Employee Relations

Why you should celebrate milestones

happy employee

Whether it’s an employee’s first year of service, or your organisation’s 1,000th new customer, milestones exist at every level of business. However, not everybody sees the value in them.

Is there a point in celebrating the 10th sale of the day? After all, the jump between your 9th and 10th sale is exactly the same as the jump between your 10th and your 11th sale, isn’t it? So what’s the point in putting an arbitrary marker on certain milestones, and insisting on making a fuss?

This article looks at milestones. More specifically, it looks at some of the benefits of celebrating them, as well as some of the ways you can celebrate milestones more effectively.

Not everybody sees the value in celebrating milestones

Some people think milestones are pointless and superficial. For example, it is thought that 46% of Brits don’t bother celebrating their wedding anniversary – with one such couple describing anniversary celebrations as “superficial, material, and trivial in comparison with the relationship.”

The scepticism surrounding the celebration of milestones extends beyond personal relationships, and bleeds into the world of business. In fact, my favourite description of the term “milestones” comes from “The Dictionary of Business Bullshit” by Kevin Duncan:

Milestones: 1. Road markers indicating mile-length distances; moment or recognition of a significant achievement. 2. Serious attempt to herald progress, where usually there is precious little; suggestion of forward motion; triumphant production of tangible but invariably cheap memento of success, such as a plaque, hastily printed certificate or plastic trophy emblazoned with “Brain surgeon of the month”, or “Waxer of the Year”; misty-eyed intonation much loved by Chairmen, as in “I am convinced we will look back on Project Jellybean as a significant milestone in the company’s history”.

Now, it’s true that on the day I turned 30, I was still only 24 hours older than the day before. It wasn’t like I had suddenly achieved 30 years worth of growth and development overnight. But I’m not sure this means it was pointless and superficial to throw a 30th birthday party.

Similarly, when an employee completes their 10th sale, or answers their 500th support ticket, I don’t think it’s pointless to celebrate it.

Milestones give you a reason to appreciate employees

Employees thrive on appreciation and recognition. In fact, many people say that appreciation and recognition are their biggest motivators. But thanking people for nothing does more harm than good – for appreciation to work, you need it to be sincere.

Milestones help you deliver sincere appreciation, by attaching it to an actual achievement. The milestone itself might not be particularly significant. But if it represents the kind of behaviour you want your employees to exhibit, then celebrating milestones can be a good tool for positive reinforcement.

When you celebrate a milestone, it is a genuine reason to provide appreciation and recognition – two things that will motivate people at every level of business.

Milestones make bigger goals more achievable

Milestones are more than just an excuse to celebrate hard work. They can actually help your employees to get through large, often daunting tasks, by breaking them into more manageable chunks.

“Teams presented with frequent milestones perform far better than those without” says Jennifer Walden, Director of Operations at WikiLawn Lawn Care. “Milestones break complex, long-lasting projects into manageable goals. If you’re trying to meet a revenue goal over the course of a year, you can monitor progress toward that as often as you like, but it doesn’t seem attainable until you’re close to the finish line. If you break this into milestones that are directly tied to measurable actions employees can take, they feel more accomplished when they achieve them.”

Jennifer adds that the bigger goals you’re working towards, will occur naturally as a result of working towards these smaller, more manageable, milestones.

Surviving vs thriving – not all milestones are helpful

Of course, just because milestones can be effective, it doesn’t mean you should throw as many of them as you can into as many of your operations as you can. And according to Consumer Affairs graduate Alexander Heinle, who currently works at The Life Company, choosing the right milestones is almost as important as celebrating milestones in the first place. Why? Because not all of them are as helpful as you might hope.

“Celebrating being in business for five years is nice” he admits. “That does, however, also sound very much like survival mode. Like you’ve barely made it.”

Alexander advises selecting milestones that promote forward thinking, instead of survival.

“Go for KPIs related to actual achievement” he recommends, “such as turnover of 10 million a year, or reaching your first 10,000 users, etc. The fulfilment of goals is more rewarding if we had a direct impact on them.”