Melissa Miller of Gratitude Investors: “Clarify the team’s purpose and mission”

Clarify the team’s purpose and mission. Do you have a child in your life who continually asks “why?”. That’s because we all need to know why something is done in order to do it effectively. Find out what personally fuels your workers, and be clear about why your company exists. Explain why what you do […]

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Clarify the team’s purpose and mission. Do you have a child in your life who continually asks “why?”. That’s because we all need to know why something is done in order to do it effectively. Find out what personally fuels your workers, and be clear about why your company exists. Explain why what you do has value. Once you know the “whys,” connect the organization’s purpose to the individual’s daily work. Employees who focused on the meaningfulness of their jobs exhibited a 60% decrease in absenteeism and a 75% drop in turnover (University of Alberta). Companies with a higher sense of purpose outperform other organizations by 400% in shareholder returns (Stengel). Repeatedly share with workers why the organization exists and what its purpose is. Every business decision should be analyzed to see if it lines up with the purpose of the company.


As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a large team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Miller.

Melissa Miller is the owner of Gratitude Investors, a business focused on increasing emotional capital for individuals and companies by implementing gratitude and appreciation programs. She uses science-based research and positive psychology to increase employee retention, productivity, and performance for leaders and corporations. Find out more at www.gratitudeinvestors.com or @gratitudeinvestor.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

One unusual fact about me is that I hate chopping down thistles. If you aren’t familiar with what thistles are, google them. I know this from experience because I grew up on a family farm in central Kentucky. I learned lots of other things in my childhood as well. I was blessed with a big extended family that loved sports and gathered at my grandparents’ house every Sunday for lunch. I learned everything from the rules of football to my love of books from my family. I also often witnessed gratitude in action. A few years ago, my aunts and I created The 180° Letters, a letter-writing kit to make sharing gratitude simple. I loved working in gratitude and was drawn to the business sector from my professional life and education. I wanted to help companies foster happy, fulfilled individuals.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I think the most interesting stories come from workers we have helped through our employee appreciation program. Gratitude Investors helps companies create an engaged, happier work culture using a foundation of gratitude throughout the organization. For some people, it is the first time they have intentionally used gratitude in their lives and I think the power of it surprises them. Their stories of how gratitude is changing things in their lives are heartwarming, and you can often hear a sense of wonder in their voices. Almost like “I didn’t expect this, but…”. Employees say they have improved their romantic relationships, become better leaders, and turned around how they do business. Gratitude and appreciation are catalysts for changing work cultures and that spills over into all aspects of our clients’ lives.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The devil is in the details. And my geography skills are abysmal. I have verified both of these statements to be true. I share this story all the time because I remind myself almost daily to remember the lesson and because it could have been disastrous for my career. One snowy winter, I was booking a private plane for a client to fly to islands south of Florida. I called the aviation company, gave the name of the destination town, and booked the flight. The day before takeoff, I was going over the itinerary and noticed a Mountain Time Zone reference. When I called the company to clarify the seemingly impossible fact that the Caribbean is actually in the Mountain Time Zone, they explained the plane was booked to fly to South Dakota. There is apparently a shared name between a town in South Dakota and the islands. Who knew? I could not stop imagining the train wreck of my life if I hadn’t caught that mistake. I could envision this group of people deplaning in shorts, flip flops, and cover-ups into fifteen feet of snow. And the blowback that would happen from my error. Now when I get caught up in moving quickly, I try to remember to pause and go back over the details.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on the best way to retain great talent today?

Gratitude Investors believes that employees are a company’s greatest assets. We specialize in helping companies retain employees and attract top talent by implementing appreciation programs that foster engaged employees. Our number one need as humans after safety is appreciation. Yet, 65% of Americans said they received no recognition in the workplace last year (Gallup). There is clearly a disconnect between how leaders are running their teams versus what workers want. And that lack of understanding is costly for companies. Fifty percent of employees intend to search for a new job because they feel undervalued and underappreciated. (American Psychological Association). Columbia University found, on average, replacing an employee costs 150% of their annual salary. Leaders that create an environment where employees feel appreciated and valued will build an engaged workforce loyal to the company and its purpose.

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

Successful teamwork requires trust and connection. Why? Because collaboration requires everyone to make decisions as a team, rely on the quality of each other’s work, and pull their own weight. We know it can be challenging to build relationships based on trust, even if workers are in the same office. Large teams face an even greater challenge because members can be working from multiple locations where a connection is more difficult to establish. Harvard Business Review found as team size increases beyond 20 members, the tendency to collaborate naturally decreases. There are several ways to combat disengagement and a lack of participation.

  • Build connection on personal and professional levels by getting to truly know your colleagues.
  • Be a leader that teammates respect and trust by staying focused on the goal and following through. Do what you say you will.
  • Be extremely clear on the purpose and mission the team faces. Clarify current and future goals for the group.
  • Anticipate the pitfalls in communication. The more a message travels through the team, the more it gets watered down. Agree on one channel of communication that ensures the team communicates efficiently.
  • As a leader, recognize and reward behaviors that align with the team’s purpose.

Leading large teams can be both rewarding and challenging. If things are fractured and out of alignment, you will see disengagement and lack of creativity. If your team is running like a well-oiled machine, productivity, and innovation increase.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)

1.Create engaged employees. According to Gallup, 50% of employees are disengaged. This is your silent majority, and they are adept at blending in. On the outside, they are doing their job, but they are not motivated intrinsically or connected to your company. They are putting time, but not energy, into their careers. Fourteen percent of your workforce is also likely made up of actively disengaged employees. These workers are the easy ones to identify — they display toxic behaviors, have higher absenteeism, and publicly express their unhappiness. Every day they undermine what their engaged colleagues accomplish and are a liability to the company’s bottom line. That means only 36% of your team is engaged and actively moving the organization forward. Can you imagine what your company could accomplish if the majority of the workforce is loyal and motivated? When you improve employee engagement with a great appreciation program, profits can increase by $2400 per employee annually (Workplace Research Foundation).

