When I was 16 years old, I learned that there is a right way and a wrong way to bag groceries, and I still believe that to this day. Never put fresh meat with anything else. Never put any form of chemical or cleaner with food. And always, always point out where the eggs are in the cart. I did the job, right. I even enjoyed it. The sweet little old ladies and the busy moms with their goofy kids in tow were highlights during a long shift. Taking extra care and offering a smile to the person who looked sad or frustrated; those things made me proud of how I did my job. One particularly busy Saturday, when Mr. Roy*, our district manager, was overseeing the store, I received my very first lesson in leadership. We were slammed and Mr. Roy told my cashier that she had to stay beyond the scheduled end of her shift. This happened on occasion and she obliged, powering through for 2 more hours. When things finally slowed, Mr. Roy told her to clock out immediately. His tone clearly saying she was not only no longer necessary but unwanted. A neighboring cashier, who was probably a bit too sassy for her own good, said, “You could at least say thank you.” Hearing that, Mr. Roy stated loud and clear for staff and customers alike to hear, “Your paycheck is your thank you.” I was stunned. While our regular manager never treated us that way, and I never worked with Mr. Roy again, those words hung with me like a dark cloud.
My first leadership lesson: GRATITUDE IS EVERYTHING.
This seems simple enough. Yet, some leaders struggle with when and how to display gratitude in the workplace. Every person feels valued in different ways, but here are some basics that I believe have a tremendous impact.
Take time to put some thought in this. Choose your words and don’t rush through them. This isn’t a quick thank you to the person holding a door open for you. The intimacy of 1-on-1 praise creates space be specific. Intimate gratitude means sharing the what and the why.
· What about them or their contribution are you grateful for?
· What impact has that made?
· Why is that important?
In many professional situations, these might seem like rhetorical questions. Tell the person anyway. If you take the time to organize the words, the time to make them relevant, and the time deliver them, your people will feel appreciated.
When your team breaks records, closes a big account, or uncovers and innovative solution, they should be recognized. Doing it publicly allows everyone to join in celebrating the success of the organization and clearly shows what is possible. It gives employees something to strive for.
Celebrations can also be for the little things. Benchmarks met, new goals set, a challenge overcome, birthdays, work-anniversaries, National Donut Day. Little celebrations for little things bring a sense of levity and fun to the workplace, which has even more benefits.
Recognize & reward values
What does your organization value? When an employee goes above and beyond in demonstrating your company’s values or is relentless in ALWAYS demonstrating a value; recognize and reward it. Rewards can be small (a gift card to the coffee shop) or fun (a silly statue to sit on a desk). They can be gifts of time (leave 15 minutes early) or special parking. It could be a special nametag or filling the office candy jar with their favorite. Some organizations have a nominations process and anyone from C-suite to maintenance is eligible. Whatever fits your organization or team – Go For It!
Go For It! Whatever you choose to do, go all in. The risk is pretty low and the reward is HUGE.
*Name changed to protect the guilty. Also, because I don’t remember his name. It was a LONG time ago.