Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival—to be understood, to be validated,
to be appreciated.
William Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
The deepest principle of human nature is a craving
to be appreciated.
William James, American Psychologist and Philosopher
The new year has started and private company owners are ramping up business plans for 2020. Their focus is on specific key targets—adding customers, building new lines of business, developing more efficient ways to produce their products or deliver their services and cutting costs without hurting quality. These business plans are driven by financial concerns with the ultimate goal of making the business more profitable in the year ahead.
While profitability is a critical measure of business success, as we launch into this new year, we want to challenge our audience of private company entrepreneurs, investors, officers, directors, managers, and advisors to rethink their approach to achieving profits. Consider the potential outcome from elevating the appreciation felt by all company stakeholders, which goes beyond elevating the company’s balance sheet. The important role of appreciation in business is described in a blog post titled, The Value of Gratitude as a Business Strategy:
“Gratitude is something that we don’t normally think of as a business fundamental. With lean operations and the focus on the bottom line, most organizations don’t take the time to weave gratitude and appreciation into their business strategies. But without gratitude, teams begin to break down, clients stop returning, morale takes a turn for the worse, and your business partners will start to lean away.” (Read)
How Should Appreciation Be Defined
As a starting point, appreciation in the business context is defined as the increase in the value of assets over time. Appreciation can also be viewed, however, as critical component of a powerful company culture. In the workplace, appreciation is a powerful motivator:
“. . . evidence suggests that gratitude and appreciation contribute to the kind of workplace environments where employees actually want to come to work and don’t feel like cogs in a machine.” (Read)
“Feeling genuinely appreciated lifts people up. At the most basic level, it makes us feel safe, which is what frees us to do our best work. It’s also energizing. When our value feels at risk, as it so often does, that worry becomes preoccupying, which drains and diverts our energy from creating value.” (Read)
Focusing on the role of appreciation in business is not a concept that should struggle to find a place in modern company culture. In her article in Forbes in 2018, Kelly Siegel points to research showing that “focusing on gratitude is said to lower blood pressure, improve your sleep, reduce depressions and anxiety and help prevent substance abuse.” Turning to the business world, she stated:
“A culture of gratitude in the workplace is just as critical in personal practice. It can drive productivity, employee retention, wellness and engagement. Instituting gratitude at work is something anyone can do, from front-line team members to the CEO. Gratitude is viral, once people see appreciation catching, they are likely to jump in an keep it going.” (Read)
What would a “culture of gratitude” look like in practice, and how would it be created and maintained? A number of companies and commentators are showing the way. Let’s take a look at some of the important lessons that have been learned to date about how appreciation can be such a positive and powerful force in a company’s culture.
Any attempt to change business culture must be authentic, and come from a place of sincerity or it won’t be perceived as legitimate and will not be adopted or sustained. Therefore, any business owner who wants to make gratitude an important part of the company’s culture must be sincerely committed to include this in the DNA of the business.
The word, “sincere” is derived from the Latin word, “sincerus,” meaning whole, pure, genuine. This was noted in an article by Judy Murdoch, who points out that in “today’s business climate, sincerity isn’t a quality that comes to mind. But it’s a quality human beings need to perceive to be willing and able to buy.” (Read) If the business owners do not sincerely express gratitude, and do not commit to making appreciation part of the company’s ethos, it will be seen as a gimmick.
Let’s talk about Glitch. And Bravos. Glitch is a small New Zealand company in the tech industry, which adopted the kiwi, a small flightless bird as the mascot, and gave out small kiwi statues to celebrate the anniversary of each employee. At every town hall meeting in front of the entire company, people on various teams publicly acknowledge others, which they call “kiwi bravos.” As one member of Glitch stated:
At Glitch, our whole company regularly takes time to listen as team members publicly thank each other. From this comes a culture of gratitude. Even as we renamed the company from Fog Creek to Glitch and focused on our new product (the logo is two fishes instead of a bird!), we were able to preserve, and to grow, that culture of gratitude.
Best of all, our embrace of this form of gratitude has made things better. A better working environment for everyone on our team, a better focus on things that make our customers happy, and even better communication as people learn new ways to do things simply based on what gets praised.” (Read)
Glitch got it right. The sincere adoption of gratitude as a company value.
Appreciation Must be Specific and Consistent
For appreciation to truly resonate with employees, the recognition that is provided has to be specific to the individual. In his article in Inc. Magazine, Peter Economy cautions that “The one-size-fits-all approach often makes employees feel you see them as bringing nothing special to their job or to the organization and your customers.”
