The Importance of Celebrating Wins in Times of Change

Last week, we gave you some tips on navigating “permanent whitewater”—a business environment in which new obstacles appear without warning, or lurk just below the surface. As leaders, we must acknowledge that we live and work in times of constant change, and that our organizations must adapt to meet evolving customer needs. But it’s also important that we acknowledge that this churn has a human cost.

Changing—even for the better—involves loss. It’s normal to want to some level of mastery of your work. It’s reasonable to want a sense of familiarity; to know what you’re facing when you walk into the office every day. And with everyone’s time at such a premium, it’s no wonder that people just want to do their work with as few distractions as possible. Doing things differently means having to learn new skills and facing novel and unpredictable situations, all of which require taking time away from your “real” job.

NOBL Win Wall

A successful change program will make the sacrifices worth it, resulting in improved skills, greater productivity, and ultimately, happier employees. Unfortunately, though, we humans have a tendency to focus on the negative, fearing loss more than we desire gain. When making changes, therefore, people will bring up all the things that aren’t working. If you’ve ever done a retrospective with us, that’s why we always start with the positives. (In fact, the first few times a team runs a retro, we often have to coach them to wait to share their negatives.)

So if we’re all naturally Negative Nancys, how can leaders keep teams motivated in the face of ongoing change? We use a simple tool called the “Win Wall” to mark progress and celebrate achievements. We give everyone Post-It Notes and Sharpies, and give them two minutes to write down all the wins their team experienced. This can be something as simple as “worked with a new co-worker for the first time” all the way to “found $250K in cost savings.”

nobl celebration

We then have everyone add their Post-Its to a designated wall in a highly visible area of the office, and, time allowing, encourage everyone to share one or two of their wins with the group. Teams are often surprised at how much they’ve achieved because success is easy to forget—once something works, you don’t remember doing it any other way. Congratulate your team on all their hard work, and praise those who have taken the biggest steps to make change. (We've seen one company award a "Golden Toothbrush" to encourage growth!)

We recommend keeping the Win Wall up for a few weeks, not only to remind the teams of the progress they’ve made, but also to share information with other teams within the organization who may not have been involved in the change program. In fact, it may even encourage those other teams to contribute their own wins, spreading change within the organization. After all, nothing convinces people that change can happen like seeing change actually happen.

Need more support in pushing change forward within your organization? Apply for our (R)Evolutionary Leadership coaching cohort, led by Dr. Kim Perkins and Natalya Sverjensky. Don't delay—applications close February 25th.


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