Creating a Culture of Positive Appreciation

We believe there are 5 elements of creating the culture that you’re going for in your business.

  1. Teach itsecret-06-bake-scratchboard
  2. Define it
  3. Live it
  4. Measure it
  5. Reward it

Whether it’s a culture of great service, financial awareness, creativity… each step plays a part. Today we’re sharing Step 3–Live it–from Secret 13 in Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 1: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business:

3. Live it

Although most folks will agree with the suggestion that it’s good to have an appreciative culture, many organizations fall far short. But without actually living it, walking the talk, not a whole lot is going to happen. Here are some of the areas where I’ve found that it’s particularly worthwhile to invest my appreciative energies:

• Appreciate Yourself: Like all meaningful organizational change, I believe that an appreciative environment absolutely has to come from within us as leaders. Which means that before I could even begin to be more appreciative of others I had to learn to treat myself with the same respectful approach that I wanted to deliver to those around me. While I can’t prove this scientifically, my experience is that if I don’t appreciate myself in a meaningful way, the praise I give to others won’t connect, either.

        Peter Koestenbaum, in Talk Is Walk: Language and Courage in Action, writes that, “You need a friend even if you are that friend.” For me this meant learning to speak to myself respectfully, to appreciate myself for what I achieved (while still of course pushing myself to get better at the same time—don’t worry, I’m not slacking).

• Appreciate Others: It’s just too easy to lose track of the positives. They’re always there—I just have to take time to notice them. In service of which, I’ve adopted an almost daily routine of making myself pay close attention to the many positive things, the great people and really wonderful food and service, that surround me. There are a few zillion examples every day. I also try to do a bit of journaling almost every day, a part of which is regularly making lists of people and things that I might have failed to appreciate of late.

• Train and Organize to Encourage Appreciation: Part of our job as leaders is to help the folks we work with to be successful. And in our world, one way we can do so is by being appreciative of those we work with and serve. While it’s nice to think that appreciation is so much the “right thing to do” that it will spring up on its own, the reality is that one of the most effective things we can do organizationally is to set up systems and structures that make it easy—even require—people to be much more appreciative than they might normally be on their own.

• Start Doing “Appreciations”: Speaking of systems, this is one of the best things we’ve ever done here. Thanks for it goes to my friend Lex Alexander who with his wife, Ann, founded Wellspring Grocery in North Carolina, and now runs the excellent 3CUPS coffee shop in Chapel Hill. The idea is simply that each and every meeting we hold always ends with a few minutes of “Appreciations.” Appreciations can be of anything or anyone: someone in the room or not in the room; something work-related or not; accomplishments past, present, or future. No one is required to say anything, but people usually do. And this one small exercise has made a huge impact over the years. Think of it like ending a meal with a good cup of coffee: the people in the meeting almost always go back out into the organizational world with positive feelings. And because we do it at every meeting, it really disciplines us to devote time and mental energy to positive recognition. (Skip ahead to page 349 to read my appreciations for the work that went into this book.)

• Stay in Synch: We’ve also learned the hard way that some staff members are embarrassed by public praise. It’s most effective to compliment people in the way that they most appreciate being appreciated. For some that’s in public, others in private, some in writing, some with gifts, some with a pat on the back, some with eye contact and a head nod.

• Appreciations in the Staff Newsletter: We basically follow the same format in our monthly staff newsletter. Each issue contains three, four, or even five pages of appreciations and thank-yous sent in by various staff members.

• Code Greens: This is the name for the form we use to capture and communicate the compliments we hear from customers (the opposite, of course, is a Code Red). Could be big, could be small, but any positive comment we hear should be written up as a Code Green. These are shared with as many people as possible, sometimes by email, sometimes through bulletin board postings, sometimes by reading them aloud at meetings. The important thing is that the information is shared and that the people who work in the organization hear the positive feedback that their work has earned from customers.

• Performance Reviews: These certainly aren’t unique to our organization, nor, I’m sure, are we the only organization that struggles to do them in a timely way. But they are a very good tool for keeping us focused on the positive achievements of those around us—every review here starts with a summary of the person’s achievements.

• Specificity: In all of this positive recognition I’ve continued to learn that praise means more when it’s specific. While general thanks and kudos never hurt, it’s more helpful to be clear about what it is we really value, so that others know what they can do more of down the road to be even more effective in their work.

• Going the Extra Mile: Since we work to treat our staff here like customers, “going the extra mile”—the third of our 3 Steps to Great Service—applies to them, too. That means doing the unexpected (as in good things, not goofy stuff like dumping water on them) for co-workers, showing appreciation and creating the sort of positive feelings that we all want to experience. The effort doesn’t have to be fancy, high-tech, or expensive. Something as simple as a Post-it note stuck to someone’s computer screen, a handwritten card that actually comes in the mail, a quick unexpected email, a flower, a bouquet of fresh asparagus from the Farmer’s Market, or a basket of just-picked cherries . . . these little things can make an enormous difference to people in the organization.

• The “3 and Out Rule”: This is an internal mechanism that I’ve come to use regularly, and, in writing this piece, realized I should share more actively. When I’m having a really rough day (which of course happens) positive appreciation is the easiest way I know to turn things around. Appreciate, appreciate, appreciate… the old baseball saying “three and out” actually works pretty well and it’s kind of catchy. So I think I’m going to officially adopt it right now: When in doubt, three and out.

       The amazing thing is that by the time I’ve gone and appreciated at least three folks, it’s literally almost impossible for me to still be in a bad mood. And in the process of turning my own day around, I’ve contributed something small but upbeat to those with whom I’ve interacted. They in turn are more likely to do the same for others. And in the end, everyone—the organization, the staff, the customers, and the community—will all be better off for it.