Celebrate wins, but don’t pick winners

One of the most popular motivational techniques is celebrating team victories. But if you’re going to host an employee-appreciation party, make sure that everyone leaves happy.

In the late 1980s, Phil Buckley was putting in long hours opening Zack’s Famous Frozen Yogurt stores across Canada. A top performer, he kept pace with the fast-growing franchise’s growth.

The yogurt firm’s CEO knew his team was pushing hard to expand the business. So he convened a festive meeting of his top lieutenants and said, “I’d like to recognize the hard work of three people.”

Yet there were far more than three people in the room. So after the CEO highlighted the contributions of a trio of managers, that left everyone else feeling neglected.

The CEO then gave each of the three employees a large check as a way of saying thanks. Buckley immediately thought to himself, “Where’s my check?”

He felt that he was working equally hard and thus equally deserving of public praise and a bonus payment. When the CEO ended the celebration without recognizing Buckley and other hard-working colleagues, a cloud of negativity enveloped the rest of the team.

“I remember watching other unacknowledged co-workers slowly walking back to their desks after the ceremony, their heads down,” Buckley writes.

Even though Buckley was happy for his three colleagues, seeing them bask in the CEO’s approval (and receive big checks) left him disgruntled. Had the CEO given smaller checks to everyone in attendance—or skipped the bonuses entirely and simply praised each person’s specific efforts—the gathering would have left a more positive glow.

To celebrate collective wins, reward every team member in the same way. Motivate by lifting up the entire group—not picking a few representatives to praise while ignoring everyone else.

— Adapted from Change With Confidence, Phil Buckley, Jossey-Bass.