In our weekly EOS Level 10 meetings, we have a designated time to share “headlines.” These are high-level recaps of our biggest professional news.
I’ve noticed that during these headlines we end up talking almost exclusively about client concerns or organizational issues. It feels like nothing is celebrated, even though everything is (objectively) going according to plan. Maybe someone will share something agonizingly amazing, like hiring a new Highlander after months of searching, to which we all nod and smile and then plow forward to the next topic.
Why do we do this? Why do victories evaporate? Why are we so obsessed with charging onto the next problem?
Aside from the headline, I am careful not to use words like “good” or “bad” in this post because I don’t think value judgements like these are particularly helpful. The world is spectral, not binary.
Victories Evaporate, Failures Accumulate
Hyper-connectivity is the obvious scapegoat. What else could cause this dissolution of celebration and satisfaction? Despite our efforts to meet face to face or hold video calls, we conduct a disproportionate amount of our communication on Slack. We limit private channel and direct message usage, so most messages are sent to shared channels. Combine this with our core value of transparency, and everyone seems to know everything all the time. This allows us to move very fast and I wouldn’t change a thing about that.
My concern is that working this way abstracts away emotion and the humanness of sharing news. Emoji are fun, sure. Gifs do a decent job of communicating the absurd or intense. But nothing beats seeing someone’s face light up when you share something meaningful.
As a recent example, I’ve been serving as the designer on a design sprint for the past two weeks. During one of our breaks, I saw a message that we won an RFP. I spent dozens of hours on that RFP. Countless strategy and estimation meetings. We had to get it notarized. I hand delivered it. Andddd: “We won.” Thump. Back to the task at hand!
Upon reflection, I noticed that we’ve developed some interesting countermeasures to this phenomenon as a company. Here are a few things we do at Highland to build celebration into our routine (although, as mentioned above, our approach isn’t perfect):
All Company Standups
Each Monday morning we hold an all company standup. We stand in a circle and everyone shares a bit of personal and professional news. This has become a fun way to collectively celebrate the small things. It is also an opportunity to recognize and acknowledge each other via shout outs.
Annual and quarterly reviews can be a source of anxiety and shame at some organizations. Recognizing this, myself and other Career Development Coaches flip the script and focus on growth and learning. Each quarter, we set aside 60–90 minutes — usually somewhere away from the office —for a Quarterly Conversation (another EOS practice). We use this time to discuss these three questions:
What’s working well/not working well in your role?
What’s working well/not working well in the company?
What’s working well/not working well in our relationship?
We create space to talk about what isn’t working well, but we spend just as much time celebrating what is working well with everyone, too. This helps us to continue to nurture the positive and while creating a more comfortable space to talk about the things that aren’t working.
Sharing Successes during Retros
During our regular project-team retrospectives, we’ll open it up to talk about our favorite accomplishment in the past few weeks. It could be as small as fixing a silly bug or as large as completing the last story of a multi-month epic.
The various project, operations, and sales teams periodically go out to celebrate together. Our Sales & Marketing team did that just last week and we toasted to that RFP we won. We also have periodic all hands celebrations and a weekly happy hour that we use to celebrate our team and our shared wins.
A Few Personal Approaches
There are also a few things I’ve started doing to make satisfaction and celebration more present in my life. I think of them as games.
The other day, I had just learned an excruciatingly exciting piece of news. I reflexively reached for my phone and started to text my wife. But then I had a thought:
No! I’m going to wait until I get home! If I text her now, then we probably won’t even talk about it tonight.
Sure enough, I shared the news in person and it sparked a whole conversation that carried us through dinner.
So now, each day, I try to withhold one piece of news until I’m face-to-face with the recipient. Try it! (But not with anything that is too time sensitive!)
The next time you receive a piece of news that brings you joy, try this: inhale, mentally count to three, and just allow yourself to sit with the joy. Appreciate it. Turn it over in your mind. Think about how long you’ve worked towards it or how much joy it will bring in the world. Then release.
Since I started playing these games with myself, I have been calmer and more at peace with how fast everything moves. They’ve also created more opportunities for genuine connection and sharing in all areas of my life.
The fast pace of agency work (or any endeavors, really) can encourage us to ignore wins in pursuit of even greater productivity. But some of the practices I mentioned above are easy to embed into your work and your everyday life. Taking time to reflect on success helps make work more meaningful, and can be a wonderful way of grounding yourself in the present moment.