In most organizations, daily operations are so busy and stressful that showing gratitude is fairly low on the list of priorities. But according to Todd Patkin, cultivating an organizational culture of appreciation can be the best possible strategy for growing your business.
If you’re like most Americans, you’re gearing up to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with your loved ones. Chances are, you’ll probably participate in the annual ritual of listing the things for which you’re grateful. For most of us, that includes our family, our friends, our homes and our possessions, for example. We might also list our jobs – after all, they allow us to put food on the table (and in this economy, we’re lucky to be drawing a steady paycheck in the first place). But does your organization inspire its employees to add anything else to that gratitude list? Are your people thankful for each other, for their leaders and for the actual work they do? If not (and odds are, that’s the case), you’re also risking low morale, a negative culture and less-than-optimal productivity.
“If your organization hasn’t made a conscious effort to instill an ‘attitude of gratitude’ into your organization, you’re ignoring one of your most useful and lucrative tools,” says Todd Patkin, author of the book Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and – Finally – Let the Sunshine In. “The good news is, there’s no better time than right now at Thanksgiving to start showing your employees or coworkers that you appreciate their efforts and care about them as individuals.”
Patkin speaks from years of experience. For nearly two decades, he was instrumental in leading his family’s auto parts business, Autopart International, to new heights until it was finally bought by Advance Auto Parts in 2005. During that time, Patkin learned just how valuable a culture of gratitude can be, and he made it his number-one priority to always put his people and their happiness first. (Incidentally, even when his company had to stop throwing big holiday parties, it always gave a free turkey to each employee at Thanksgiving).
“In so many organizations, employees go through their days assuming their coworkers, and especially their bosses, don’t notice or appreciate all the hard work they do,” Patkin explains. “And if that’s the way you feel, you will just go through the motions. You won’t have any true motivation or dedication, and your productivity will be mediocre at best.”
In the midst of an already-tough economy, Patkin points out, this is the absolute last thing you want for your organization. In a very real way, he insists, tapping into the spirit of Thanksgiving can tip the balance between success and growth or stagnation and failure.
“Meaningful workplace gratitude is easiest to spark when it comes from leaders, but eventually that attitude will start to also spread between employees; from there, it’ll even trickle down to customers. All of that is great for business. In other words, gratitude is a motivator and catalyst for growth that money can’t buy.”
If you’re a leader who wants to tap into the power of thanks (or even an employee who wants to start a grassroots movement), read on for Patkin’s how-to tips:
Always say “thank you.” If you have a job that allows you to twiddle your thumbs, you’re definitely in the minority. Most of us have a deskful of things that should have been done yesterday, and it’s easy to use the excuse we don’t have time to hand out compliments and thanks like candy. According to Patkin, though, there’s no better way to use your time. By taking just 30 seconds longer to get back to your office, you have improved another person’s mood, day and productivity level. You’ll also be making yourself more approachable and likeable, and over time your team will begin to relate to you more positively.
“Always, always recognize it when someone does something well or does something nice for you,” Patkin advises. “No one ever gets tired of hearing compliments about themselves; in fact, I have found consistent and heartfelt recognition – when it’s deserved, of course – is a better long-term motivator than money. Even something as small as ‘Thanks for always showing up on time’ can make someone feel great all day long.
“I will say as a leader, I was somewhat unique in my company because I was a big hugger. Once my people recognized this as a sign of my appreciation and esteem, they would start to worry if I saw them and didn’t end our conversation with a hug. Yes, it’s somewhat countercultural, but I encourage you to incorporate hugs or literal pats on the back into your own repertoire, assuming you can do so safely and comfortably. Lastly, remember to acknowledge it when someone else gives you a compliment or a thank you – it’s important for others to know their gratitude is noticed and appreciated in order for it to continue.”
Take intent into account. The fact is, when you’re in a position to make a grand gesture of gratitude, your intentions may be consistently good…but your plans might not always be as successful as you’d hoped. Patkin recalls as he tried to show his employees just how much he appreciated them, he came up with many show-the-love schemes. He would send high achievers to sports games, highlight various employees in company newsletters, plan lavish company parties and hold raffles, to name a few examples. Sometimes those plans were well received; other times they weren’t.
“Inevitably, there will always be someone who says, ‘I wish the boss had sent me to a concert instead of to an NBA game,’ or, ‘Gosh, the food at this party tastes horrible,’” Patkin says. “On a smaller scale, maybe no one eats the cookies you baked and set out in the break room. Remember, these people are selfishly (or maybe even unwittingly) overlooking the thank-you gesture’s intent. I’m bringing this up because you need to remember that despite negative feedback, showing gratitude is always the right thing…and the majority of non-complainers probably loved your gesture. And also, if the shoe is on the other foot and an expression of gratitude that’s aimed at you misses the mark, say thank you for the thought and go on about your day.”
