Volume 110: The Lesson of Cinco de Mayo

Today is Cinco de Mayo.

In the US, today is a day that is often used to celebrate Mexican heritage in general, but what many don’t know is that actually celebrates one particular event in Mexican history. Cinco de Mayo is also called Battle of Puebla Day because, you guessed it, the Battle of Puebla was fought on this day.

To boil it down (I promise I’ am going somewhere with this history lesson), Mexico was in tough financial shape in the 1860s and defaulted on debt to European powers. As a result, France, Britain and Spain sent their armadas to Mexico to force Mexico to pay back their debt. Spain and Britain would negotiate and withdraw, but Napoleon III decided to try to take some territory from a weakened Mexico, and the French had a lot of early success.

On May 5, 1862, 6,000 French troops would begin their assault on the under-manned, rag-tag group of men that the Mexican Army was able to string together to defend Puebla de Los Angeles. Massively outnumbered, this should have been a walk in the park for the French.

It wasn’t.

By nightfall, the French Army had been pushed back and had lost almost 500 men, while the Mexican Army hadn’t even lost 100.

This improbable win apparently had very little strategic significance for the war, but it was huge for morale and momentum, as well as drawing many to a resistance that had not started well. Eventually, Mexico would throw France out, and at least some small amount of credit should go to the small victory at Puebla de Los Angeles.

And I think the lesson that we can take from this holiday and event is this: celebrate every victory, no matter how small.

If you’re having a rough day or week, it can be hard to stem that negative momentum, the scarcity thinking. One of the ways to do that, though, is to find little things to celebrate.

If your facility goal is to get to X linear feet each month and you’re falling short for whatever reason, your team is often not going to be the most positive bunch, and you’re probably not going to be as positive as you can be. As a result, the team’s work can begin to suffer worse, and the problem spirals as people begin to think negatively and lose faith in their ability to be successful.

When it seems like this is happening and you need to find a way to get your team back in the game, I would suggest finding a win to celebrate. Maybe you’re not hitting that linear foot goal, but where else have people made progress? Is there a work anniversary coming up you can celebrate? Anybody had perfect attendance for a while?

Ultimately, the first spark of positivity doesn’t have to be a big one, the purpose isn’t to fix everything in one shot. It might have absolutely nothing to do with your larger goal. The idea is to slow down the negative spiral and pull back toward the direction you want to go. And as you go, the small wins you celebrate start to pile up, and suddenly you’re inching closer and closer to the big goals.

And if it seems there really are no wins to celebrate, not even small ones, then, I’d say manufacture some.

Create contests for smaller tasks and goals that lead up to getting the right linear footage out the door. As you build up people’s confidence and focus on the smaller things, those things will start to build up. As people start to find success, you can start raising the bar and making the contests and goals bigger, too, and eventually, you’re at that big goal you were looking for from the beginning.

To be clear, celebrating small wins doesn’t mean you stop working on what needs to be fixed. You’re still looking for root cause problems and solutions, you’re still working to get better every day. A small win doesn’t mean everything is peachy.

It just serves as a reminder that wins can be had if people work hard enough toward their goals.

So, stop the “beatings will continue until morale improves” mindset, and find some wins to celebrate. You’d be surprised what a little positivity and competition can bring out of your team.

And, as always,


(Thank You History.com for bolstering my knowledge of this event!)

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