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June 26, 2015

Gold Stars and Certificates

Charlie Swift

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When I was in elementary school, the best part of my day wasn't running around in the yard, or dreaming up impossible adventures with my friends. It was getting my homework back from Mr Noyce with a big red tick and "V.G." at the bottom, short for "Very Good." I'd done it! I'd been recognized! Okay, maybe I was a strange child.

Gold stars and certificates are rare in adult life. It's like society says to us that we should no longer need confirmation of our achievements and progress handed down by someone else. Instead, it's time to stand on our own two feet and have confidence. "Darn it, I'm good!" But I have to be honest. I still get a glow from a quiet nod, a thumbs up, or even a smiley in an email that means, "Well done." Yes, I do know I'm worth it, but – isn't it just great when someone else notices your contribution and shares that with you? Don't you feel encouraged in what you're doing, motivated to do more of it, somehow more loyal to that co-worker or manager?

I'm not talking about empty flattery or routine effusiveness. They do more damage than good. And I surely don't want to be patronized. But a well-placed and well-pitched celebration can, in combination with a thousand other acts of emotional intelligence, grow a powerful, high-functioning team. Each team member understands and acknowledges the value and ability of every other member, and they get a buzz out of achieving together as well as individually. They'll happily "go the extra mile" for more success.

This is exactly how I felt six months into my very first job. I was the most junior assistant in a laboratory and the most recent person to join the team. I was concentrating hard, and learning as fast as I could. So, when some of my test results seemed unlikely, I repeated the analysis even more carefully, twice, only to get the same answer. I discussed my findings with my supervisor, who checked and approved my work. I heard no more until a week or so later, when I was called into the manager's office and presented with a bottle of whiskey as a thank you from head office.

Apparently, my attention to detail and prompt reporting had saved the company a hugely embarrassing mistake. I was thrilled at the vote of confidence in me and my work, but I was also teetotal at the time, so strong spirits weren't quite the right reward!

Now, picture the energy, joy and camaraderie of a sports medal-winners' ceremony, with all its cheering and hugging. When did you last feel like that at work? Maybe you never expect to, wouldn't want to, or don't think it would be appropriate? Is it in your power as a team member, manager or leader to enable just a bit more of that spirit in your workplace, in a way that's right for you? Our article on Celebrating Achievement might give you some ideas. It also has a few warnings to observe if you're to avoid getting it horribly wrong...

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