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Build culture with thanks

We're approaching the Thanksgiving holiday in the USA. It's a time when we see a lot of articles on being intentional about gratitude. We're encouraged to think of creative ways to express our thanks for our many gifts and blessings throughout the year as we gather around the Thanksgiving dinner table. I love all of these ideas for children and adults!

But, if you are a leader of an organization, whether as an executive or middle manager of a company or as chair of a board of a for-profit or not-for-profit organization, this time of the year is a very good time to say "thank you" to those with whom you work!

As CEO for 1517 Media (and at other companies where I was an executive) every fall, I had my HR colleagues run off home address labels for me for every employee, both full-time and part-time. Then, I would stock up on those packages of 10 to 12 Thanksgiving greeting cards at my local card shop. Whether on an airplane or relaxing with a glass of wine while watching a favorite television show in the evening (or even in the back of a large and boring conference...but don't tell anyone), I would handwrite a brief note of thanks to each person for their work on behalf of the company. For those I didn't know or with whom I didn't work closely, it would be a fairly generic (but still heart-felt) note of thanks. But, for those with whom I spent a lot of hours on strategy, budgeting, and operational issues, I would try to highlight one or two of their actions or attributes for which I was especially grateful.

These cards would then be mailed to the employees' homes. Would it have been less expensive to have them delivered to their desks at our office and only mail a few to remote employees? Yes. But, the impact of saying a personal "thank you" to them at home was worth every penny and all of the hours of writing. I not only wanted the employees to know how much I appreciated them, but also their spouse or partner and other members of their family.

I was always surprised and touched that people would tell me how much they appreciated this small gesture. When I ran into spouses in the community months later, they would often mention the card and how they hadn't ever seen anything like that before.

I didn't send cards out to our staff in December. My thought process was that people receive many cards at Christmas or Hanukkah so a card from me would just get lost in the shuffle and seem "obligatory." Thanksgiving cards aren't as common so they stand out. And, the message of gratitude is in keeping with the message I wanted to send to these important colleagues.

Of course, by the time you read this, you might be thinking that you simply don't have time to do something like this between now and November 28. That's ok. There are plenty of generic thank you cards or even blank cards that you can use for the same purpose at any time of the year. Start small and send cards to just a few people to celebrate and recognize the work of an effective team. Say thank you for a group that pushed hard to meet a deadline on a major project. Congratulate someone who is promoted by sending a note to their home. These small, personal touches help build an organizational culture of gratitude and caring; something that is often missing in our fast-paced world.

Building the organizational culture that you desire is hard but critically important work. My next blog post will address this from the top down: Ideas for being intentional about building the culture of your board of directors and leadership team.

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