In the corner of my spare room, under the window and next to a small metal craft cart that holds Christmas wrapping paper and extra gift tags, stands a white goose on a small patch of green grass—a treasured, if somewhat ridiculous, gift I received more than 20 years ago. One which I happily carted across the country when I moved from Ohio to Washington state, and which has repeatedly escaped weekends of spring cleaning and boxes earmarked for donation.

First popular in the Midwest in the 1980s, the “porch goose” is a cement lawn ornament that saw a resurgence in the late ’90s and early aughts and is currently enjoying newfound popularity, thanks to TikTok.

I got mine not at an outdoor nursery or from the lawn care section of a hardware store, but backstage of the small theater of Our Lady of the Elms High School. I was directing three students in a one-act play called The Wild Goose, and my cast and crew presented me with the play’s namesake decorative waterfowl moments before curtain on opening night. They each signed the base and lured me backstage with a panicked (and, frankly, well-acted) ruse about one of my actresses injuring herself and being unable to go on.

It was silly and sweet. And it took me completely by surprise. I was utterly delighted, just as they knew I would be. In other words, it was the best possible way they could say “thank you.”

Being Grateful Is Good for Business

In addition to being a sign of good manners and general human decency, showing appreciation is an effective and useful business tactic. In a recent survey of 800 full-time U.S. employees by software firm Nectar, nearly 84% said that recognition affects their motivation to succeed at work. Similarly, Great Place To Work found, when analyzing more than a million employee survey responses, that workers tied recognition to several aspects of positive company culture, such as employees’ increased likelihood to drive innovation and bring new ideas forward and to believe that workplace promotions are fair.

What great leaders understand about recognition and appreciation is that it’s most effective when it’s specific. For some, that may mean a personal shoutout in the company’s Teams chat; for others, it’s a handwritten note or a cup of coffee and conversation. For others still, it’s a goofy keepsake with a good story. The point is that it’s personal, and the best way to make it personal is to know your people.

Make Your Appreciation Personal

We recently polled our nearly 150,000 LinkedIn followers on the most effective way to show your team your appreciation. Forty-three percent of respondents said public displays of recognition are the way to go; 30% voted for a pay increase or bonus; and 22% said a thank-you gift is the most effective way to make a colleague feel appreciated.

In the comments, consensus was clear: These may be solid options, but the best course of action is to make the effort to meet your people where they are. “It depends on how each team member is intrinsically motivated,” said Gina Lavery, MSOD. Sue Mann agreed. “Know your colleague well enough to know what is most meaningful to them,” Mann commented. “It’s about them, after all, not you.”

More of what our followers had to say:

“Recognition in both public and private, and also a heartfelt conversation that encourages them to think about their personal development.”
—Geetika Agarwal, PCC in training (ICF)

“Don’t wait, do it now!”
—Roberto Giannicola

“Definitely a personal appreciation of their strengths and attitude and the difference that they make… that they may not have realized.”
—Connie Howe

“It depends, different individuals have different needs at different times, so leaders have to know their people and think every time about what kind of appreciation works best this particular time with this concrete individual. One size fits all doesn’t work.”
—Antti Viljaste

“It’s like the five languages of love. You have to love someone with their love language, not yours. It’s the same with business. You have to show appreciation the way a person wants and needs to be appreciated.”
—Miriam Wexler

Small Gestures, Big Impact

Beyond being a feel-good practice, recognition is a strategic imperative for organizations trying to cultivate a culture of excellence and engagement. While formal recognition programs and traditional methods of celebrating achievement will always have a home in the workplace, the personal touch truly makes a difference. When you demonstrate as a leader that you know your people well enough to know how to thank them, they won’t just feel appreciated; they’ll feel seen.

Sarah Stall

Author Sarah Stall

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