How the former CEO of Campbell Soup used a skill taught in kindergarten to motivate his entire company
Joe Skipper / REUTERS
While he was recovering in the hospital, he received get-well notes from employees across the globe; his wife sat with him and read them aloud.
While it's possible these missive writers were merely kissing up, it's more likely they were genuinely motivated to reciprocate the care and kindness Conant had showed them years earlier.
The anecdote above was included in "The Gratitude Diaries," in which journalist Janice Kaplan chronicles her yearlong effort to learn about the effects of gratitude and display more of it in her own life. Kaplan cites Conant's behavior as an example of a leader who harnessed the power of recognition to boost his team's performance.
See, throughout his tenure at the company, Conant sent more than 30,000 handwritten thank-you notes to staffers and clients. (In a 2011 Harvard Business Review article, Conant explained that he sent handwritten notes because more than half of Campbell Soup associates didn't use a computer.)
While Kaplan is quick to note that the thank-you notes probably weren't the sole reason Campbell Soup's performance improved under Conant's leadership, she says the notes were one part of creating a company-wide culture of gratitude.
Still, it's worth mentioning that when Conant took the reins at Campbell Soup, the stock price was falling and it was the worst performer of all the major food companies in the world, according to Fast Company. By 2009, the company was ahead of the S&P Food Group and the S&P 500, Fast Company reported.
When Kaplan visited the Business Insider office in August, she said that a survey she conducted with the John Templeton Foundation found that about 90% of people said a grateful boss was more likely to be successful.
"Nobody succeeds on his or her own," she added.
In the last few years, more and more leaders have started to adopt this practice, including Mark Zuckerberg, who in 2014 challenged himself to write one thank-you note every day, according to The Washington Post.
But not every leader has the time or resources to do the same. Kaplan said there are myriad other ways to show appreciation for your staff. For example, if someone's been up all night working on a project for you, you can get them a cup of coffee and leave it on their desk.
"You don't have to apologize that they worked," Kaplan said. "We understand that that's sometimes part of the job. But recognizing it, saying thank you, letting them know that it wasn't for naught really can go a very far way."
Bottom line: Showing gratitude can motivate your team to work harder, and you probably aren't showing enough right now.
"As I was researching this book, I heard over and over from executives the line, 'Hey, we say thank you with a paycheck.' Well, guess what? You don't say thank you with a paycheck. You say I'm paying you with a paycheck. You say thank you with thank you."