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Why Gratitude Matters: Lessons from the Ross Positive Business Conference

This past week the Ross Michigan School of Business held their third annual Positive Business Conference. The event brought together students, faculty and business leaders to learn and share best practices for transforming business to be a force for good in the world.

To quote one attendee, “it’s a mix of inspiration, data, ideas and a network of people who believe business can and should be a force for good in this world.” It was an invigorating day and a half, and I feel extremely fortunate to have been asked to be a guest speaker on the topic of engaging employees in purpose-based initiatives. We were lucky to have the ever so passionate and thought provoking, Rebecca Rosen, senior editor of The Atlantic, as our moderator. Our panel also featured the fabulous Paloma Lopez, sustainability director for Kellogg and the always insightful, Jeana Wirtenberg, author of “Building a Culture for Sustainability People, Planet, and Profits in a New Green Economy." You can view our panel discussion here.

For today’s post however, I want to talk about gratitude. The power of gratitude in the workplace has been highlighted in a number of books and articles, including Adam Grant’s, "Give and Take" [a proud Ross Alum], Janice Kaplan’s article, “It Pays to Give Thanks in the Office” and Alex Edmans TEDTalk “The Social Responsibility of Business”. Even the leading energy company, NRG, understands the power of gratitude, incorporating it into their employee engagement programming. But the Ross School takes gratitude to a whole new visual, visceral level.

gratitude notesOne of the first things attendees at this conference were led to was their “Sugar Cube”, a colorful pocket on a wall containing blank squares of colorful paper.
Attendees were encouraged to leave short notes saying what they appreciated when they met someone. The notes they did leave, I can personally attest to absolutely made my day -- even though I have no idea who left them.

Just seeing the wall [and likely the look of recipients faces] also prompted people to leave Sugar Cubes, something in behavioral science we refer to as a nudge – influenced by the social norming of expressing gratitude at this event. But what I really noticed is what happened beyond the wall. Sugar Cube WallA spirit of gratitude permeated the vast majority of interactions at the conference. People expressed appreciation for things large and small. People were more open to conversations with strangers. The members of faculty were genuinely grateful to each other and to the attendees, something I don’t ever remember seeing as much at other conferences, let alone during my own time at business school (which admittedly was before the whole Positive Business Movement began).

We also did a positive idea blitz and of literally hundreds of ideas, one of the top five ideas shared – scored by multiple attendees on the ability to scale and have a high impact – involved increasing the focus on giving gratitude at work. The economics are incomparable. The impact is very palpable.

So go ahead, think about someone you are truly grateful for at work and tell them why. It may be the highest impact thing you do at work today.