Never let the things you want make you forget the things you have.
I am writing this the week after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is over. A troubling attitudinal shift occurs after holidays that celebrate kindness and thankfulness. As we return to work, with all of its demands and distractions, our mindset of goodwill and gratitude tends to dissipate. Our thinking drifts towards deadlines, problems, and those things which aren’t working in our business.
Author Dennis Prager calls this preoccupation with what is wrong rather than what is right the “Missing Tile Syndrome”. Imagine you are in a brand new office, look up to the ceiling and notice that one of the expensive ceiling tiles is missing. Rather than focusing on all of the other perfectly positioned tiles, our attention is drawn to the missing tile. The missing tile is a metaphor for the elements of our lives. Busy professionals tend to focus on what we lack rather than being thankful for what we have.
The name of the game is gratitude. Sounds kind of pansy-ish for a business article. However, the truth is that a well-developed sense of gratitude is a characteristic of high performing leaders. In a study conducted by Johns Hopkins University, 15% of top executives attributed their success to skill and knowledge factors while 85% attributed their success to attitudinal factors, including a mindset of gratitude.
What is the relationship between gratitude and top performance? Well first, let us dispense with the skeptics who dismiss gratitude for self-help BS associated with not facing facts or a failure to confront real business problems. The thankful, positively focused executive does not ignore problems - but rather puts more focused energy into preventing and solving problems by approaching people and circumstances very differently.
Let’s discuss two major ways an approach of gratitude impacts business performance: driving employee engagement and building customer retention.
Driving Employee Engagement
Most managers suffer from the 80-20 trap with employees. 80% of employee problems are created from 20% of our employees. As a result, the other 80% of our people - including our best people - are often neglected.
Years ago, one of my best employees asked me to go to lunch to discuss an issue. This guy was an A-player who significantly out produced his peers. He was also increasingly unhappy in his job. He was well paid, enjoyed his work and liked his team – his bad morale stemmed from the fact that I had all but ignored his great work. He never heard from me, except in his annual review. I was too busy disciplining and firefighting my poor performers to periodically stop and tell this guy how valuable he was to me and the business. My ingratitude almost cost me one of my best people.
The Gallup Q12 Engagement Survey of over 47,000 respondents showed that the top drivers of employee engagement are effective and regular communication and recognition from management. The same study showed that the cost of disengaged employees is debilitating to American business. Hard research and common sense tell us that to increase business performance, we must proactively appreciate our people. Some fundamentals include: providing clear direction, focusing on an employee’s strengths, equipping people for success, regular performance feedback, and specific recognition for a job well done.
Building Customer Retention
Don Draper of the popular show Mad Men once stated that, “The day you sign a client is the day you start losing them.” This defeatist attitude is also somewhat pervasive in many real organizations. Businesses are sometimes so preoccupied with attracting new customers and reacting to difficult customers, that they often neglect their core, loyal customer base.
A Rockefeller Corporation study finds that 68% of customers that leave do so because they believe that companies don't care about them. Don’t Care! Ingratitude was shown to have a greater impact on customer attrition than pricing, competition and service problems. This statistic is even more shocking when you consider the following statistics:
Thus, it is a business imperative to demonstrate appreciation for your customer. Some fundamentals include: showing you understand your customer or their business, sharing ideas that help them make/save money, checking in with them when there isn’t a problem, asking them for feedback on how you can improve.
Let me make a suggestion. This season, don’t worry so much about the gift baskets or happy holidays specials. Rather, re-focus this attention on a two-minute phone call. Call your clients and simply, genuinely tell them that you appreciated their business this year and hope they have a happy, safe holiday. Sometimes we just need to act like human beings.
An appreciative approach produces business results. Numerous studies also confirm that grateful people are more fulfilled at work, have lower stress related health problems and have greater perseverance compared to those who focus on what is lacking, what is broken.
So this year, extend the goodwill and gratitude beyond the holiday table, and carry it into all areas of your life, work and relationships. Joni Mitchell sang, “Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone”. If we embrace and appreciate what we have today, more blessings are sure to follow tomorrow.