When Richard Branson's company, Virgin Galactic, launched a vehicle known as the SpaceShipTwo this week that touched the edge of space, it marked a milestone for the future of the commercial space industry. It was the first time that a crewed spaceship, built to carry private paying passengers, reached space.
Branson celebrated in the only way he knows how--by lavishing praise on his team. Branson's a motivational business because he knows that businesses are about people and people want to be celebrated.
In a blog post reflecting on the event--which brought tears to Branson's eyes as he watched from the ground of the Mojave Desert--he said, "I've been thinking about the incredible people who made this happen." For Branson, "Life is all about people and so are businesses."
I've met Branson two times in person. On one occasion, I spent a day with him in Los Angeles and Las Vegas as he was introduced new Virgin America flights (his U.S. airline company that was sold to Alaska). While the plane was waiting on the runway, Branson's assistant told him about a team of employees at another location who had gone above and beyond to deliver great customer service. He called the team to praise them for their work. He then asked them to text him a photo so he could post it on social media.
"Businesses are nothing more than a group of people, and they are far and away your biggest assets," Branson wrote in his bestselling book, Like a Virgin. "As a leader you've got to be extremely good at lavishing praise. People flourish on praise."
Celebrate milestones publicly.
By celebrating milestones in very public ways, Branson shows employees that he cares about them and that he appreciates their initiative. Public praise motivates employees, inspires them to do more and helps to retain top talent. According to Branson, "When someone on your team has a big success, celebrate it and tell others. Success breeds success."
Branson makes it a daily habit to catch people doing great work. Once he does, he "lavishes praise" on them and amplifies their work for everyone to see. Branson calls out teams and also specific individuals for their achievements. For example, in the blog post about Virgin Galactic's first space flight, Branson wrote:
Life is all about people, and so are businesses -- even the world's first commercial spaceline. From the astonishingly calm and skillful pilots Mark "Forger" Stucky and CJ Sturckow -- now astronauts -- to the talented and diligent ground crews and support teams. From the people who have worked behind the scenes over the 14 years of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company's journey so far, to the people supporting us from the flightline and all around the globe.
Branson's Instagram post after the flight was a photo of him hugging Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. It wasn't a selfie of Branson alone next to the spacecraft. It's a tired cliché by now that there is no "I" in "Team," but for Branson it still means everything.