Sometimes you spot a smart, simple idea from a big business that makes you wonder why every small business doesn't copy it.

Case in point: The new "Thank You Crew" initiative at McDonald's.

You don't have to eat at McDonald's, or like them as a company to see why this is a good idea. You only need to recognize that "thank you" is one of the most powerful phrases in the English language.

The program involves two very simple things:

  • A basic user interface that allows customers to submit thank-you stories online about McDonald's employees doing their jobs well, or going the extra mile -- whatever it is they'd like to say thank you for.
  • Some level of promotion to let customers and media know about the initiative and encourage submissions.

No matter what kind of business you run, you could duplicate this. All you really need is an online form, a memorable URL (or a QR code to direct customers to the form), and a way to get the word out--even something as simple as a sign in a retail store, or a line of text on a website, or an email you send to your most loyal customers.

Now, why does this seem so promising? Why is it such an easy win for smaller business--especially those that want to do something easy and effective to improve employee happiness?

In part, it's because it's grounded in emotional intelligence:

  1. First, it leverages gratitude, which is one of the most potent drivers of productivity and happiness at work. This is something we've seen in  study after  study after study.
  2. Next, it promotes confidence and pride. The effort tells employees that you know they they do things for which they deserve thanks, even though you're not always around to see or document them.
  3. Third, it encourages deeper connections by enticing customers to focus on the positive feelings they've had about your employees and your business.
  4. Next, it multiplies. You're likely to receive a trove of positive, powerful anecdotes about your company (which you can then promote to even more potential employees and customers).
  5. Finally, there's the filter effect, removing negative emotions from the equation. Unlike a general "let us know how we're doing" form, you're only asking for positive stories worthy of gratitude. If complaints come in -- either legitimate or trolling -- you can review them, and maybe even act on them separately. But, of course you don't have to pass them along.

(The McDonald's program already has a few "thank you" examples on their website. Perhaps the most notable one involves gratitude to a McDonald's employee who "jumped into action" from a drive-thru window to save a customer who was choking, by performing the Heimlich Maneuver.)

Now, McDonald's isn't the only big company ever to think of something like this, of course. You might think immediately of the prompts you get to tip Uber drivers as soon as you get out of a ride. 

Or else, I've written before about the Kick Tails program at Southwest Airlines, in which both employees and frequent fliers can give Kick Tail vouchers to employees as a way to say thanks for a job well done. (The vouchers can eventually be traded in for gifts and prizes.)

Additionally, I wonder if maybe there isn't a way to make these kinds of programs even more successful.

Perhaps a business might let customers and employees know that there was a pot of money or prizes each month to be awarded to the employees who get the most thank-yous each week or month?

Or find another way to add something else that doesn't cost the customer anything, but encourages participation by letting them know there's some real oomph to their effort to say thank-you.

As I write in my free ebook, 9 Smart Habits of People With Very High Emotional Intelligence, emotionally intelligent people leverage emotions ethically to achieve their ultimate goals. And the easiest way to change behavior is often to make a practice of expressing gratitude at every opportunity.

It makes sense at a big employer like McDonald's. Maybe it can work for your business, too.