Gratitude as a Company Value

The story behind a surprising company ritual for expressing simple and sincere thanks to coworkers.

I joined Fog Creek Software a little over six months ago. It’s one of the most venerated little companies in the tech industry (it’s where Trello was born, and where Stack Overflow was co-created) with beloved products like Glitch and Manuscript. And usually, when people talk about our company, they mention stuff like our cofounder Joel Spolsky’s blog Joel On Software, which taught countless coders about how to make great software.

But amidst all those stories from the past, few people outside the company know about one of our most striking traditions, a practice that is not just motivating or useful, but downright moving. How often does anybody get to have a regular part of work that touches us on an emotional level? That’s exactly what happens at Fog Creek. But first, I have to tell you about a flightless bird.

FogBugz has been one of the most popular bug tracking and project management tools for making software for almost 17 years now. But for its first several years, it didn’t have a logo beyond its goofy name. Then, Joel Spolsky, in a fit of inspiration, decided that the product’s mascot would be a kiwi bird. Specifically, this one:

You don’t see illustrations like this in most enterprise software these days, do ya?

From there, the kiwi quickly graduated from simply being a product mascot into being the unofficial mascot of the entire Fog Creek company. I told a little bit of that story in this talk at the Webstock conference in New Zealand earlier this year:

If there’s one thing New Zealanders love, it’s pandering to their tastes with cute kiwis.

But along the way of the kiwi becoming Fog Creek’s mascot, everyone inside the company started a regular habit inside our monthly all-hands “town hall” meetings. At each town hall, in front of the whole company, people on various teams and on different projects take some time to publicly acknowledge others in the company. We call these acknowledgements “kiwi bravos”.

Kiwi Bravos can take the form of everything from a simple, brief nod to someone who helped answer a befuddling technical challenge to a broad acknowledgement of a team that worked tirelessly on a lengthy support question to effusive praise for a salesperson who went above and beyond in making a customer happy. What matters, though, is the overall effect.

At Fog Creek, our whole company regularly takes time to listen as team members publicly thank each other. From this comes a culture of gratitude.

Beyond Kiwis

As a New Yorker, and someone who’s worked in tech for a long time, I was pretty skeptical about the idea of Kiwi Bravos at first. Publicly acknowledging coworkers sounded like it could be pretty corny, or even unpleasant if it were forced like those times when people in big companies have to sign birthday cards for coworkers they’ve never met.

But in practice, this habit of showing our appreciation is incredibly sincere, genuinely heartfelt, and downright moving. I found myself incredibly surprised at the level of emotion I felt in seeing people simply, and honestly, recognizing each other’s efforts.

Best of all, our embrace of this form of gratitude has made things better. A better working environment for everyone on our team, a better focus on things that make our customers happy, and even better communication as people learn new ways to do things simply based on what gets praised.

We don’t expect that every company or organization is going to embrace a slightly wacky cartoon bird as part of their culture, but we do hope every team can embrace the idea that underpins our Kiwi Bravos: we should regularly take the time to show our colleagues, peers and collaborators that we’re thankful for their work.

(Oh, and if that culture of gratitude sounds like the kind of place you’d like to work, maybe you should join our team at Fog Creek!)

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