Why You Need to Start Celebrating Milestones

We all know the thrill of the summit, the enjoyment we get from completing tasks and accomplishing goals.

But there is also the daily slog that goes into achieving that milestone. The process that can be a long, frustrating, difficult journey.

And then, the well earned relief that comes with finishing a project. If that hard work isn’t acknowledged though, it feels worse than being denied a high five.

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In those times when it can be hard to keep going, it is important to make sure we stay motivated by acknowledging all of the efforts we’ve put in so far.

I’ve been in a lot of different work environments through my school years and professional life. Some places have done this well, others haven’t. It isn’t something that is intuitive for all managers. Some try and it doesn’t go well, others don’t even try at all.

I’m not sure what is worse, but I will say I’ve been at some awkward “celebratory” lunches where there wasn’t much celebrating going on and it felt more like an obligation than an opportunity for fun.

Nevertheless, celebrating milestones along the path toward our goals is a crucial component of engagement. It helps honor the hard work folks are putting in, incentivizes reaching goals, and generally just creates a more positive environment. This can apply to both students and staff. We all need a little encouragement and could use breaks in our work days to have some fun.

To do this well, here are some tips and things to consider:

Allow teammates to recognize each other

Many teams have fun recognition traditions like passing around a literal rock for “You Rock” awards, paper plate awards, or a silly trophy that’s been passed down for decades. These are simple, fun ways to do an important thing: allow people to recognize each other publicly.

Some people don’t like this, which is fine, but this is a great way to foster a positive culture where helping and encouraging each other is celebrated and praised. There are platforms like YouEarnedIt that help to put points to this that one can accumulate and redeem for different perks.

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Whatever way you do it, allow for some mechanism in your team to let people recognize the awesome contributions of each other. Don’t have only the higher-ups give out praise. It’s on everyone to share the love where it is due.

It also helps to greatly increase the likelihood of recognition being shared generally. Especially with those smaller wins, management isn’t always going to see everything (much less make the time to recognize it). If they see all the awesome work happening and being recognized, it could shift the culture in a positive way.

Personalize it

Some people aren’t going to want big public recognition. Some will want it in private, others in writing, some in gifts, others in the form of time off or a task completed. It’s basically Love Languages, just applied to the workplace.

Get to know your team and figure out the best way to give praise so that it isn’t something people dread because it makes them anxious or they are ambivalent towards it because it doesn’t hold a lot of value to them. Need some help figuring all this out? Lara Hogan has a great template of questions for your 1:1s to help explore your team’s personal preferences.

Be specific

It’s commonplace nowadays to go around telling people that they’re generally “crushing it” or “really rocking it”, which is all well and good, but when you’re really trying to build up some motivating energy, it is far more valuable to be specific.

Look for something someone took initiative on, a process someone really owned or improved, or perhaps someone stepping up to add great input during a meeting. It can be big or small, as long as you can get specific to the moment and what made it stand out.

This will be especially meaningful if you show some change over time in how the employee would have handled that situation in the past. It will show you’re paying attention and are charting the personal growth of your team member.

Do it early and often

Don’t feel like you have to wait around to give praise. Celebrate the milestones as early as you can and help new hires feel valued in their new role. Their first advising appointment they ran on their own, their first conduct meeting, first conference presentation. It’s a big deal when you’re having these moments, and they deserve to be celebrated.

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This is also to say that these sort of moments should continue. If someone has a really positive string of programs or hits a certain work anniversary, make it known and give some praise where it is due.

There is hardly a bad time to give notice to positive behaviors and milestones.

When you combine all these tips to celebrate milestone achievements and moments, you’ll be on your way to creating a thriving, positive, engaged work culture. Your team will feel seen, respected, and inspired. From there, your office will be poised to do its best work for your students.

For more inspiration, check out these articles from Inc and Entrepreneur.

Dustin Ramsdell

About the author: Dustin is a graduate of the Rutgers University College Student Affairs Ed.M Program. He is a proud nerd and self-affirmed "Higher Ed Geek" who is excited to connect with folks who share his love of deep conversations! Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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