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As often as you see success celebrated in victory laps, leaping athletes, parades, and street parties, it’s easy to forget that’s not the way success usually goes. Mounting the Olympic podium is reserved for few. The rest of us will succeed, but step by step, inch by inch, one day at a time.

amabile-progress-principle-cover-600In their book The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins To Ignite Joy, Engagement And Creativity At Work wife-and-husband psychologists Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer celebrate the power of small wins. They argue that the best managers build teams that leverage everyday accomplishments and incremental progress.

Managers who celebrate small wins build teams that consistently display positive emotions, demonstrate strong motivation, and hold favorable perceptions of the organization, their work, and their colleagues. The worst managers, in contrast, often unwittingly undermine their teams’ efforts to make the most of the progress being made.

The Progress Principle team generated 12,000 person-days of data on moods and activities at work by looking at diary entries participants kept. Their data confirms that a sense of incremental progress is vastly more important to happiness than either a grand mission or financial incentives.

The key, we have learned from Amabile, Kramer, and others, is to keep a sharp focus on progress. Not just now and then or when big wins occur, but on the everyday accomplishments that keep your team moving forward.

How to celebrate small wins

Like all small things, small wins do not stand out. A journey of a thousand miles may start with one step, but that one step is not very impressive. But a trail of a ten or a hundred footprints begins to make progress visible. Therefore, consider the following steps for making small wins worth celebrating.

Find your way A large tally board or tiny tally app like will work. The important thing is to get started.

Get into the habit Use environmental reminders to remind yourself and your team to record your daily accomplishments. An old-school sign or Post-It can work just as well as a smartphone alarm or other electronic alert.

Celebrate regularly Maybe I should have said, “Use it or lose it.” There’s no use recording wins unless you set up a regular schedule for recognizing them and displaying your team’s progress. Use small gatherings or group notices often and save bigger celebrations for important milestones.



Helanie Scott
Helanie Scott
Helanie (pronounced yeh-LAH-nee) Scott, CEO and founder of Align4Profit in Dallas, Texas, has driven stunning leadership and cultural transformations for an impressive list of organizations. She has mastered the ability to connect with her audiences in the boardroom, classroom, on stage, or in one-on-one coaching sessions. Helanie’s Align4Profit clients rave at the way her engaging programs freshen outdated mindsets and deliver results-oriented, aligned action.