Back in 1999, while pursuing my Ph.D. at NYU Stern, I spent some time working as a hostess at Union Square Cafe in order to better understand the restaurant's organizational culture. On my very first day, I learned how to reset tables as they "turned." At the end of the shift, a server came up to me and said, "Hey Susan, thanks so much for your help resetting those tables today!" I replied, "But that's my job!" to which he responded, "Yeah, but the way you were setting them so fast made my job so much easier."
It was a moment of gratitude that, 15 years later, I have not forgotten. My co-worker's praise and appreciation had a lasting effect on me. I immediately felt that my work had a greater purpose: As a result of my doing my job well, a co-worker's job got easier. His recognition of me made me feel included in the team--a sense of belonging that has stayed with me for years. I understood my role in the overall experience of our team and our guests, and felt connected to our shared purpose of creating remarkable dining experiences. Most of all, I wanted to chip in more--to support the team by setting tables faster and better. His appreciation brought out my best performance in my work because suddenly, I knew how much it mattered.
When I use the word "gratitude" with clients, they often hear me say "recognition," and in their minds, immediately gravitate toward programs for systematically recognizing employees. While there is significant research to show the effectiveness and ROI of well-executed recognition programs on engagement, retention, and productivity, the reality is that when praise becomes ingrained in process, it can lose its soul. What I'm referring to is a sense of gratitude that is thoughtful, heartfelt, and genuine. It's about a mindset of appreciation, and about setting the example of being appreciative by demonstrating gratitude consistently and frequently. It's about being real.
Gratitude is truly a gift in the workplace. The impact of an appreciative comment on my motivation to perform isn't unique to me, or to the restaurant industry. In a McKinsey study on motivating employees, 67 percent of employees indicated that praise from managers was the top motivator for performance, beating out other incentives, financial and otherwise. Better yet, being appreciative is easy to do, takes no time at all, and it's completely free.
Today, as the leader of a small business, I take that lesson of gratitude into my work each day, looking for ways to show appreciation to my team for their contributions, their passion, and their dedication to our work. It may be as simple as realizing that everything you asked for in the setup for a meeting has magically appeared because someone on your team was taking care of you; or noticing that a team member chipped in to support a colleague who was in the weeds. Be a leader who doesn't take these small surprises of extra effort for granted by sharing your appreciation. It's about being specific and thoughtful, not generic or broad-based in your praise.
When you see that your team is working so hard to actualize your vision, it's an important moment to pause as you realize that you couldn't do everything yourself--you need your team to make it happen. In that moment, find ways to show your heartfelt appreciation for your team's dedication and commitment. Not only will you make them feel good about their work and endear them to your company, but you will also reinforce the behaviors you want to see.
Continue to ask yourself, how often do I show my gratitude to my team? If you do it all the time--do it more! Find new ways to demonstrate your thanks. And if you find yourself coming up short, think about how you can incorporate more common courtesy into your every day. Your team will be grateful for it!