Your Organization’s Gatorade Shower: What Your Celebration Says About Your Culture

The ways an organization celebrates wins says a lot about their culture. Just look at the National Football League. Regardless of whether you’re a sports fan or your stance on NFL protests, safety concerns, etc., I think we can all agree that there is something satisfying about watching a guy get a bucket of Gatorade dumped on his head after a successful game. So to accompany the annual Super Bowl festivities, it’s a good time to ask, “How do you celebrate a win?’

The Gatorade shower debuted over thirty years ago when the New York Giants’ nose tackle, Jim Burt, initiated the prank at the expense of then-coach Bill Parcells. At first this seemed to be one-time event; however, according to Burt’s teammate, Harry Carson, Parcells was superstitious so once it was dumped on his head after the first win of the season, it had to be done for each successive win. The Giants won the Super Bowl that year.

If you’ve never had a Gatorade bath, you haven’t done anything very exceptional.—Mike Ditka

In a less “sports drink throwing” workplace, I worked with one executive who applauded a prolific quarter with a “meeting” at a casino in Biloxi. Most of us didn’t leave with our bonuses intact, but he really knew how to bring a team together in the spirit of victory. On the other end of the spectrum, I worked with another executive at another company who commemorated a profitable partnership by announcing that it was too soon to pat ourselves on the back (that “pat” never transpired). If you were guessing, which of these two companies had the higher engagement? Higher retention? Higher profits?

Once you see the benefits to celebrating, the more difficult task is in deciding how to seamlessly integrate it into your organization. Consider these three thirst quenching tips.

Be genuine. The lesson many organizations miss is that culture determines the motivator; the motivator does not create culture. Just as the celebratory Gatorade shower was the natural result of players having fun on the field, your celebrations must stem from the ways in which your team interacts, engages, and wants to be motivated. You cannot create a great culture with amazing recognition. If you do, you’re creating recognition-seekers, not engagement-generators.

Keep it fresh. Any celebration gets old if it’s the same every time. When Parcells caught on to the dunking, Carson would wear disguises to keep it surprising. During the infamous Super Bowl dunk, 87 million viewers watched Carson sneak up in a yellow security jacket while the commentators said, “Everyone is staying in the stadium… he’s got it. Parcells is up there without the headset…and they get him!” The stadium erupted and fans held up signs saying, “Gatorade me.”

When you find something that works, find ways to maintain excitement. Sometimes it’s tweaking the plan, other times you may need to change the frequency or up the ante. Either way, simply repeating a motivator will quickly become less motivating.

Be certain. The final tip comes from Carson, who is now a broadcaster with the Giants network. He says, “Make sure you’re way ahead in the score. Be certain you are going to win or you’ll be embarrassed.” Celebrating too soon is not just embarrassing, its disruptive, discouraging, and incredibly demotivating. Project optimism, but save the party for the executed contract.

Like the NFL’s Gatorade shower, find something your team can look forward to after a win. Something that proclaims a hard-fought battle was earned. Something that distinguishes victory with the work that will surely follow. If you don’t, you are missing out on an opportunity to foster your team…and it will be that much harder to inspire them for the next game.

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