We all know what a difference giving thanks can make in our personal lives. Can giving thanks also make a difference in the workplace?
Giving thanks is a powerful fuel for energy, creativity, and engagement in the workplace. How can an attitude of gratitude be fostered throughout an organization, so that thanking one another becomes an organization’s modus operandi and the power of gratitude can be harnessed for employees’ welfare and for organizational impact?
Tom Grant, former CEO of LabOne, a laboratory in Kansas City that analyzed specimens for the medical profession, knows the answers to these questions.
In his role as CEO, Tom naturally drew out people’s gifts, recognizing the strong people skills possessed by some and the strong technical skills possessed by others. The teams he created showcased that diversity of gifts. While he clearly values business acumen and has been extremely successful financially, Tom focused first and foremost on personal relationships, regarding his people as the company’s strongest assets. Even when LabOne grew to three thousand employees, employees at all levels commented on how comfortable they felt with Tom, how much they felt he valued them, and how approachable he was.
Tom pioneered practices of gratitude at LabOne. Aware that much of the work done by frontline workers opening lab specimens was repetitive and tedious, for example, Tom looked for ways to recognize careful, accurate, efficient work. “One of the biggest mistakes you can make, I think, is to give only a global award based on company earnings. That’s hard for the person opening a specimen to relate to.” Tom worked with the leadership team to institute monthly awards and bonuses for frontline workers, noticing and appreciating their careful work.
Over time, Tom and others worked to create a culture of gratitude. They sowed seeds of gratitude throughout the company. For example, in addition to the awards for frontline employees, the company gave generous bonuses to reward superior work at the management level. The leadership team also expressed appreciation to managers by offering gifts such as a week at Tom’s vacation home in the Cayman Islands or a week in the company’s New York City apartment.
The company’s employees, from senior leadership to frontline workers, felt respected and valued in the culture the leadership team created. VP Troy Hartman commented, “We had a very special relationship, no question about it.”
This culture of gratitude spilled over into giving back to others. Seeing their work as gift, grateful for all they had, employees wanted to give to others. The company sponsored opportunities for giving to charities each month, focusing on eyeglasses one month, winter coats another month, and Hurricane Katrina relief or animal shelters in other months. The response from employees, many of whom themselves had relatively little, was phenomenal.
Because of the positive atmosphere that resulted from valuing one another and recognizing one another’s gifts, recruiting new employees became easy. Employees referred their friends and relatives to LabOne, and whenever a job opening was advertised, qualified applicants flocked to the company. Clients, too, left LabOne after a visit wanting to work there. In VP Troy Hartman’s experience: “Many times I’ve walked a client out of the building and the person has said, ‘What a great culture you have here. Do you have any job openings?’”
LabOne discovered a well-kept business secret: the power of appreciation for employee engagement and business productivity.
This article is drawn from The Soul of a Leader: Finding Your Path to Success and Fulfillment. Used with permission of the publisher.