Gratitude As A Business Strategy

Fast Company wants you to have your best year yet in 2012; click for more advice and tips on how to work smarter, manage your career, and lead a more meaningful life.

Most of us are fantastic complainers. When someone doesn't meet our expectations, we let them know. We may even let their boss or mother know.

There's nothing wrong with expecting excellence, and taking steps to get it. The problem is, we tend to take excellence—and thoughtfulness, and kindness, and joyfulness—for granted.

When things go as we expect, we don't even notice or acknowledge it. Dennis Prager refers to this as the "broken tile" syndrome: look at a ceiling with one broken tile, and where is your eye naturally drawn? To the broken tile, of course. Not to the hundreds of whole ones.


Most people return small favors, acknowledge medium ones and repay greater ones - with ingratitude.
—Benjamin Franklin

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.
—William Arthur Ward

Feeling grateful or appreciative of someone or something in your life actually attracts more of the things that you appreciate and value into your life.
—Christiane Northrup

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is "thank you," it will be enough.
—Meister Eckhart

To see if this is true for you, think for a moment about your many contributions to the people around you. Do you get thanked enough for them? Does the gratitude-to-criticism ratio you experience feel right to you?

Gratitude Deficit Disorder: A Global Epidemic

Almost everyone I know, from pastors to parents, from cashiers to carpet cleaners, from architects to accountants, suffers from GDD: Gratitude Deficit Disorder. Despite all our good intentions and actions, we receive much more flak than gratitude. We are hungry for genuine appreciation and thanks. We want to know that we matter, that our efforts are making the world a better place.

And so do your customers and vendors and coworkers and friends and family. Think back on the past year. It's been tough for many of us, for many reasons. What have your business associates done that you are truly thankful for? An extra phone call? A volunteer effort? Special customer service? An unsolicited referral or testimonial?

Between now and the end of the year, how can you communicate your appreciation? How can you fill the global hunger for gratitude? How can you catch people in the act of goodness? Spend five minutes now making a list of people you are sincerely grateful towards. Then create an action plan to communicate your thanks, with no hidden agenda.

Real Gratitude, Not Opportunistic Holiday BS

I'm not talking about Thanksgiving sales fliers: "To thank you for your patronage, we're giving you 10% off all XXXL purple dress shirts from now until we make our sales quota."

No, I'm talking about honest, unselfish, respectful acknowledgment of another human being. Actually, I take that back—partly. Living gratefully is probably the most selfish thing you can do. In the moments when I am bathed in gratitude, for a caring gesture or a spectacular autumn morning, I feel phenomenal.

And you can take that selfishness even further: When people notice that you thank them for their efforts, they'll naturally work even harder to please you in the future. They may even start thanking you for your good work!

Do you think it's possible that communicating an attitude of gratitude in your business could actually make you more money? Remember the cardinal rule of business: "Find a need and fill it."

Who do you know who is a masterful "thanker"? Do you have any stories or examples of gratitude as a marketing strategy? (If so, please share them in the comments below.) As Ken Blanchard writes, "All of us is smarter than any of us."

Happy Thanksgiving. I wish you a holiday season filled with abundance—lots of love, lots of kindness, and lots of gratitude.

[Image: Flickr user Alice Popkorn]

Add New Comment


  • Ron Bloomingkemper Jr.

    Great article! This is the most overlooked marketing strategy of all time. It's one of those things we all know we should be doing but hardly ever do. Building a culture of gratitude with your employees and customers destroys what I call One-Night Stand Marketing; an attitude that looks for maximum return with minimal investment or attachment. Thanks again for writing the article and reminding us it's the little things in business, there is nothing bigger.

  • Tduperon

    Thank you for writing this Howie. Very validating, that is acknowledgement in itself. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  • Lise Schleicher

    This article is ALWAYS timely.  I am in a gratitude building business and my clients are consistently surprised if I send them a thank you note, small gift or other recognition.  The joy of being able to ask to speak to the manager to rave instead of rant is beyond compare, and I love when I can do that.  I have a book I keep that I call my 'Brag Book" with thank you notes and positive reviews - picks me up on my darkest days.  

    I hope that I am teaching this to my children - when I am told that they have done something positive in my absence, I always make a point of telling them and letting them know that I am proud of that behavior - encouraging more of it.

    Thanks for sharing.  Looking forward to reading more!

    Lise Schleicher

  • Deefaks

    Thanks a million Howie for not just an incisive write up but a very timely one too. I am one of the many that is afflicted by GDD and though I try hard to show gratitude, I don't believe I do it enough. Your thoughts on the subject has not only shown how important the art of gratitude is but also how crucial it is to our very existence whether as a business or individual. As it's often said, "what's living without giving". I've taken time out to make my list and I'll like to start with you - Thanks for sharing!

