Small Business and Startups: How Do I Thank You?

Mom taught us well. She raised us to be polite and she raised us to consider other’s feelings. For many small business owners saying thanks to your team is a head-scratcher. Performance-based bonuses can be a powerful incentive for individuals, and profit-sharing plans can reward great teamwork, but saying thank you can and should rise above those. Besides, not every business can afford meaningful bonuses for the team and not every business has profits to share in the first place.

People (read, your team) have a very basic need to be appreciated. Simply saying, “Thank you” for a day’s work, for a solid accomplishment, or for a record of loyalty can go a long way towards job satisfaction and can act as a motivator by reinforcing the behaviors, productivity, and creativity that we all value so much. In fact, studies have shown measurable gains in productivity when positive interactions outweigh the negative ones. The scary thing is that a recent poll showed a very high percentage of workers reporting that they had not received a single affirmation for the good work they had done over the past year. Yikes.

So, small business manager can take simple steps in the way of “Thank You’s” that carry meaning, that are sincere and thoughtful, and that act as a reflection of the culture of the company. Affirming (with consistent regularity) the hard work and contribution each person makes to the team is the low-hanging fruit. Showing your love for your employees is never a bad idea, so here are 6 simple (and free to inexpensive) ideas for special occasions, or even for no occasion at all!

1. Say it! Stop at an employees desk. Sit down next to him. Smile to let him know that this visit is not about a project or a meeting or a deadline. Look him straight in the eye and say “Thank you.” That’s it. Done. (PS – this can also be done  at the lunch table or on the phone or in the elevator. Duh.)

2. Write it. Sadly, the art of the hand-written note is a dying one. Very few people take the time to write a card or  note even on the most appropriate occasions. So what better way to surprise and delight an employee than with something so simple, so unexpected ad a thoughtful, hand-written note or card telling them how much you appreciate something they did, something they learned, or simply that you appreciate having them on your team.

3. Surprise them at surprising times. Paying close attention to the people around you and listening to what they say can lead to wonderful moments to say thanks and these don’t have to be for someone’s birthday, or anniversary, or at the holidays. At any random time during the year, something as simple as a $25 gift certificate to a restaurant you heard a worker mention can show her not only that you appreciate what she does, but that you respect her as a person. People like to know that they are heard, whether the context is a meeting or a water-cooler discussion about great places to eat. Plus, people love surprises and when they receive a gift (even a tiny little one) at a time they wouldn’t normally expect one, the impact is magnified and the value of that thank-you is greatly increased.

4. Shout it out! Recognizing a team member in front of the rest of the team can be a powerful motivator and there are plenty of opportunities to do it. At crowdSPRING we have a bulletin board crowded with printouts of tweets and emails from our customers complimenting this or that team member  and when a new one arrives, the shout heard around the office is “Put it up on the board!” There are lots of other great venues for recognizing folks: a team meeting is a great time to give a shout out and tell the story of an individual to let everyone know about their big accomplishment or their stellar effort. If you publish a newsletter, this is also a wonderful way to acknowledge someone’s contribution.

5. Help them learn. People value opportunities for personal growth virtually as highly as they do monetary benefit. Google recognized this with their “20% time,” which allowed employees to take one day a week to work on side projects (with great results: Gmail being one). Everyone who works for you has their own hobbies and special interests  and these should be not just celebrated and shared, but you should enable your team to pursue what interests them. Training and development programs can also be a great way to say thanks while building capacity and skills for your company; sending your folks to conferences, seminars, and professional development courses go a very long way to showing how much you appreciate someone.

6. Do stuff together. Lastly, time together doing fun or interesting things is a great way to say thanks while providing the chance for team building and personal bonding. Do outings together, eat lunch together, share movies and books with each other, and plan time away from work where you can just have fun with the folks from work. At cS we have had events as different as company outings to a day at Lallapalooza to after-work beers, to movie nights in the home theater and to a team kayaking trip (the photo at the top of this post was taken this past September on the Chicago River at dusk!).