Looking for a Little Excellence: On the Power of Appreciation

Two years ago, my husband Matt and I took a five-month road trip in our RV, which we call Freedom. Shortly into the adventure, we started keeping a list of people and places we encountered that went above and beyond in some way, like serving melt-in-your-mouth pancakes, offering an extra-friendly smile, or sharing directions for a “locals-only” shortcut.

We dubbed our side project, “Looking for a Little Excellence.” Any time we found it, we added it to the list and let the person responsible know how much we appreciated their effort or expertise. One such moment of excellence happened when Freedom started making some weird clunking noises in Grand Junction, CO. We rolled into Sanders Hydraulics shop and began chatting with the owner, Lil. Lil was wearing bright pink capris and flip flops, and she had a friendly white German Shepherd named Lady. We learned that Lil had inherited the shop from her dad when he moved into a senior home. She literally grew up playing in the aisles of the giant warehouse, and boy, was she a pro. Lil knew exactly what part would stop Freedom’s clunking, and she found it in an instant. In no-time-flat, we’d said goodbye and thank you and were back on the road.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I was raised to write handwritten thank-you cards. We deeply appreciated Lil’s exceptional customer service, and we wanted her to know it. So, later that day, I wrote my thank-you note and popped it in the mail to Grand Junction. That single card launched several years of back-and-forth correspondence with Lil (plus many photos of Lady). Our heartwarming connection was a surprise gift that has always made me smile. If I hadn’t taken the time to express my appreciation for her commitment to excellence, it never would have happened.

Which brings me to today. As a culture coach, I’ve learned that showing appreciation and gratitude is integral to creating bright company culture. When leaders and managers take time to recognize (on a regular basis) their hardworking teams, people feel inspired, motivated, and united by a shared purpose. (By the way, showing gratitude shouldn’t just be a “top-down” priority. I encourage employees at all levels to recognize each other, and their managers, for their hard work and “above and beyond” contributions.)

One of my clients has heeded this advice by creating Gratitude Fridays. At this event — which used to be an all-hands in-person gathering and currently is an all-hands Zoom meeting — team members take turns reading “kudos” that have been submitted to the central Intranet during the week. Someone might give a kudos or shoutout to a coworker who came up with ten new slogans for a campaign … or who suggested a better way to design a science experiment … or who chucked mystery meat hiding in the back of the freezer in the lunchroom (remember this pre-pandemic problem?). Moreover, this organization has officially integrated appreciation into its culture by making Gratitude Fridays a cornerstone of its Rewards and Recognition program.

Gratitude Friday is one company’s version of writing thank-you notes and looking for — and finding — a little excellence within its ranks. Neither takes much effort, yet the rewards are tremendous. When you’re generous with gratitude and appreciation, employees are happier, more fulfilled, more productive, and they’re more likely to stick around for the long haul. Results like these aren’t just good for business. Like an annual holiday card from Colorado that’s stuffed with photos of a big white dog named Lady, they may start to feel like priceless gifts.

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Candra Canning is the founder of Live Bright Now. She’s been coaching corporate leaders + teams to brighten their performance for 20 years. Candra believes a bright company culture creates bright leaders + bright communities — even a brighter world.

Candra Canning is the founder of Live Bright Now. She’s been coaching corporate leaders + teams to brighten their performance for 20 years. Candra believes a br