The Importance of Celebrating Small Wins

We’ve all done it: We’ve written down lofty goals and ambitious dreams on our to-do lists, worked hard toward achieving them, and then felt totally let down when we were not able to complete them all. In fact, 92 percent of people who create New Year’s goalsnever actually accomplish them, according to the University of Scranton.


There can be as many reasons as there are people, yet that eight percent of people who do achieve their goals share some common traits and behaviors. One is the habit of celebrating interim steps, or “small wins,” on the way to achieving a goal.

To help us get closer to achieving our objectives, it’s important to celebrate all the meaningful small wins we experience along the way. If you’re an entrepreneur, learn to acknowledge and celebrate the small wins in your business as often as possible.

Research Supports Celebrating Small Wins

In their book, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, authors Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer compiled diary entries from 238 employees at seven different companies. Of the 12,000 diary entries they analyzed, they found that small wins were almost as effective as major breakthroughs when it came to improving employees’ work lives and encouraging passion and creativity.

As Amabile said to Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, “Big breakthroughs at work are really rare. But small wins are something people can experience pretty regularly if the work is chunked down to manageable pieces.”

As a small business owner, you likely experience small wins on a pretty consistent basis. However, with all the things you’re responsible for, they can be easy to miss. Whether you’re a solopreneur or the owner of several retail locations, looking out for the small wins can enliven your work and that of any employees you may have.

Here are four habits you can implement with a minimum of time and effort that can make a huge difference in your—and your small business’s—success.

1. Write down your goals.

According to research from Dominican University, people who write down their goalsaccomplish considerably more than people who do not. If you have employees, share these goals with your team and document them. Make sure they’re stored in a location that’s accessible to all team members so they can refer to them easily.

Also, keep everyone in the loop if your strategy or goals change, so that your team is always on the same page, and you’re all working toward a common objective. This way, when you review your small business’s progress, you can ensure you’re congratulating your team on their successes working toward the goal, no matter how small the achievement.

2. Break your goals down into small steps.

As Amabile says, it is crucial to write down goals you can actually accomplish. Goals that are too big can be daunting, if they seem impossible to achieve. At the other extreme, easy goals or “do your best” goals do not provide sufficient motivation. The “just right” goal will be one that is specific enough and challenging—while not being overwhelming.

To help achieve these goals, you can write out every single step that it takes to get there. Each of these steps can then become a small win worth celebrating. You might also choose to have a weekly or monthly recognition of your employees who have small wins.

3. Be accountable.

In the Dominican University study, it was revealed that people who sent weekly progress reports to a friend achieved significantly more.

Many entrepreneurs start “accountability” groups and have weekly check-ins.

As a small business owner, you’re likely too busy to keep track of all the small wins going on in your business. Instead, consider breaking down your teams into small groups (or assign specific individuals, if necessary) that will hold each other accountable. They will be responsible for checking in with one another and encouraging team members to keep pushing forward no matter what.

4. Make mistakes less taboo.

Sometimes your employees will not achieve their objectives in time or they will do things wrong. This is normal. But it’s also human nature to emphasize negative setbacks and minimize positive small accomplishments. According to Amabile and Kramer’s research, the effect of a setback was two to three times stronger than that of an achievement.

Also, when employees are feeling discouraged or beating themselves up, they are not likely to be as productive. Once you decide to celebrate the small wins, you must also highlight the failures and seek to make them less taboo.

At Etsy, people who mess up are encouraged to send out a company-wide email detailing their mistakes, the effects of the errors, their original expectations, and what they believe went wrong. The theory is that if employees admit their small mistakes in the present, the company can help avoid making larger mistakes in the future. Every year, Etsy gives a special award to the employee who has made the “most surprising” mistake.

In your small business, the real learning is present both in the small mistakes and in the small wins. By choosing not to ignore these signs of progress, you’ll build momentum that may help you reach your business’s stated goals sooner—and then your team can move on to new and better goals.

When you cultivate a culture of celebrating the small wins and of making errors less taboo, you may also find that your employees are happier and more proficient—all of which contributes to your—and your small business’s—current and long-term success.