Don't Forget to Celebrate the Victories

How can a leader build and implement a plan that inspires people to achieve beyond their expectations?


Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP SE, shares his experiences of celebrating accomplishments during a project. Many times, we get caught up in the details along the way and forget to celebrate the victories. The people we lead need to be inspired by big dreams and goals yet to be achieved, but they also need the support of celebrating what they accomplish. 

Watch this video to hear a personal story about celebrating with your team.

I go to my first meeting after reading "Spanish for Gringos," listening to Berlitz tapes, saying all the words wrong, but trying, and putting all my speeches in Spanish to show respect for the culture. And lo and behold, I spent the first three weeks just listening and learning, and asking people, "Why are you #66 out of 66 operations?" Didn't come in with a preconceived vision or notion of what had to be done.

What do you think I learned? This story will knock you out, because in every case in business today, everyone is so busy telling everybody what to do, they forgot to listen to what you're supposed to do, because the people always know. And they basically told me three things. They said, number one, "The guy before you, he just wanted to cut costs. Will you please give us back the water?" I'm like, "Yeah, probably it wouldn't be a good idea to have a dehydrated work force, I think we could swing the water."

The second thing was, "Give us a clear vision of what you want us to do." Because the people always just want to know what you want them to do. And once they do know, they'll execute the plan as long as it's a good, solid plan.

And the third, and the biggest thing, was, "Will you give us our holiday party back please? Because we like to dance in Puerto Rico, man. And we haven't danced in a long time. And that holiday party is everything to us." So, first meeting, we announced that we will hire Gilberto Santa Rosa, who was the number one salsa singer in Puerto Rico, to put on the annual holiday party. Now, that's a whole year away, and I had already committed to Gilberto. So the deal that I cut with them was real simple.

Now that I'm on the hook for spending all the money on Gilberto, you're on the hook from going 66th to 1st. And that high level of expectation, with an incredibly clear and simple plan, knowing full well that in the end, they would dance with Gilberto at the San Juan hotel in the most glorious setting possible, became the driving force of this underdog coming behind to win the race. And every day, you saw this downtrodden office with people that didn't believe coming more and more to life. So we made progress.

That year we went from 66 to 30 by the middle of year. By the fourth quarter of the year we were number five. And in December, we came through as number one. The people, what it meant to their families, what it meant to job creation, what it meant to the customers, what it meant to the pride of Puerto Rico, was so heartfelt and so powerful that today it inspires me just to think of it.

So for all of you out there that believe in the power of the underdog with a plan built around the wishes of the people, and an unbelievable set of dreams and goals, and the pageantry to reward it, I applaud you. I really do. I am petrified of leaders that don't understand the power of celebrating victories, that always want to cut costs, and that always think about the small details. Who in here wants to think about the big dreams, the goals that have yet to be achieved, and the things that are possible? And who in here, really, would like to celebrate those victories like never before? If you're one of those people, let me hear you.

Bill McDermott

Bill McDermott was appointed co-CEO of SAP alongside Jim Hagemann Snabe on February 7, 2010. He was then promoted to sole CEO (the first American in the company's history) in 2014. In this capacity, and also as a member of the executi...

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