Dr. Rick Franza, Professor of Management at the Hull College of Business, discusses a different, timely business topic each Monday in this column. This week, he talks about how businesses can show appreciation to their constituents. The interview has been edited for clarity and impact.
ABD: This time of year, it’s natural to be thinking more about thankfulness and gift-giving. Why is showing appreciation important for a business?
Rick: It’s always a good idea to show appreciation. It comes to mind this time of year, but you should think about it at all times. You should show appreciation to everybody you do business with: employees, vendors/suppliers, customers/clients, and other business partners. The question is always how you do that.
ABD: All right. How do you do that?
Rick: There are a number of ways. Handwritten notes always show appreciation. You could hold an open house for clients or vendors – but you probably will want to do a separate thing that’s just for employees. For employees, gift cards are always appreciated.
If your company makes or sells some nice products, you could give those as gifts. It’s also appropriate to do a partnership with another company that has gift products, especially from a local vendor. It could be a great marketing tool for them. But you can’t just go with your hand out right before Christmas.
ABD: This is also a time of year when some people enjoy giving food they baked themselves. Is this a good idea?
Rick: It depends on the person, and it depends if they know people like it. Particularly with your employees, knowing what they like is important. You can’t just give a fruitcake to everybody. Some people may like it and others not so much.
ABD: Do these have to be pricey gifts and do they all have to be the same?
Rick: One year, my boss gave all of us a fresh bag of pecans. It wasn’t the price that mattered, it was a show of appreciation. What mattered was that everyone from the administrative assistant to the second in charge got the same thing.
It’s truly a tricky thing. Gift giving in general is tricky and even more so with employees. You want to show appreciation, but you want to do that in a way that won’t be misconstrued. The big picture is, you want to show appreciation to all your constituencies; what that is and how much is trickier.
It’s also important to communicate so people know what to expect. In a couple of weeks, SRP Park will be showing National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and that’s a great example of what can happen if you’re expecting a big bonus and you get the Jelly of the Month Club instead.
ABD: You mentioned earlier about showing appreciation at all times of the year. If people only wait until the holidays to show appreciation, does it sometimes feel disingenuous to the receiver?
Rick: What you can’t lose is that it can’t be an obligation of gift giving, it has to be a real show of appreciation. It needs to be a demonstration of gratitude. With customers, you want to retain them as customers, of course, but it has to be a thank you for what they’ve already done.
The lesson is that you can’t just leave showing appreciation at this time of year. If you demonstrate that you’re grateful throughout the year to the people you interact with in business, then it takes some of the pressure off now.