5 Tips for Creating a Culture of Gratitude

First, don’t confuse gratitude with recognition.

Many organizations trot out “recognition programs” that come across as contrived at best and at worst are perceived as biased towards those who know how to work the system or the manager.

These programs often end up as an unwelcome administrative task for managers and breakroom joke material for employees. Eventually, they die a slow death.

I’m not suggesting recognition programs are always a bad thing, I just think they are hard to pull off without collateral damage. They put appreciation in a box and subject it to specific criteria.

That’s why I prefer focusing on gratitude.

Because gratitude isn’t a program.

It’s natural and spontaneous.

It’s from the heart.

Gratitude isn’t a means to an end.

It is a way of being, not a competency or a goal.

Gratitude can’t be forced.

That’s why we call it “giving thanks”.

It’s a gift.

Gratitude doesn’t require management or control.

Gratitude is oblivious to titles or politics.

Grateful leaders inspire grateful followers.

Leader’s set the tone. That’s just how it is. People in the organization take their queues from your behavior.

Gratitude is no different. When you are genuinely grateful for the people you serve as a leader and for the opportunity to build something together, it will show.

Imagine working in an organization where gratitude is at the heart of everything you do.

Gratitude for our differences.

Gratitude for our challenges.

Gratitude for our success.

Gratitude for each other.

Gratitude for the work.

A sense of abundance and appreciation permeates how you treat one another and reveals itself in how you approach problems and opportunities.

Imagine how this mindset would inspire the creativity and engagement upon which so many organizations depend.

Gratitude can change your organization from the inside out.

Leadership tips for building a culture of gratitude:

(1). Get filled – Gratitude is intentional. It’s a habit. A way of seeing the world that is developed over time by where you focus your mind and what you choose to see.

I’m not telling you anything you haven’t heard before. When you make time each day to reflect on and feel gratitude for everything in your life and for life itself, the way you experience life (and work) will change.

You can do this as part of a daily meditation time, in a journal or say it out loud as you are walking or working out. The more grateful you are, the more you will extend that gratitude to others.

(2.) Get out there – You can start by saying thank you in an unexpected way or at an unexpected time. Write a handwritten note or call someone for no other reason than just to tell them you appreciate them for who they are or something they recently did to help the team.

Do this once or twice a week until it becomes a habit. You’ll probably want to do it more often. Your gratitude will grow and you will inspire grateful actions in those you touch.

(3.) Get others involved – Create simple opportunities for gratitude in your team. You can do little things like asking if anyone has a “shout out” they want to share at the end of your staff meetings.

The goal is to create moments of spontaneous gratitude.

Do this every chance you get. Try bringing gratitude into the mix at times people normally don’t think about it. What if the occasional meeting ended with a little gratitude check? Maybe have your team send thank-you notes to that group they work with down the hall.

The more people get active with gratitude the more it will grow. Give people reasons to appreciate one another. Have fun with it.

(4.) Get vulnerable – This is a big step but with the right approach and thoughtful timing you can really move gratitude to a new level. Here’s an exercise I’ve used a few times with teams to create some amazing moments of gratitude.

Bring your team together, ideally at an offsite location. Work through your normal agenda and leave time at the end, before your closing activity or dinner.

Pick one team member and ask each person in the group to think of one thing they appreciate about that person and write it on a post-it note. Don’t speak it, just write it.

Work your way around the room until each person has been presented to the group. You should all have at least one note post-it note for each person in the group.

Now go back to the first person and ask each member of the team to read the post-it note they wrote aloud to this individual. When everyone has read their notes about this person collect them and give them their notes. Again, work your way around the group until everyone has heard their notes.

A nice touch is to have some flip chart paper or poster board available and let them attach their post notes and put them on the wall. If you are meeting in the same room the next day they will walk in and be reminded of these words of encouragement. The dynamic will change for the rest of the meeting.

After the event, they can take the notes with them to put in their workspace or as a reminder of how much they are valued by the team.

(5). Get in a rhythm  – Gratitude has an energy of its own. As you create opportunities for celebration and appreciation this energy will spread beyond the walls of your organization into your community, your customers and into the personal lives of your employees.

One of the best ways you can sustain and keep this energy growing is through stories. Get people talking about their experience with gratitude and what if felt like or how it changed them. Stories connect with our emotions and draw people together. Be willing to go first. Talk about how a spirit of gratitude has changed your way of seeing and being.


Let me wrap this up by saying how grateful I am for your support of this blog and for all the great comments and feedback you have provided.

Please share your thoughts on gratitude and your ideas on where and how it fits into the workplace and into leadership.

And may your Thanksgiving be a touch of heaven.

“To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.”

Johannes A. Gaertner (1912-1996);
Art History Professor, Theologian, Poet

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