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Closing the Gratitude Gap with Shout-Outs

Refining an employee shout-out program offers an opportunity to link gratitude with productivity in the workplace.

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When I was in elementary school, our principal implemented a monthly acknowledgement and reward system called “Caught Being Good”. It worked like this: a handful of classmates were nominated by our teachers each month to be acknowledged for their good behavior. Those students were given a paper certificate signed by the principal. Each student then brought their certificate home to share with their family, where it was then prominently positioned on the fridge, mantle, or staircase gallery wall. The students had their photograph taken and that photo was published in the local newspaper. At school, our individual headshots were hung in a hallway showcase for all to see. The opportunity to earn recognition from authority figures, our peers, and our own families reinforced positive student behavior. It helped foster a school community where sharing and helping were commonplace among students and teachers.

Acknowledgement and recognition in the workplace can stimulate similar feelings and environments. At PhotoShelter, we currently have a few systems in place for employees to express gratitude towards one another. The most widely used expression of gratitude is our practice of gathering and sharing shout-outs at our monthly all-staff meetings.

Our company is currently in a growth trajectory and we consider it an important time to reflect on all systems, including gratitude. After reading the OpenIDEO Gratitude in the Workplace challenge brief and the supporting research, we facilitated a group brainstorm session. Our group determined there is a missed opportunity to directly link gratitude to productivity at our organization. 

Our Idea is to improve upon the existing employee shout-out program to make peer acknowledgement and recognition publicly visible, timely, inclusive, and measurable. In doing so, we feel we will see an increase in experience and expression of gratitude in our workplace. This will lead productivity at the individual level while also building a greater sense of pride in our community at our office.


Update 12/5

The three main areas of the existing shout-out process our group wishes to tackle include:

Inclusion

The current shout-out program does not measure whether every employee is giving and/or receiving gratitude. Participation is currently optional. We need everyone to be more mindful of new employees and remote employees. By implementing a system of shout-out tracking, we will ensure everyone in the organizational hierarchy knows who is/isn't participating and the people who receive shout-outs less frequently than others are soon recognized for their accomplishments and/or strengths. We want to add a list of employee names to the shout-out collection form and send reminder emails to complete the form.

Timeliness

The current shout-out collection form is only available for a short time, so there are missed opportunities for gratitude capture. This also means acknowledgement is not provided close enough to the time of the triggering event. To provide as many opportunities to give a shout-out as possible, we will create a new gratitude collection form that everyone in the company will have access to at all times. We will share reminder messages with the company in an effort to increase the frequency of shout-outs. To reduce the time between when gratitude is given and received, we will also develop a shout-out notification in an all employee Slack channel, so that the positive feelings associated with receiving gratitude are felt sooner and felt on a wider scale. This is one half of the visual gratitude idea, which is what we feel will contribute to a longer-term positive feeling in our work environment.

Format

It’s not sustainable for our CEO to read statements of gratitude out loud in our monthly meeting as the company expands in size. We started limiting shout-outs to one sentence per person due to meeting time constraints, but would prefer not to have this restriction. We seek to change the delivery method to a format that is trackable, visual and longer-lasting by using Slack. This will also help ensure the positive feelings associated with giving and receiving gratitude last longer. In addition to Slack, we will also introduce gratitude stickers as an incentive for participation. They will be placed on our employee "pride" wall, on a common floor everyone accesses for meetings and lunch. 


We will include a system of shout-out tracking to help our management team ensure expressions and experience are more evenly distributed and emotionally consistent. This will also indicate whether or not participation has increased. With user feedback collected through surveys, we can gauge which visual expression is the right fit. Through testing various iterations these three variables, the new shout-out program will address the three main challenges our existing shout-out program faces.

Idea Title

Shout-outs: A Low Cost, High Impact Gratitude Plan

How the Idea will inspire the experience and expression of gratitude within an organization.

Employee shout-outs are our organization's way of affirming the existence of goodness while recognizing the source of that goodness comes from one (or several) of our colleagues. Our Idea aims to address the three major challenges we face with the current practice of employee shout-outs: inclusion, timeliness, and format. We feel we can retain the best parts of our existing practice while making a few impactful changes that will inspire a better experience and expression of gratitude in our workplace.

Who are you innovating for?

We are innovating for the current and future employees at our organization. We envision individuals experiencing an increased sense of pride and satisfaction, as well as productivity. We predict there will be fringe benefits to the community that our organization operates within, but for the purpose of this Challenge, we are focused on the internal outcome.

What type of workplaces are you innovating for?

Our Idea will be replicable at other expanding small to medium organizations around the world that are facing the same employee recognition and gratitude gap dilemmas.

How you envision the Idea being introduced to your selected organization?

As Team Leader, I will assemble a small group of gratitude advocates across departments to see the Idea through implementation and reflection. A system of shout-out tracking and monitoring will ensure inclusion. A digital collection form and notification system will ensure timeliness. A more permanent, visual shout-out delivery method will reinforce the positive environment. A partnership with the Greater Good Science Center and introductions to researchers in organizational psychology (like Dr. Ryan Fehr and Kate MacAleavey, attendees of the Gratitude & Well-Being at Work Conference) will be beneficial for guidance and mentorship.

What obstacles, if any, do you foresee in implementing this Idea, and how would they be overcome?

We want our expressions of gratitude to continue to feel authentic and inspired from within, not forced. That is why we choose to build upon an existing practice. Another obstacle is ensuring 100% participation. Tracking shout-outs will help management understand where we are falling short. Feedback could be incorporated into our regularly scheduled one-on-one employee meetings with our managers.