Start being more open. In your average office, communication is far from completely open. No one wants to bug the boss unnecessarily or meddle in a coworker’s projects (unless, perhaps, that person’s intent is negative). This sort of “keep-to-yourself” culture doesn’t tend to foster total understanding or genuine gratitude. Think about it this way: If a leader is dissatisfied with an employee’s performance, that employee will probably sense he’s not highly appreciated, and he’ll have no reason to work any harder than necessary. The leader’s bad opinion of the employee will continue and grow worse, further eroding the employee’s motivation. It’s a negative cycle, but Patkin said, it can be easily broken with a little openness and honesty.
“If you’re a leader, constructively tell your people how they can improve their performances,” he says. “If you’re a team member, be proactive about asking your coworkers and boss how you’re doing and how you can get better at your job. And no matter where you fall on your company’s hierarchy, learn how to receive constructive criticism. I have seen this at all levels – if you don’t accept advice and requests well, you’ll stop getting them and you’ll stop improving…and you’ll essentially be stuck right where you are. However, when everyone is committed to openness and to sparking growth, there will be more improvements, more success and more opportunities to show genuine gratitude. Plus, showing others you care enough to either help them or to improve yourself is a form of gratitude in and of itself, because you’re demonstrating your team is worth the investment of your time, energy and advice.”
Learn to graciously accept thanks. Yes, giving thanks is a very important building block when it comes to cultivating a gratitude culture in your organization. But it’s not the only one. As Patkin has alluded to before, how you respond to appreciation is also important. If you brush off compliments or ignore expressions of gratitude – even if it’s because you’d rather stay out of the spotlight – you’ll eventually stop hearing “thanks!” altogether, and you’ll be discouraging the person complimenting you from reaching out to others in the same way.
“Showing gratitude to others in very lavish ways comes naturally to me,” Patkin says, “but accepting compliments for my own performance isn’t as easy. Throughout the years, though, I have learned a response like ‘Oh, it was nothing’ tends to make the person thanking you feel foolish for giving you so much praise. This is especially true when a team member reaches out to a leader who’s higher in the organizational pecking order. Whenever someone thanks you or notices something positive about you, try to truly engage with them and let them know their words have been meaningful.”
Keep the gratitude going outside of your organization. Once you notice those two important words – thank you – are being uttered on a regular basis in your office, make an effort to extend them outside of the people on your payroll. Thank your customers or the people you serve for choosing your organization, and for trusting your team with their money, health, products or publicity, to name a few examples. This is something many clients don’t hear, so when they do, their loyalty to your company is strengthened.
“Just as employees respond well to gratitude, so do customers and clients,” Patkin confirms. “A simple ‘Thank you for your business’ is easy and free, and there’s no excuse not to make use of this tool. You might also consider offering discounts, coupons or promotions to show customer appreciation. Especially in a tough economy, it’s vital to let those whom you serve know how much they mean to you so they don’t take their business elsewhere. I used to encourage my store managers to treat their clients like kings – I’d ask them to write thank-you notes after big sales and to send birthday cards to loyal customers, for example. Autopart International also frequently sent drivers with coolers full of sodas around to our accounts when it was especially warm out. One year, we even rented an ice cream truck to visit all of our best customers so they could have a free frozen treat on a hot day. Over time, this strategy of appreciation brought us more business and it caused our customers to be less price-conscious.”
Use gratitude to reinforce stellar performances. No, your employees and/or coworkers are not pets. Remember, though, just as a Labrador Retriever will learn to repeat or refrain from a behavior because she is given a treat, a worker will do the same thing based on his boss’s feedback. Using gratitude to shape your team’s habits and priorities can be every bit as valuable as training programs and industry conferences…at a fraction of the time and cost.
“Whenever I saw an employee going out of her way to make sure the product a client purchased was the best possible value, I thanked her for doing it,” Patkin recalls. “If a store manager made a mistake and came clean to me about it, I thanked him for that, too. Never forget whatever you acknowledge positively will be repeated.”
“Throughout my years of leadership, I became more and more amazed by just how strong the power of thanks really is,” Patkin concludes. “Gratitude is an amazing motivator, it strengthens employee and customer loyalty, and it really can allow you to see a positive change in your company’s bottom line. And especially in today’s not-so-stellar economic environment, it’s extra-important to give your people something to be positive about and thankful for.”
About the Author:
Todd Patkin grew up in Needham, Mass. After graduating from Tufts University, he joined the family business and spent the next 18 years helping to grow it to new heights. After it was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005, he was free to focus on his main passions: philanthropy and giving back to the community, spending time with family and friends, and helping more people learn how to be happy. Patkin lives with his wonderful wife, Yadira, their amazing son, Josh, and two great dogs, Tucker and Hunter.