  • dw starr

    Wow! Where do I start.  What a great article. I've been reading FC for years, I love it. This article is the kind of "business knowledge" that should be taught in every high school. As a proud father of two sons I have been teaching them this "business concept" since they were 10 years old. In fact I have created my own PGP, Personal Gratitude Policy. It works like this....When I am at a restaurant, hardware store, hotel, or anywhere I am getting service from an individual I pay attention  to the quality of service I am given (step 1). When I get exceptional service I communicate that information to the individual who is giving it to me (step 2) ,ie; "Thanks for really listening to me" or "You've been so helpful with this ...situation" or " I really appreciate you going that extra mile for me when you..."  I make sure my appreciation is specific and directed at them personally. And then I do something that "blows their mind".  I ask them for the name of their boss and tell them that I am going to communicate this appreciation to their boss right now (step 3). I then proceed to either walk to where their boss is, have their boss come to me, or if the boss isn't present, I either email ,phone, or jot a note to be given or sent to their boss telling them of the specific situation and how they should be proud to have such a great employee working with them..(step 4) This step far surpasses any monetary tip you might give the employee ( which I still do appropriately) and makes not only the employee happy, but emphasizes what a great boss they are for being insightful enough for having that individual working with their company. And finally, I get to bask in the knowledge that I have made not only the employee and boss feel better, but have set a tone of appreciation and gratitude of service for their next customers that day or evening (step 5). So now , if I am out with either of my two adult sons and they spot a person deserving of our PGP, they make sure either I or they follow through. The torch has been passed to the next generation.
         In my business as a transitional coach and change agent I make sure my clients recognize and understand the value of gratitude both for others as well as themselves. Often times my clients forget that they are not " a broken tile " but that they are a ceiling full of splendour and that their frustrations are temporary. Along with many other techniques, I also remind them that with appreciation and gratitude they will move forward and be successful.
         My answering machine starts off with " it's a great day to be alive " and ends with "remember, promote an attitude of gratitude."  I'll end this with my email signature:
    Thank You,
    Be Well...
    be willing to surrender WHO YOU ARE,
    We PROMOTE AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE in all we do and say.

    DW Starr - Transitional Coach / Change Agent
    Author of CHANGERCISES - Exercising Your Choice to Change, A Weekly Approach

  • Jamall

    Howie, Great Article! I saw this on Linkedin and made sure to give it a read.

    I completely agree with you. When it comes to business practices and business strategy, gratitude tends to get tossed out the window. Which is sad really, because a simple gesture of gratitude can go along way. 

    And to answer your question, yes I do have an example of gratitude as a marketing strategy. Actually, it's our only strategy. I am with a great Startup called Thankster. We help people send thank you cards, greeting cards, and invitations with a twist; they can use our proprietary handwriting simulation technology to a create a font out of their own handwriting and use it when writing messages on their cards. It's great for expecting non profits sending out thank you cards to donors and supporters, or for businesses sending out greeting cards or thank you notes to clients or employees. All they have to do is pick a card design, upload contact addresses, craft their message(s), and hit send. From there, we do all the rest. No one wants to sit around handwriting 50 thank you cards, but yet everyone wants to give each card a personal touch. We solve both issues so it's a win-win. 

    Definitely take a look when you get chance. It's I look forward to reading more of your articles.  


  • Karen Duggan

    Great article -- thanks for taking this subject on.  One of the companies I look to for inspiration is actually named 'Cafe Gratitude.'  They serve healthy food named with affirmations which makes a person ordering say things like "I'll  have the 'I Am Fulfilled and an I Am Abundant."  What I love about the stand they have taken is that they made a decision not to allow 'standard' rates of return to be their bottom line -- their bottom line has been measured by how are they showing up in their communities?, how are there customers lives being improved?, are their employees' lives great?   Right at this time, it may look like the 'experiment' hasn't worked.  In the face of multiple lawsuits (collected by one law firm...hmm???) there is a huge transformation under way in this organization.  However, I can say without a doubt that for this patron and admirer, their efforts have caused transformation in such a major way that it cannot be measured.

  • Christine Maingard

    What a meaningful article - thank you! Another important element in sincerely & authentically practicing gratitude is to regularly reflect on and appreciate what life offers us every single day. When we are thankful for what we have in our lives, where we have been & the things we have achieved, the mind becomes calmer and the world around us more peaceful. Through this practice we can experience a sense of abundance through everything that is. And when the mind is engaged in gratitude, we can even notice a physical transformation - slower and better breathing, straighter posture and relaxed muscles. 

    Gratitude and appreciation can bring about profound improvements in our lives.

    Warm regards,
    Christine Maingard, Author of Think Less, Be More -

  • beth gross-santos

    I  am so so grateful my friend shared this article with me. I have been thinking about this for a long time and just launched a business based on helping people express gratitude. My idea came in the middle of the night on one of my darkest days. Now more than ever we need each other and it so important to express it. You can change someone's day for the better by saying"I am Grateful to You". Please check out the website, I am grateful for your input! With Gratitude, Beth

  • Anne Mwangi

    It feels good when you appreciate someone who have been of good help in your life, either in business or in personal life. I am moved by the article particularly where it says that"it is good to over look the holes in the ceiling,  appreciate and be greatfull for what someone has done for you". Thanks Howie the message was meant to be mine. Happy thanksgiving day.

  • Howie Jacobson

    Anne, thanks for sharing that. I'm going to make a list of people and send gratitude emails today.

  • pamelahawley

    Dear Alice,

    What a beautiful and strategic
    message. It's true that gratitude makes us better people, better
    leaders. And in so doing, our partnership, relationships at home and
    work, and day-to-day lives improve.  I am also a Fast Company Expertblogger --
    I hope you'll take a look at my article on focusing on people in business ( and my article, "Philanthropy at the Drycleaners" ( on my blog!

    All best and let's keep that authentic, kind spirit going.


    Pamela Hawley

    Founder and CEO




    Living and Giving blog


  • Tim JohnPress

    Loved the GDD acronym and it is spot on.  As an executive coach I teach a simple process called "intentional appreciation"  a.k.a. gratitude.  It is amazing to watch how appreciation can transform individuals, teams and businesses.

  • Howie Jacobson


    So simple and so sweet! That reminds me of when I first encountered appreciative inquiry; how wonderful to figure out what to do next based on this collective story of our strengths and successes. 
    So much of life is becoming conscious of our filters so we can choose appropriately.

  • Michael Beck

    Well said, Howie.  Over the years, I've found that being grateful for what we have has allowed me to enjoy my life more, even as I've aspired to greater achievements.  In fact, years ago I made a short motivational movie about the importance of gratitude:  Thanks again for your insights!