We don’t celebrate our victories as often as we should, and because of this, we leave a lot of valuable information on the table. Many organizational cultures today tend to do deep dives into poor outcomes, which makes sense. We want to know how things went wrong and what we can do to change our processes so it never happens again. And yes, the declaration, “We learn from failure, not from success!” in the novel from Dracula continues to resonate with our current day culture. Is the reason for this as simple as because we don’t bother to learn from our successes?
What doesn’t make sense is why we don’t do deep dives when the outcomes are excellent. There seems to be a wealth of knowledge we are leaving on the table.
When celebrating success, take time to acknowledge key decision points or actions that supported the outcome. Yes, this takes time, and it is worth it.
Without pausing and considering how success was achieved, we risk forgetting the very steps we took to get the desired results. We might even change something that actually worked or delete an important step. We miss an opportunity to hard-wire our success. For example, “in high-risk environments (e.g., nuclear power, hospital, or aviation industry), failure can mean maiming, disability, and huge environmental, financial, societal, and psychological costs. Hence, it is key that people are also able to learn from their successes before disasters take place” (Ellis et al., 2014, p. 68).
Consider customer, client, and patient satisfaction scores; the negative scores drive action plans. But what about the positive scores? Learning about what made our stakeholders feel happy, heard, and cared for is access to us, ensuring we don’t unintentionally eliminate the very element resulting in them giving us a high score.
Learning occurs when individuals engage in systematic reflection, analyzing their actions and evaluating how those actions contributed to complex processes resulting in the desired result (Ellis et al., 2014).
Celebrating our wins could look like team members presenting on their process, the challenges they faced and how they navigated those challenges. Sharing what setbacks they experienced within the team, perhaps with team dynamics and personalities. It would be valuable to learn what leading metrics were right on target and what data alerted the team to make early changes. Asking questions like, “how did you decide to go with A versus B?” and “what did you do to contribute to this process?”.
The additional benefit of implementing a systematic reflective practice is participants begin to take more ownership for their successes and their failures (Ellis et al., 2014). Inside of developing a healthy culture, this has the potential to uncover an organization based in psychological safety, where owning successes and failures is viewed as learning rather than one being better than the other.
Participants become clear on how their actions contributed to the success; this increases their self-esteem and inspires additional motivation for continued contribution to the organization.
There are easy ways to pivot from only focusing on the negative, just use whatever the organization is currently using to evaluate poor outcomes, to evaluate the great outcomes. Another balanced approach is to use something like Gibbs’ Reflective Model (Gibbs, 1988). This six-step model consists of six steps, Description, Feeling, Evaluation, Analysis, Conclusion, and Action Plan.
1. Briefly describe the situation.
2. Consider the thoughts you were having before the experience, consider the feelings felt.
3. Look at what went exceptionally well, could have gone better, and/or didn’t go well at all.
4. Look at how things did not go as plan consider the influencing factors that contributed.
5. What did you learn? What skills did you develop and/or still need to develop? What did the team as a whole learn?
6. Develop an action plan to hardwire learnings.
Our culture is accustomed to implementing change inside of a pain point being touched (i.e. finances, human life, community impact). Could we balance those learnings with those situations inspired by joy and success? I believe we can. And this starts with celebrating the success of the team. If you still aren’t convinced, stop by your HR department and reflect on your last employee satisfaction results…chances are being recognized is on the top of your organization’s list.
Ellis, S., Carette, B., Anseel, F., & Lievens, F. (2014). Systematic reflection: implications for learning from failures and successes. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(1), 67–72. Retrieved January 8, 2023, from
Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by doing: a guide to teaching and learning methods. Oxford: Oxford Further Education Unit.