost you and your group need to keep moving forward in the challenge you face.
*Quotes taken from The Making of an Ordinary Saint by Nathan Foster, with contributions from Richard Foster.