Thank You Thursdays: Even Once-A-Week Gratitude Can Help Build A Culture
A few years ago I got a call from the newly appointed leader of an IT group. He wanted me to come and give a talk to all of his employees—“I need all my people to understand the basics of thanking each other,” he said.
I said I’d be happy to and was thrilled that he was inviting all his employees, not just his managers, as everyone should learn how to be grateful to each other.
“Oh, they know how,” he said. “That’s the problem. I need them to understand that they are thanking each other too much. They are doing it every week!”
There was silence on my end of the line. What he was suggesting from me was akin to asking Casanova to give a lecture on abstinence. In my travels I lecture often on recognition, as I rarely meet a work group that is saying thanks anywhere near enough, let alone one that is giving too much appreciation. This leader had just inherited a cheerful, industrious place that once a week took some time out to thank a few outstanding achievers, and he saw that time away from work as one thing he could get rid of to further enhance efficiency and put his mark on the organization.
Like this manager, most leaders want to create cultures where their teams perform up to capacity, but precious few grasp that for a culture to really take off teammates and leaders must be grateful to each other on a regular basis. More so, everyone must be empowered to support each another even when situations aren’t ideal—such as when there is uncertainty or when there are overwhelming deadlines—so that the entire team doesn’t topple like dominoes.
This week, my coauthor Chester Elton and I got a chance to work with a terrific restaurant chain that really embraces the gratitude concept. When we asked the restaurant general managers what they were doing to show gratitude to team members, one of them told us about her “Thank You Thursdays.” On this day, she and her other store leaders write out specific, meaningful thank you notes and present them in person to those team members who epitomized their shared values during the week. Simple but powerful.
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Another Thank You Thursday practice I found at a hospital. Each Thursday a staff member in the ER received what they called the Grace Under Fire trophy, a fire hose mounted on a block of wood. The award was brought out to much applause in a team huddle, and was given from peer-to-peer as a way to recognize something admirable that a fellow staff member had done during the week to help another team member. In the case I watched, a nurse had nominated a fellow staff member who had taken one of her shifts. In this case, the scheduled eight hours had turned into twelve as the ER filled up, but the substitute kept her cool. In presenting the award, the nominating nurse not only expressed her deep appreciation, but spoke about the core values of the team—especially dependability, teamwork, and grace under presure.
The team’s manager later told me that this Thursday ritual has not only added a touch of fun but has elevated everyone’s behavior and strengthened relationships among team members. The award presentation was quick (followed by well-deserved snacks), and yet it reinforced in a powerful way the values the staff members treasured the most.
Neither of these ideas may not work in your team. The genius of these two simple ideas is not what the managers are doing, but that they are doing something. They have found rituals that work for them—helping build an ecosystem of gratitude. Going to work in a culture where people are grateful is a more positive experience. These managers ask for a lot out of their people, of course, but the work is paced in a way that is sustainable. Along the way, they are encouraged and rewarded by not only their boss but coworkers. If they make a mistake, they get immediate feedback for improvement and a sincere pat on the back for taking a risk. People want to stay and make a difference in such places.
Sure it’s fun to work in cultures like this, yet there’s much more. The spirit of competition is alive and well, but instead of battling against each other for attention from management, employees work together and encourage each other as they make their business more competitive against outside forces.