I Got a Gold Star!

Do you remember the GOLD STARS in grade school?

I don't know if it's a "thing" anymore, but I remember feeling good when I got a gold star for "being a good friend," or "turning my work in on time."

In our current Leadership Book Club choice, Broadcasting Happiness, author Michelle Gielan talks about how to use happiness to nurture those good gold-star feelings in a climate of appreciation.


I love this idea because it draws attention toward something that is severely lacking in most workplaces: Appreciation.


Leaders have many reasons for not spreading the love more generously...

  •  "People will think they don't have to work as hard if I thank them too often."
  • "What if I thank some people, but not others, and am perceived as having favorites?"
  • "Some people do better work than others, so what then? Will I have to make up some fake appreciation for those who are underperforming?"
  • "I give them a paycheck. What more do they want?"


While these are understandable feelings, they distract us from leadership actions that create a motivating environment where people are excited to contribute and where positive energy fuels success.


Instead of focusing on the risks associated with positive feedback and appreciation, I recommend using an updated, workplace-appropriate version of  "gold stars." Consider this a fun way of identifying something your team is working toward, engaging everyone in seeking examples of positive action, and measuring progress toward the goal.

I first learned about this idea from a system called Your Best Year Yet, by Jinny Ditzler. Since then, I have noticed the concept used in many places, especially with the ample research provided by the Gaming industry, which proves the effectiveness of applying Gaming principles to certain aspects of work to increase motivation.

Basically, it involves the following:

  1. Decide on something that you want to improve. It could be something like Customer Service Scores, or Our Team Culture, or Building a High-Trust Workplace.
  2. Decide on a unit of measurement. When improving customer service scores, could you count the number of positive customer interactions? When improving your team culture, could you measure the number of days without a complaint or the number of helpful interactions between team members? (You get the gist.)
  3. Decide on a frequency and trend of measurement. Will you count by the day, interaction, or score? Will you track the absence of complaints or the increase in kudos? What you will measure is very important. (Measure what you want MORE of, not LESS of. For example, it's better to measure the number of days WITHOUT an accident, than the number of workplace accidents.)
  4. Create a theme. Have fun with this! I've had groups working with sports themes, current (positive) events, orienteering, and animal themes. If it's related to the topic of improvement, that's a plus.
  5. Build your tracking board. Here's where you turn your theme into a game (the "gold star" effect). One of my clients made a poster of a mountain and filled it with mountaineering boot post-it notes that each had an example of how the team was improving process. They called it, "Ascending Toward Effectiveness." Another group literally created a big blue sky wall and filled it with stars that were kudos to one another. They called it their "constellation" and in just a couple of weeks, it was FULL of appreciation. Yet another group created a board that resembled Monterey Bay and used a "race" theme with little boats that made their way across the bay, gaining distance each time the team processed 100% of orders for the day. (I have lots more examples!)
  6. Finally, get everyone involved. Your whole team should be involved in the design and execution of the game. That way, everyone begins to notice what IS working. Because a game board requires interaction, they notice, pause, and mark the occasion, which helps to soak up the goodness of the moment, raise positive energy, and fuel progress.


If you want to build a more positive workplace and get EVERYONE on the appreciation train, this is a GREAT solution!


Let me hear from you! Have you developed a game like this with your work team? Join our FREE Leadership Book Club Community and share a picture or a description. And, let me know if you want more. I'd be happy to share my step-by-step guide or come to your workplace to guide you through the process.

Make it a gold star day!


P.S. If you haven't yet joined the Leadership Book Club, do it today! It's FREE, FUN, and a great way to stay proactive about your own leadership growth.


About the Author:  Claire Laughlin is a highly regarded training expert who has dedicated her career to studying and improving patterns of communication in organizations. Claire works across various industries, coaching individuals and creating large-scale, global-reaching training programs designed to uplift and support excellence across functions and cultural divides. Claire shares her expertise by offering training solutions for all levels of professional development. 

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash. Thanks, Markus!


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