2.Gratitude and appreciation should be your gold standard for communications. These are the most significant non-monetary drivers of employee relationships. Yet, Americans are less likely to express gratitude at work than anywhere else in their lives. In one survey, almost all participants reported that saying “thank you” to colleagues made them feel happier and more fulfilled. Yet, only 10% reported expressing gratitude in the workplace. A stunning 60% of people said they “either never express gratitude at work or do so perhaps once a year.” (John Templeton Foundation, 2013). Americans choose to suppress gratitude on the job even if it costs them happiness. As a leader, the work culture begins with you. Try taking 10 minutes at the end of every day and thank a colleague by recognizing personal accomplishments as well as professional ones.

3.Clarify the team’s purpose and mission. Do you have a child in your life who continually asks “why?”. That’s because we all need to know why something is done in order to do it effectively. Find out what personally fuels your workers, and be clear about why your company exists. Explain why what you do has value. Once you know the “whys,” connect the organization’s purpose to the individual’s daily work. Employees who focused on the meaningfulness of their jobs exhibited a 60% decrease in absenteeism and a 75% drop in turnover (University of Alberta). Companies with a higher sense of purpose outperform other organizations by 400% in shareholder returns (Stengel). Repeatedly share with workers why the organization exists and what its purpose is. Every business decision should be analyzed to see if it lines up with the purpose of the company.

4.Move the team forward with clear feedback. Gallup reported only 23% of employees strongly agree that their manager provides meaningful feedback to them. Managers should behave more like coaches with operational check-ins happening on a weekly or biweekly basis. Employee developmental conversations should occur every 6 to 8 weeks. Feedback doesn’t feel critical when presented as a coaching tool to achieve goals. Get specific about your employee’s impact on the company. It’s important to use detailed examples of how their attitude, skills, and actions positively impact your organization. Pixar, a company known for collaborative teams, places a significant emphasis on feedback, and new managers take courses where a major portion is learning how to give feedback.

5.Celebrate and communicate to build connections. Connected employees are more engaged in their work. If you design your workplace so positive experiences and connections happen regularly, good things follow for workers and the bottom line. Communication of all types is one of the key drivers of connection. Companies should articulate their vision and purpose to workers. Leaders must communicate goals, feedback, and recognition. Throughout the company, communication about employees’ lives, both personal and professional, strengthens connection. Great communication heads off problems before they happen, leads to more trust in leadership, and enables people to ask for help leading to innovation. Celebrate life events such as running a marathon, buying a house, or finishing a degree. 87% of employees feel like they truly belong to an organization that does this. If you celebrate just one life event, there is a 23% increase in respondents saying their company has a “human” work culture. Yet, 30% of workers say their company had no life event celebrations in the last year. Encourage informal interactions such as after-hours gatherings or volunteer in the community.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Embrace gratitude in the workplace. Almost every best-selling business book mentions gratitude in some form as a cornerstone of success, but it’s often ignored or the last to be implemented. I feel it should be the first action item to build a foundation of appreciation and connection throughout your organization. Benefits of gratitude include lowered stress and blood pressure, enhanced positive emotions, better sleep, and higher levels of happiness . Research has found its benefits are just as remarkable in the workplace.

• Workers with 31% higher productivity.

• Employees are 10x more engaged when they feel valued and appreciated.

• Employee happiness increases accuracy on tasks by 19%. (Shawn Achor)

How do you express gratitude at work? A few action items are to institute a weekly open-door time, mentor someone, and thank the employees who never get recognized. You can start your day with a short email thanking someone for making a difference. Recognize employees’ contributions on all your social media outlets.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

One-third of our lives are spent working. Shouldn’t we enjoy it? An outdated model of thinking is unprofessional to bring gratitude or compassion into the workplace. However, studies show appreciation and gratitude are vital to creating the very type of workplace environments people actually want to work in. One of our most fundamental needs as humans is to feel appreciated. Leaders and companies who understand this principle, and practice gratitude, create productive, engaged employees. I would love to see a corporate mentality where leaders implement this approach in all phases of work-life from the hiring process until retirement.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Obviously, I am a huge believer in the power of gratitude. For some people who have not practiced gratitude, they may have some misconceptions surrounding it. That’s why when I first came across, “I’m grateful but not complacent.”, I thought what a great way to sum up appreciating the present moment and going after your dreams at the same time. I think too often, being grateful can be misconstrued as being so happy you couldn’t want for anything more. That’s unrealistic. Gratitude helps relieve fear and anxiety in your head. The more I use gratitude, it helps me become braver to tackle parts of my life that need improvement. Just because I am grateful for my life doesn’t mean I’ve settled or stopped striving. I am thankful every day for many amazing things, but I know even greater ones are coming. It’s why I took a chance and started my business.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

We would love for you to stop by www.gratitudeinvestors.com and learn more about our gratitude-based employee appreciation programs. Catch up on daily information regarding gratitude in the workplace on Facebook and Instagram at @Gratitudeinvestor or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/company/gratitude-investors. You can also find daily inspiration on all things related to gratitude @180degreesgratitude on Instagram.

Thank you for these great insights!

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