You Get What You Celebrate

It is a well-known business principle that “you get what you measure.” Any of us involved in pay-for-performance and complying with the various hospital metrics can relate to that. But recently I heard an interesting variation on this theme. On his podcast “The Tim Ferriss Show”, Tim Ferriss interviewed Frank Blake, former CEO of Home Depot. Blake’s version was “You get what you celebrate.” He went on to describe how at Home Depot, they intentionally celebrated certain employee behaviors to change the corporate culture. For example, in-store customer service was very important to the company, so Blake solicited feedback from store managers and spent Sundays writing thank you notes to hourly employees for customer service acts he had heard about. The Home Depot experience was that celebrating success was more effective than punishing failure.

This really resonated with me, and I think this principle can be applied to so many aspects of our lives.

Anyone with small children (and maybe teenagers too?) will immediately think of a few ways to try out this concept. In our house, we tried it with night-time potty training for my son. Each dry morning was celebrated with a sticker, and 10 dry nights earned my son the deluxe Hex-bug Space Station toy (huge hit, if you are looking for a present for a 4 year old boy). He was out of pull-ups in no time!

On a more serious note, for those of us in academics, current promotion guidelines celebrate and reward the number of “first author” or “senior author” publications as well as our standing as an expert” in our field. So what do we get? A proliferation of for-profit journals happy publish our many manuscripts for a fee, along with siloing and competition as we guard “credit” for our work. But what if promotion committees celebrated collaboration and mentorship? What if we counted the number of multicenter collaborations, not the number of first author papers? How might the academic landscape change then?

In our day-to-day work lives this is easily applicable, but we probably don’t do it often enough. When was the last time you celebrated your favorite OR team? Thanked your best anesthesiologist for a great day together? Acknowledged the speediness and technique of the most dedicated x-ray technician during your clinic of 50 patients needing x-rays? How might things be different if you did this more regularly?

Clinically this is an interesting concept as well. I often thank my patients for being brave during a clinic visit or working hard on their PT. But this might come more readily to me as my patients are all kids. For those of you in the adult world, how often do you celebrate the hard work of your patients after flexor tendon repair? Patients want to make their surgeons proud, and you just may find that they work harder with therapy when you celebrate their efforts.

I encourage all of us to take a look around and see where we could benefit from a little more celebration. If you can think of examples, please share in the comments!

Article written by:

Dr. Andrea Bauer is a pediatric hand surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital. She used to have hobbies, but now she has a 3-year-old son named Topher. At work, she enjoys thinking through complex problems like congenital hand differences and brachial plexus birth palsy. At home, she enjoys trips to the playground and making pancakes on Sunday mornings.

Join the discussion

  1. David Ring

    Great post Andrea. I learned this from my wife. She always tells everyone who does something for her that it is appreciated with specific details about what she appreciated and how it helped her. Once you start doing it, it becomes a natural habit. And we need to give ourselves kudos as well. There is evidence that thinking about 3 good things you did at the end of each day (even if it’s difficult to find 3) is a strong mood booster and maintainer.

  2. Ekkehard Bonatz

    This is well posted and timely, fully agree with Dr. Ring’s perspective. We had a speaker at one of the ASSH meetings who encouraged us to commend someone at least five times during the day in the office, and at least seven times at home towards your spouse. this behavior can easily be learned towards our patients as well, even the “difficult” ones.

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