Six ways to tap the power of thanks


By Todd Patkin

Guest columnist

Todd Patkin spent 18 years leading his family-owned auto parts business.
Todd Patkin, who led a family auto parts business for 18 years, discusses the power of thanks in motivating employees.

If your organization hasn t made a conscious effort to instill an attitude of gratitude, you re ignoring a useful and lucrative tool. There no better time than right now at Thanksgiving to start showing your employees or co-workers that you appreciate their efforts and care about them as individuals.

I learned just how valuable a culture of gratitude can be while leading my family auto parts business, Autopart International,  for nearly two decades until it was bought by Advance Auto Parts in 2005. I made it my number-one priority to always put my people and their happiness first.

Creating a culture of gratitude

In so many organizations, employees go through their days assuming that their coworkers, and especially their bosses, don t notice or appreciate all of the hard work that they do. And if that the way they feel, they will just go through the motions. They won t have any true motivation or dedication, and their productivity will be mediocre at best. In the midst of an already tough economy, this is the absolute last thing you want for your organization. In a very real way, tapping into the spirit of Thanksgiving can tip the balance between success and growth or stagnation and failure.

Meaningful workplace gratitude is easiest to spark when it comes from leaders, but eventually that attitude will spread to employees and customers. All of that is great for business. In other words, gratitude is a motivator and catalyst for growth that money can t buy.

Six tips for leaders

If you re a leader who wants to tap into the power of thanks (or even an employee who wants to start a grassroots movement), here’s how:

Always say thank you. It’s easy to use the excuse that we don t have time to hand out compliments and thanks like candy. Yet there no better way to use your time. By saying “thank you,” you can improve another person’s day, mood and productivity. Always recognize when someone does something well or does something nice for you. No one ever gets tired of hearing compliments about themselves. In fact, I have found that consistent and heartfelt recognition ”when it is deserved, of course ”is a better long-term motivator than money. Even something as small as, Thanks for always showing up on time, can make someone feel great all day long. Also, remember to acknowledge it when someone else gives you a compliment or a thank you ”it important for others to know that their gratitude is noticed and appreciated in order for it to continue.

Take intent into account. The fact is, when you re in a position to make a grand gesture of gratitude, your intentions may be consistently good but your plans might not always be as successful as you d hoped. To show my employees just how much I appreciated them, I came up with many show-the-love schemes. I would send high achievers to sports games, highlight various employees in company newsletters, plan lavish company parties and hold raffles to name a few examples. Sometimes those plans were well received; other times they weren t.  If an expression of gratitude that aimed at you misses the mark, say thank you for the thought and go on about your day.

Start being more open. In an average office, communication is far from completely open. No one wants to bug the boss unnecessarily or meddle in a co-worker projects (unless, perhaps, that person intent is negative). This sort of keep-to-yourself culture doesn t tend to foster total understanding or genuine gratitude. Think about it this way: If a leader is dissatisfied with an employee performance, that employee will probably sense that he not highly appreciated and he ll have no reason to work any harder than necessary. The leader bad opinion of the employee will continue and grow worse, further eroding the employee motivation. It a negative cycle, but it can be easily broken with a little openness and honesty.

If you re a leader, constructively tell your people how they can improve their performances. If you re a team member, be proactive about asking your co-workers and boss how you re doing and how you can get better at your job. And no matter where you fall on your company hierarchy, learn how to receive constructive criticism. Showing others that you care enough to either help them or to improve yourself is a form of gratitude in and of itself, because you re demonstrating that your team is worth the investment of your time, energy and advice.

Learn to graciously accept thanks. How you respond to appreciation also is important. If you brush off compliments or ignore expressions of gratitude ”even if it because you d rather stay out of the spotlight ”you ll eventually stop hearing thanks! altogether, and you ll be discouraging the person complimenting you from reaching out to others in the same way.  Over the years, I have learned that a response like, Oh, it was nothing, tends to make the person thanking you feel foolish for giving you so much praise. Whenever someone thanks you or notices something positive about you, try to truly engage with them and let them know that their words have been meaningful.

Keep the gratitude going outside of your organization. Thank your customers or the people you serve for choosing your organization and for trusting your team with their money, health, products or publicity. This is something that many clients don t hear, so when they do, their loyalty to your company is strengthened.  A simple Thank you for your business is easy and free, and there no excuse not to make use of this tool. You might also consider offering discounts, coupons or promotions to show customer appreciation.

Use gratitude to reinforce stellar performances. Using gratitude to shape your team habits and priorities can be every bit as valuable as training programs and industry conferences–at a fraction of the time and cost. Whenever I saw an employee going out of her way to make sure that the product a client purchased was the best possible value, I thanked her for doing it. If a store manager made a mistake and came clean to me about it, I thanked him for that, too. Never forget that whatever you acknowledge positively will be repeated.

Throughout my years of leadership, I became more and more amazed by just how strong the power of thanks really is. Gratitude is an amazing motivator. It strengthens employee and customer loyalty, and it really can allow you to see a positive change in your company bottom line. And especially in today not-so-stellar economic environment, it extra-important to give your people something to be positive about and thankful for.

Todd Patkin spent 18 years helping to grow the family business, Autopart International, to new heights. After it was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005, he was free to focus on his main passions: philanthropy and giving back to the community, spending time with family and friends, and helping more people learn how to be happy.