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Gratitude as a Strategic Advantage

Cagkan Sayin/Alamy Stock Photo Businessman shows business card with the word thank you. Customer service gratitude concept
Anything that you can do to gain an advantage in winning the war for talent—including gratitude—must be of benefit to you. But the key thing about gratitude is that it must be genuine and heartfelt.

What's the No. 1 headache for contractors these days? Is it not attracting and retaining people? Anything that you can do to gain an advantage in winning the war for talent must be of benefit to you. If you heard someone say, “I'm going to have a gratitude-based business because it's an advantage to help us get more people," you would think that to be a very cynical statement. But the key thing about gratitude is that it must be genuine and heartfelt. There's an old saying, "Once you can fake sincerity, you've got it made." That is cynical, but it just won't apply with gratitude; you can't fake it.

In Leading with Gratitude by Chester Alton and Adrian Gostick, they write, "Gratitude is the most powerful retention tool." And they back it up with four statistics that will blow your mind:

  • Employees are five times more likely to feel valued if you express gratitude in your company
  • They are six times more likely to recommend your company to other potential hires
  • They are seven times more likely to stay with you for their entire careers
  • They are 11 times more committed to the mission of the company in a gratitude-based organization

Those are eye-popping statistics! Expressing gratitude is a simple concept around which we can instinctively rally, but, in the day-to-day construction grind, we often fail to follow through. Here are six ideas for how you can better express gratitude in your company.

1.    Use technology.  In ways, technology limits and even frustrates us, but it does have the advantage of providing great breadth and leverage. Email is, for example, so simple and easy to use that failure to do so to express gratitude across wide swaths of your people is foolish.

2.    Have a Thanksgiving mindset every day.  In our family, we have a Thanksgiving tradition where we go around the table and everyone recounts one thing for which they're thankful. Why does that have to be relegated to only one day? Why can't it be useful for the other 364? Obviously, it can. What are you thankful for? What have people done for you that has made you feel special? What have others done to make your job easier? How have others made your life better? Express your Thanksgiving attitude to the other workers around you.

3.    Have a nominating system for people who deserve gratitude. You can't always be around to observe instances where people do praiseworthy things. Ask others in your organization to be constantly on alert for someone going above and beyond, and allow them to nominate their coworkers for recognition.

4.    Encourage psychological safety. If you have the kind of construction company (and Lord knows there are plenty of them) that only operates by exception, you may have difficulty encouraging psychological safety. If leaders in your company, when they spot someone making a mistake, come down on them like a ton of bricks, that's going to be a difficult environment in which to easily and freely express gratitude. Psychological safety is a shared belief held by members of a team that others on the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish them for speaking up. If you can move towards that ideal, expressing gratitude will become much easier.

5.    Start every meeting with appreciation. This sounds a bit nutty, but it works. All your meetings should have written agendas, and the first item on the agenda should be time for appreciation. Take five minutes at the beginning of each meeting to express appreciation for others and encourage the rest of your team to do the same.

6.    Personalized thank you notes. This is probably the number one way to express gratitude. Have notecards printed with your company logo and keep some on your desk and in your briefcase. When someone in the organization does something noteworthy, scratch out a thank you note right away, find their home address, and send it to them. This is the simplest, easiest, and most impactful thing you can do to show appreciation. In today's world where the majority of communication, it seems, is electronic, receiving a handwritten, stamped envelope in the mail with a genuine sentiment of gratitude is a very special thing.

At a Center for Creative Leadership class I attended years ago, the instructor commented, “Gratitude is the noblest emotion.” While I've never researched that statement, I've never had a reason to doubt it. The more frequently and genuinely you can express gratitude in your organization, the better and stronger your culture will be. And you'll see ripple effects as others in the company begin expressing their appreciation as well.

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