In 1839, Charles Goodyear finally figured out what was missing from his attempts to transform rubber -- at the time, useful as little more than a doorstop -- into a highly functional substance: heat. In the form of steam, heat became Goodyear's accelerant.

Commonly used by scientists to speed chemical reactions, accelerants can work the same way in business, heating things up and making a company work better, faster and more smoothly.

While there are countless accelerants that can be applied to different businesses, here are 3 that have helped spur change for some great organizations and leaders. These are just a starting point, but give them a try and see what happens.

Take 90 Seconds to Say Thanks

This week, when one of your people does something great, grab a thank-you card and pen an old-fashioned handwritten thank-you note (e-mails do not count). Follow these steps:

  • Thank the person specificially for what she did that you appreciate: Sue, thanks for picking up the phones for me this morning.
  • Explain in detail how that helped you: We would have missed the call from Cheryl at VitalTech, and I'm guessing she would have placed her order elsewhere.
  • Tell her why that's important: That's what teamwork is all about. We back each other up. If the company were full of Sues, the competition wouldn't stand a chance.

You should send at least three cards a day each day of this week.

Ask 4 Great Questions

In his book Hardwiring Excellence, Quint Studer provides four very good engagement questions. This week, take a few minutes to ask each of your people these questions.

  • "Are we living up to our promises to you?"
  • "What do you think we do best here?"
  • "Is there anything you've seen at other places you've worked that we might be able to use here to make our company better?"
  • "Have we done anything that might cause you to leave us?"

As you ask the questions, listen, take notes, and promise to follow up. While you may be tempted, please don't argue with your employees' points of view.

Have Some Fun

A growing body of research supports the claim that lightening up can increase team productivity, reduce employee sick day uses, and boost morale. Kind of a no-brainer, isn't it? Who doesn't want to work for a boss who encourages a little levity now and then versus someone who thinks "fun" is rolling up his sleeves at 5 p.m. on a Friday ("What could jocularity have to do with saving the world, which is what we do here at Acme Rivet and Bolt?").

This week, lighten up on purpose. Hold a pot-luck lunch, take the team outside and throw around a Frisbee, watch a funny video together, play a game, have a contest -- just do something enjoyable and let down your collective hair. The result will be a team that's more enthusiastic and engaged.