The power of intentionality in building company culture

A tale of two last weeks.

The cake is a lie. Source: Pexels

They announced I was leaving at an all-staff lunch. The head of major gifts was also leaving and her departure was announced at the same time.

They wheeled out two cakes. On one cake the frosting read: We’ll miss you, Amber. The second cake’s sugary message was: Best wishes, Amber.

My name isn’t Amber.

In their defense they did get my a cake on my very last day and someone gave me a electric pencil sharpener off their desk in a last-minute gesture, recognizing my love for freshly sharpened pencils. That was about it.

I worked there more than three years.

Contrasted with my last week at a collaboration software company, Atlassian. I worked there five months, filling in for someone on maternity leave.

My last week was filled with numerous lunch dates. A bouquet of flowers and homemade baked goods. My team even gave me a $150 gift certificate and a card. My last day was marked with a going away happy hour at a near by bar. I felt appreciated. I felt valued. It felt good.

The big difference isn’t that one company valued me and the other didn’t. I was valued at both, but one built appreciation into their DNA.

That card and $150 gift certificate was part of an internal employee appreciation program that made it easy for employees to encourage each other with little and big rewards. From day 1 they stressed the importance of appreciation and intentionality.

This sort of culture is set from the top. While I was at this company one of the top leaders hit the 10 year mark. To celebrate the occasion the founders wrote a lengthy poem and read it at a global all-hands meeting, and then unveiled a giant painting of the honoree and then people sang a jazzy 20s song and tap danced and we all drank champaign. Appreciation is a part of the company’s DNA from the top to the bottom. From the president to a contractor.

Why does this matter?

It matters for recruitment and retention. People, all people, want to feel like they belong. Atlassian’s head of Diversity and Inclusion recently changed her title to Diversity and Belonging. I was included at my first job, but I didn’t feel like I belonged. Showing appreciation goes a helluva long way toward helping people feel like they belong.

If people feel appreciated they’re less likely to look for other opportunities. They stick around when things get hard.

So it just pays to build a culture of appreciation. From the top down.