How will you test and prototype your solution?

The new program will afford us the opportunity to explore our challenges. It could be that this exercise will result in building a permanent, public display of employee acknowledgements, increase the frequency of shout-out collection, and include a system of tracking to help management ensure expressions and experience are more evenly distributed and emotionally consistent. We will survey and define current levels of satisfaction and productivity to develop a baseline to compare progress to.

What immediate next steps will you take if you receive an implementation grant.

Our immediate next steps are to meet as a group again to create our employee survey. Then, we will discuss metrics for tracking, the implementation of the physical display, and a new digital feedback form. We view the opportunity to work with a mentoring organization such as the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley as an opportunity to exchange data and ideas.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.
  • Prototyping: You have conducted some small tests or experiments with prospective users and will continue developing idea through these tests.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

Using OpenIDEO’s “Gratitude in the Workplace” toolkit, we assembled a group of current employees for a brainstorm session. During the session, it became clear that we are all concerned about maintaining the existing practices of gratitude as our organization grows. Our Idea was born out of this brainstorm and feedback from our CEO.

Tell us about yourself

My name is Marie Frei and I work in Client Services at PhotoShelter.

Where are you / your team located?

New York City, NY, USA

Company / Organization Name

Website

https://www.photoshelter.com

Tell us about your experience

I have experience in customer service, product development, operations, and marketing within the travel, non-profit, and technology sectors. Three out of my last four employers have been startups with less than 60 employees. At one former employer, I worked abroad in South Africa with a multinational team.

Please describe, in detail, how you will test and get feedback on your concept.

Our user map will drive our team forward to the prototyping phase. We are including 3 simple questions to evaluate employee sentiment around gratitude to use as a benchmark for comparison in our end of year employee survey. We will edit the shout-out collection form to see if we can increase participation in the program organically before the January all staff meeting. To help increase frequency, we will send reminders to all employees, encouraging their participation. At the January all staff meeting, we can project shout-outs on the wall while management clarifies the company's expectations around gratitude - a first for our organization. We will pass out gratitude sticker books (more on this below). We feel this will generate incentive and are open to experimenting with other ideas for visuals to help ensure shout-outs have a long-lasting impression on all employees in an effort to increase productivity.

Please describe specifically how you plan to scale your idea. What are the key next steps you will take, and how will those steps inform the evolution and growth of your concept?

We want to grow the gratitude committee. We want to see involvement from all teams at our company, so we like the idea of having a Gratitude Ambassador from each department. We will also determine a monthly standing meeting time for our group. We need to update management on our progress. We want to look into other ways to introduce technology to help the shout-out collection, feedback, and reporting. We are looking at tools like Zapier integrate Google Forms and Slack. Reacting with GIFs and Emoji in Slack is a big part of our company culture. The bigger challenge will be turning those virtual smiley faces into real ones with the aid of the visual indicator of gratitude. Photos are the foundation of our organization, so this is where the photo wall and stickers come in. We have a large wall in a common area of the office with our individual photos are displayed. Each department will have their own packet of stickers denoting individual or team achievements. One gratitude ambassador per team will manage the placement of stickers. The motivation for this is inspired by the Ohio State Buckeye's helmet sticker tradition.(http://www.espn.com/college-football/news/story?id=3583496) We also want to document the process and steps we take by sharing a couple 'lessons learned' blog posts and YouTube videos . We think documenting the evolution of the shoutout program and the tweaks we make to it is important if we are going to inspire other organizations.

As we have seen in the Challenge, there is a tension between authentic expressions of gratitude and mandatory gratitude. How does your idea inspire truly authentic expressions of gratitude versus mandated ones?

We've never talked as a company about the 'why' behind the shout-out tradition. Acknowledging this in the 1st all-staff meeting of the year is an opportunity for management to set the tone and stress authenticity. As Jason Marsh mentioned in our webinar, even though a new process can feel forced at first, it can also develop into something habitual and authentic over time. We expect those with high levels of empathy and/or ambition react authentically when made aware who is/is not participating.

Gratitude often thrives when opportunities for connection are created. How will your concept create new opportunities for human connection?

We use technology for the collection of shout-outs because it helps speed up the timeliness of the giving, and soon, receiving. Sharing on Slack is a new way for the group to react about shout-outs together. The visual display on our common floor will be a conversation starter. Having a gratitude ambassador from each department will encourage cross-team engagement.

Who (specifically) will benefit from your concept, and how they will interact with it? What design considerations have you included to ensure easy and intuitive interactions? 

At first, employees at PhotoShelter will benefit from our concept. We hope our experience would inspire other companies to try something similar. Our users will interact with our Idea on their computers first and foremost. We aren't changing the shout-out collection workflow because we want to make the transition as easy as possible. We are changing the timing and initial delivery from a verbal once a month delivery to an instant digital message so that remote employees are included. The gratitude sticker and visual display introduces a new way of understanding our company culture and frequency of gratitude. This makes giving and receiving gratitude a more accessible experience to all employees.

Please describe how you intend to use the prize funding, if selected as a Top Idea. Be specific.

Our plan is low-cost and employee driven. We will spend the funding on designing and producing a sticker packet for each employee. We are interested in traveling to meet other groups who have submitted entirely software-based Ideas to this Challenge, like HeyTaco and Leapsome. We also view the opportunity to travel to meet with a mentoring organization such as the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley as an opportunity to exchange data and ideas.

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