Great leaders identify, measure, recognize, and reward meaningful efforts and achievements—and celebrate often with the people involved. Why should managers and leaders celebrate more? Creating a feeling of celebration helps meet people’s needs for inclusion, innovation, appreciation, and collaboration.
How might the disciplined practice of celebration change the culture? From my study of neuroscience, I know that celebration has a big impact because it literally works wonders in the brain. By releasing dopamine and other positive neurotransmitters, positive celebrations and intelligent conversations are not just ways of socializing and sharing information—they trigger healthy physical and emotional changes in the brain.
The Moment of Contact
Cultures either open you up to having healthy, trusting conversations or close you down so that you speak from fear, caution, and worry. As we communicate, we trigger neurochemicals that make us feel either good or bad, and we translate that inner experience into words, sentences, and stories. Feel-good conversations trigger dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins, and other chemicals that give us a sense of well-being.
When we converse with others, we are sharing our inner world, or sense of reality, validating reality with others, and measuring the levels of trust in our relationship to determine whether we can partner with others—and the quality of our conversations depends on how open or closed we feel at the moment of contact. The neurochemical reactions in our brains drive our states of mind, and these affect the way we build trusting relationships with others, how we communicate, and how we shape our relationships.
The Caring Effect
Our brains are designed to be social—and the need for celebration is greater than the need for safety. In fact, feeling socially excluded activates some of the same neural regions that are activated in response to physical pain. I refer to the various ways that leaders can celebrate and show appreciation, The Caring Effect. The opposite effect is manifest when people physically or emotionally check out.
When an employee begins to check out, managers often think of this person as uncooperative or unreasonable, which leads to counterproductive behaviors on the part of the manager—avoiding the person, talking judgmentally about them, or passing them over to HR for repair. This creates a vicious cycle: employee engagement continues to decline while the manager becomes exasperated with the employee’s performance until the tension is relieved—either by the boss deciding to fire the employee, the employee choosing to leave, or both resigning themselves to low satisfaction and performance.
Such negative behaviors signal that the social and psychological needs that drive performance are not being met. All people have deep-seated needs for meaning, purpose, connection, and inclusion that they want—and expect—to fulfill at work. How can you leverage your people’s social and psychological needs to fuel growth and productivity?
The Caring Effect… Take Five Steps Forward
The key is to use your Conversational Intelligence® (C-IQ)—your capacity to connect—to recognize social and psychological needs and translate this awareness into conversations that meet these needs.
Here are five steps you can take now:
1: Acknowledge people’s social and psychological needs. Our needs are sources of energy, motivation, and engagement. Create a culture wherein people can meet the following seven needs:
- Inclusion and belonging: we need to feel included and connected and in supportive relationships with others and be included in decisions that affect our job.
- Appreciation and recognition: we need to be appreciated for our gifts, talents, and achievements and to recognize and appreciate others.
- Challenge and achievement: we need to feel challenged to take risks and achieve results.
- Trust and accountability: we need to feel that we can count on others to be fair and honest, clarify expectations, and be held accountable for results.
- Growth and learning: we need to work where we can learn, grow and develop our skills and talents and contribute to organizational goals.
- Power and control: we need to influence the results and actions we are accountable for.
- Meaning and purpose: we need to know that our work adds value, has meaning, and is part of something bigger than we are alone.
Step 2: Model self-responsibility for meeting needs. Cultivate a culture of self-responsibility by expressing direct and timely feedback to others when their behavior detracts from your needs being met and by making clear requests regarding actions that they can take to better meet your needs. Also, asking them for feedback on whether your behavior is meeting their needs; if not, ask what needs are not being met and what actions they’d like you to take to better meet these needs.
Step 3: Offer and accept support for identifying and meeting your needs. We often need help identifying our needs and the support of others to meet them. As a leader, you can foster an environment in which people support each other in identifying and meeting their needs by offering support (asking someone who appears distressed what’s going on that they need help with) and accepting support when it is offered.
Step 4: Celebrate when needs are met. Nothing builds momentum for continuing to meet these needs than celebrating the actions that lead to these needs being met. Celebrate the meeting of a need, and you can expect this need to become increasingly met going forward; fail to celebrate the meeting of a need and you demoralize the person.
Step 5: Hire needs-intelligent employees. Some employees may arrive to work intent on creating a sense of inclusion and belonging, while others may arrive resigned that they’ll never feel included. Identify those needs you want to meet in your culture and then hire people who have a strong connection to these needs and embody a sense of self-responsibility for ensuring that these needs are met.
In C-IQ cultures, people celebrate achievement often to meet their social and psychological needs in a healthy way, resulting in higher morale and productivity.
Judith E. Glaser is CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is an Organizational Anthropologist and consults to Fortune 500 Companies.