“Be sure your thanks are sincere and from your heart. The easiest way to do this is to offer thanks when you really are appreciative. Don’t fake it when it comes to recognizing employees. People will see right through your lukewarm praise, and they will discount the recognition that you give them.” (Read)
In an article he wrote for Forbes, Karl Sun, CEO and cofounder of a company called Lucid, urged company leaders to “avoid blanket expressions of gratitude—say thank you for something specific,” which would be far more meaningful to employees.
Here at Lucid, we are big fans of diagrams. This year, we created a company—wide gratitude flowchart as a gift for employees. It contains a personal note of gratitude for every single employee from their manager. Each note contains specifics on what that employee contributes to Lucid. Calling out the specifics means so much.” (Read)
Employee appreciation day is recognized on the first Friday in March in both the US and Canada. But if company leaders believe they can wait to rely on just one day a year to show appreciation to their employees, they are missing the point. For appreciation to be a meaningful part of company culture, acts of appreciation must be shown year round. One of the best ways to maintain appreciation in company culture is to to adopt an employee recognition program.
“Recognition programs have proven to increase employee engagement, establishing better connectivity or rapport between the employee and organization. Why? Because these additional communications and activities create new, positive and unique touch points beyond the normal day-to-day interactions.” (Read)
As just one good example, after The Walt Disney World Resort instituted an employee recognition program, there was a 15% increase in staff satisfaction, and this correlated with high guest-satisfaction scores. These guest surveys reflected a strong intent to return, and therefore directly flowed to increased profitability. (Read)
Countless Ways to Express Appreciation
A simple internet search will produce a host of creative ways that companies can show appreciation to their employees. One is called “gameification,” which allows employees to earn points and redeem rewards through a corporate portal by showing appreciation to each other. The rewards can range from days of extra vacation, to work-from-home days and company-paid continuing education. This personalized approach to appreciation is focused on creating good will and teamwork. It fits well with numerous studies showing that employees work harder and are more highly motivated when they are recognized for their efforts and feel appreciated.
Just few additional examples to consider are listed below from Business News Daily:
Bring in donuts or have a pizza party at lunch on the company dime. People … like to be fed. This type of reward will not only bring your office together [and] … strengthen their interpersonal relationships, but it will also give them all the feeling of being appreciated.”
Tyler Butler, founder and CEO of 11Eleven Consulting
“We recognize our employees on their birthdays and service anniversaries on our social channels. Each post will include a photo and something that highlights that employee’s contribution to the organization or an interesting fact that their co-workers and others may not know about them.”
Michelle Cardin, marketing director of Shawmut Communications Group
Company events are usually quite popular when we do team-building activities. All employees want to feel part of the team and believe strongly in the company. If we can create a positive, fun and flexible workplace, most employees appreciate the independence of knowing they are trusted to get the work done and feel part of a team.” (Read)
Patric Palm, CEO of Favro
Once company owners embrace appreciation as critical element of their company culture, the opportunities for them to show their gratitude to employees and others will occur frequently. There is no lack of opportunity to express appreciation to officers, employees, clients and other stakeholders who make it possible for the company to succeed.
Mankind will not die for lack of information;
it may perish for lack of appreciation.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Who Is Man? (1965)
A state of appreciation is one of the highest
vibrational emotional states possible.
Jack Canfield, The Success Principles (2015)
These quotes reflect soulful reasons for private business owners to consider whether their business would benefit from implementing a greater focus on appreciation in 2020. A review of case studies and articles from business commentators strongly suggests that appreciation is not merely a feel good exercise, and is, instead, an approach to business that improves employee satisfaction, performance and profitability.
And it isn’t costly. Writing a personalized thank you note, sharing time with employees, giving an extra day off, buying and attending a pizza lunch take some time, but do not require a major expense. They express gratitude in a sincere way to show people they are appreciated for who they are and what they do for the company—that they matter.
Business owner Nellie Akalp, CEO, CorpNet, expresses it this way:
“Even if you plan nothing else, the simple act of verbally expressing your appreciation can boost morale. Take the time to tell each and every one of your employees how much you value what they bring to the table.
Showing gratitude for your team’s efforts doesn’t require grandiose gestures or a lot of cash. In fact, I’ve found it’s the little things done consistently that matter most to my employees. Yes, Employee Appreciation Day is a wonderful opportunity to go the extra mile. But to develop the most collaborative and productive company culture possible, it requires showing appreciation and recognizing your team’s contributions every single day of the year.” (Read)
As a post-script, showing appreciation should not be restricted to the business world. For this year to be a memorable success, gratitude should be shared with your family, loved ones and friends. The best way to reach a state of contentment is to feel grateful for what you already have, and studies show that by expressing gratitude, it raises your happiness by as much as 25%. By sharing your appreciation for others, you will build and maintain healthier relationships, and will also feel better about yourself. That would be a notable win-win for 2020.