One of the most distinctive attributes we’ve seen in great executives, is that they notice and express appreciation for small-scale efforts as much as they celebrate major achievements. They look for incremental wins every day that they can acknowledge.
Now, this is not to say that managers shouldn’t be vigilant about expressing gratitude to their stars. It’s crucial to identify one’s top performers and let them know you understand the difference they’re making. But with that said, we cannot emphasize enough how important it is to appreciate you Steady Eddys, those who show up every day to do the often unacclaimed, low-prestige work that keeps the doors open and customers satisfied. Managers too often underestimate the importance of even brief gratitude for tasks that may be overlooked.
We know how important it is to recognize small wins, but by their humble nature, they can be hard to detect. Here, we’ve compiled six simple ways to elicit the help of others in spotting them.
1. Ask team members to give shout-outs to each other.
Have employees take a few moments to recognize another team member they’re grateful for, explaining how that person helped them during the week. Not only does this provide gratitude to workers who normally might not get a lot of the spotlight, but it has a terrific residual effect: Employees are educated weekly about the projects that other departments are working on. That not only facilitates better understanding of the wider range of the company’s operations but encourages crossing of team lines and building of social connections between departments.
Breaking down silos like this increases trust, communication, and the agility of the entire organization—not to mention help create a one-company mentality and make Friday afternoons less of a drag and more of a party. Article continues below
2. Ask team members to toot their own horns.
One manager we met devised another great way to get employees to inform him of small successes. He asked them to write up and email him quick case studies of their own wins. The results were one-or two-page (max) summaries where the employee described the problem faced, what steps they took to resolve it (the action), who else was involved (the team), and the results achieved. The employee then got to take five minutes in the next staff meeting to explain the win and, most importantly, what they learned from the experience and if there was anything she might do differently if faced with the same situation.
The employee was grateful to those who helped them, and the manager then took a moment to express gratitude for the win himself. He told us this has really boosted the engagement of his team.
Ameet Mallik, executive vice president and head of US Novartis Oncology, told us in his weekly Friday touch point meetings with his leadership team, he has begun asking each participant to say something that happened during the week they are proud of, of that they are grateful for.
“It sets a tone for the rest of the call. It takes ten minutes for everyone to contribute, and it is a very powerful way of institutionalizing gratitude and positivity,” he said. Pretty soft stuff for a left-brained executive who finished in the top 5 percent of his Wharton MBA class and has an advanced degree in biotechnology from Northwestern, but Mallik is a remarkable executive who understands how to implement a “we” versus “me” mindset in his team.
3. Set and then reward achievement of daily, weekly, or 30-day goals.
Instead of only focusing their thanks for the attainment of big goals, great leaders set shorter targets and express gratitude for all the mini milestones achieved. One company that has mined for such goodwill is retailer TJX Canada (which operates brands such as Marshalls, Winners, and HomeSense).
Each of the managers at these companies was given a little gold miners’ burlap bag with a collection of tokens inside to use as rewards for employees who hit incremental goals. On the front of the token was the TJX logo and on the back the words, “A token of appreciation for being amazing. Thank you.” A simple idea and a powerful way for managers to keep momentum rolling in their stores.Article continues below
4. Spotlight those who speak up and offer ideas.
Smart leaders understand they must foster and reward employee ideas if they want to continue to grow, and that means creativity must be acknowledged and rewarded, all of which brings more ideas and innovation to the table.
An example: When a narrative designer named David Moss was hired, he put together a team on his own to pitch a mythological adventure for young boys set in fourteenth century Scotland. The twist, instead of a video game, the team thought it would be best as an animated TV show—well outside the company’s expertise.
The team presented its idea to a jury of peers, and “by the end of the presentation, everyone’s eyes lit up and they could see the potential,” Moss said. The jury decided it was a smart idea; and the company’s upper management agreed, rewarding Moss and the team with full funding and time to work on the exciting project.
5. Recognize those who find new productivity hacks.
One manager told us he had just rewarded an employee after learning of this simple productivity hack: The employee spent the last five minutes of his day putting together to-dos for his next day.
Said the employee, “I was wasting a bunch of time every morning going over what I’d worked on the day before and figuring out where I needed to pick up on again. By planning my next day before I head out at night, I can hit the ground running the minute I get to work.”
A humble hack right, it probably only saved ten minutes or so each morning, but when the manager rewarded the worker publicly, he spread that idea to the entire team. Soon everyone was doing it and productivity improved by hours every day.Article continues below
6. Thank those who find solutions to resolve conflicts.
Getting along is a key to workplace success, and managers who value emotional intelligence in their team members are rewarding an unsung skill. Smart managers thank employees when they are more inclusive, and they train them to be more mindful of how their words and actions may unintentionally offend others—helping reduce instances of workplace bullying.
Gratitude is part of the toolkit when smart leaders intervene in positive ways to encourage employees to treat their coworkers as partners in the team, reduce bickering, and move past emotional struggles they are having with each other.