MACKEY’s first strategic planning session occurred forty years ago on our founder’s back deck. At the time, Mackey McNeill’s team consisted of just three people: herself and two part-time employees.   

Sitting on that deck, she shared her big idea: Mackey wanted to help business owners achieve time freedom, money freedom, and freedom from worry. It was a vision that her employees embraced wholeheartedly.   

And 20-something year-old Mackey and her team of two skipped off into the sunset. They lived happily ever after.    

Ha. Just kidding. Nothing in business is ever that easy, right?  

It did work for a while. Mackey focused on filling her team with others who also loved her big idea. But somewhere along the way, she let doubt creep in.   

“I had started my business in my 20s. Everyone else was doing things so much differently than me. I started to second guess my way, and I did a 180. I incentivized my team based on key individual metrics,” says Mackey. “In the process, I destroyed my team and my service-focused culture.”   

Mackey worked hard to fix what she had broken. She slowly and deliberately set out to rebuild and restore her culture.   

“If we, as owners, fail to address our team’s humanity and instead just expect an outcome, we’re very likely to be disappointed,” she warns.   

Peace Out Friedman  

There was a lot of heart in that first strategic planning session on Mackey’s back deck.   

She trusted her team to share her hopes and dreams. She valued her team enough to speak openly. And she appreciated her team, so she brought them on the journey with her.   

It was an intuitive strategy. At the time, it was pretty countercultural.   

Professor Milton Friedman, a famed economist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, rose to fame in the 70s. He famously argued that the sole purpose of business is to make a profit.   

“Friedman came to be taught as gospel,” explains Mackey.   

But these days, Mackey and many others beg to differ. “We’re beating the drum that this is a short-sighted idea of why business exists,” she says. It’s so much more than that.   

To be clear, making a profit is an essential part of business. We’ve worked with owners for 40 years to improve bottom lines. MACKEY wouldn’t exist if profit weren’t an essential aspect for all businesses. But it’s also about so much more than dollar signs.   

“No business flourishes without embracing the truth that a business is a community of people,” Mackey explains. “Often when a business isn’t functioning at its optimum level, it’s because the culture lacks heart.”  

The people on your team that show up and work for you every single day — they have hearts, too, just like you. And hearts come packed with feelings, wishes, hopes, and dreams.   

But guess what? This is good news.   

Why? Because we can do something about it!   

“Our feelings flavor and control our actions,” Mackey elaborates. This means that when we embrace the heart of our business — our team —we can create transformative change.  

It’s a low (and often no) cost way to make a monumental difference on your bottom line.   

A happy culture means higher retention, which means less time and money invested in hiring and onboarding new team members.   

A happy culture means better employee-client relationships, which means less churn and more opportunity to grow by upselling current clients.  

And here’s another one: a happy culture means a happy business owner, too.   

Meaningful Appreciation: It’s All About Authenticity  

So how do you do it? There are a lot of strategies involved in building a heart-driven community at your company, but gratitude is one of the most essential.  

We’re not talking about pizza parties. ::eyeroll::  

We’re talking about building a community where you (and your team) authentically appreciate one another. And where you’re not afraid to show it!  

The Research 

Employee appreciation is nothing new. And that’s because researchers are shouting its worth from the rooftops. Social psychologists have discovered that small moments of gratitude can drastically increase motivation 

And a 2018 study revealed that work environments focusing on positive reinforcement saw increased levels of work engagement and task performance.  

But it’s not just about how gratitude allows your employees to be effective workers. One study even revealed that gratitude can improve quality of sleep 

We all know what sleep can do to our productivity levels!  

Put It Into Practice  

Appreciating our employees and making our gratitude known are two separate things. Often, employers and managers assume their team knows how much they’re valued.  

If we don’t say it, we can’t know for sure. It’s all about putting our appreciation into practice.   

Be Direct  

We’re not talking about broad sweeping statements of gratitude for your team at staff meetings. We’re talking about taking (and making) the time to share how much you value the individuals who work for you. Look them in the eye. Show emotion. They have to know you mean it.    

Strike a Balance  

Offer moments of gratitude in one-on-ones. Give a shout-out to an employee when meeting with your clients (yes, even if they aren’t there!). Praise an individual for their contributions during a team planning session.   

Mix it up. Public acknowledgment goes a long way, but so do the heartfelt, personal moments.  

Be Specific  

When giving compliments to your team, be as specific as possible. Don’t just thank them for generic “hard work.” Name their actual contributions. Was it a particular way that they engaged with a client that left you impressed? Was it a specific phrasing in the pitch meeting that made you proud? Explain. Elaborate. Go deeper.   

Expressing gratitude can backfire when employees feel the compliment is hollow. So instead, be deliberate in your messaging. It acts not only as a form of coaching that helps your employees improve their skillsets, but it’s also the only way to give gratitude that sticks.   

Connect the Dots   

You’re in charge. You see the big picture. But your employees don’t always get that same level of insight. Show them.   

Help an employee see how their carefully designed pitch deck allowed Sally to wow the new client in the initial consult. If a customer gives a compliment about a team member, pass the message on.   

When employees see the ripple effect that their good work creates, they feel valued and part of something bigger.   

Make It a Team-Wide Effort  

Engaging in authentic appreciation is just one step in creating a positive culture. “Bring your heart to work, but make it safe for your team to do the same,” explains Mackey.   

It’s not just about complimenting your team, but it’s about cultivating an environment where kudos is king (or queen).   

Start with your managers. Be direct with them. Share the strategies you’ve implemented (heck, share this article) and charge them with joining you in the practice of gratitude. Once a few are on board, the effort is contagious.   

What Better Time Than Now?  

‘Tis the season of reflection, community, and joining together. It’s the perfect time to start new practices that show your authentic self and place value on the hearts of those working with you towards a common goal.   

Our commitment and passion for community building is one of the reasons we became a B Corporation. We’re one of many modern companies who’ve bucked the traditional ways and the Milton Friedmans of the world. Instead, we strive to model a new kind of business — one that balances purpose and profit. We believe businesses can be a force for good. And a big part of that requires seeing the people within an organization, hearts and all.  

We’ll leave you with this:   

Mackey believes that “there is nothing more powerful than a group of people connected at their heart with a common purpose.” To run a business is to lead a community. Embrace the humanity of it all. By doing so, not only will you build a culture that improves your bottom line, but you’ll also build a business that endures.