“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” — A.A. Milne, British author of Winnie-the-Pooh.
Shortly after Robert Eckert joined the ailing Mattel toy company as CEO back in Y2K, he convened a large meeting of all its employees to thank them all for their fine work—and for the even finer work they were about to do. Eckert firmly believed that most people go to work willing to over-deliver. From that foundational belief, a culture of gratitude sprung forth, allowing Mattel to become the envy of the manufacturing industry. While it took several years to turn the company around, Mattel made Fortune‘s list of the “Best Companies to Work For” from 2008 through 2013.
Adding the Attitude of Gratitude to Your Business
Eckert knew that showing appreciation can encourage employees to work harder for you. How do you sow and encourage this gratitude culture within your team? It actually starts with you. Consider these factors while handing out thanks, whether to employees or customers:
1. Don’t overdo it. Praising everyone for everything they do dilutes the effect. One of my friends is a ghostwriter, and he has a customer who praises to the skies everything he submits. While my friend appreciates that, and no doubt the customer means every word he says, the praise has become routine and expected. In some ways, the effusive praise means less than praise from tougher clients perfectly willing to bounce an article back for rewrite—or even kill it—if it fails to meet their needs.
2. Be genuine. Don’t couch your praise as a warm-up to your criticism. If you always follow praise with correction, employees will start to think of your gratitude as a platitude. When they hear positive words, they’ll think, “Here it comes.” Praise what they’ve done right with sincerity. Even if mistakes were made, you can preface your coaching with an appreciation of their willingness to take on the task and learn new things.
3. Give gifts. For many people, nothing works better as a motivator than a simple “thank you” and a pat on the back. And while verbal praise is important, we all respond positively to tangible little gifts, from a box of chocolates to a $5 Starbucks gift card. In multilevel marketing, the smart recruiters always thank their recruits, especially party-planning hosts, with a worthwhile gift. Gifts not only encourage people to repeat desired behavior, but it triggers the reciprocity effect: when you do something nice for someone, that person feels the need to do something nice for you—such as going above and beyond on the next project.
4. Recognize milestones. Birthdays and anniversaries (marital and business) make good milestones to recognize with inexpensive gifts. A monthly party with a cake for the birthdays that month is an inexpensive way to recognize people and build camaraderie. Other important team milestones may include surpassing a sales benchmark, hitting a five- or ten-year anniversary with the company, or simply exceeding expectations. Recognition is slightly different than praise, because it’s done in public.
Paying It Forward
As Piglet discovered, one doesn’t easily run out of space for gratitude. Gratitude resembles the Magic Penny from the children’s song: the more you give it away, the richer you become. Expressing appreciation—and really meaning it—will make a huge difference, because your employees will feel proud you noticed their efforts. Never take them for granted.