Column: Risk Management

Power in Gratitude

By: | August 31, 2015

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

I recently learned of Harvard Business School associate professor and psychologist Francesca Gino, who authored “Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan.” The book caught my interest due to the risk management flavor embedded in the title. Her book explores how certain emotions influence our decisions and achievement of goals, and how powerful expressions of gratitude are.


Her deductions were based on simple experiments conducted with Professor Adam Grant of the Wharton School. They asked a group of students to provide feedback on a bogus employment cover letter. Half the group received terse instructions for the assignment while the other half’s instructions included a genuine expression of gratitude.

Fifty-five percent of the group that received thanks felt higher levels of self-worth, as opposed to 25 percent from the other group. Gino states that simple yet powerful words like “thank you” have deep influence on our decisions and behaviors.

Simple yet powerful words like “thank you” have deep influence on our decisions and behaviors.

She says that, “by missing chances to express gratitude, organizations and leaders lose relatively cost-free opportunities to motivate” and ultimately to achieve desired goals. That sounds a lot like the point of risk management: “helping organizations and leaders find low-cost opportunities to reach desired goals.”

A simple “thank you” can lower key employee attrition rates? Build organization morale? Enable collaboration? Grow customer bases? Increase productivity? It appears so.

Measuring the direct profitability impact of gratitude toward employees is tricky, but I would imagine very persuasive. Studies have made compelling cases where bottom lines benefit with recognition programs.

An increase in employee satisfaction scores due to day-to-day recognition by their supervisors can directly correlate to customer satisfaction and loyalty scores, which directly lead to increased profitability.

Have we identified a powerful no-cost risk mitigation strategy here? If so, we as leaders, risk management and business gurus should consistently express gratitude daily.

The truth is, we aren’t always doing the best job of thanking, praising and recognizing our workforce, partners and clients. And that’s a shame.

I’m reminded of a recent personal experience. On the cusp of the official start of a multi-sporting event, where I have worked these past years as VP, enterprise risk management, a board member sent me a personal note. She thanked me sincerely for my contribution.

She expressed how my risk management effort, innovation and leadership were deeply valued. I even deduced that she felt pride in being associated with my work.

Even today, when I try to express how her note made me feel, I fall short. Elated. Fulfilled. Invigorated. Not sure these words truly capture it.

But overall, it felt sensational. Even though I was financially compensated for my work, her note rewarded me differently. I received what felt like a super-powered productivity pump-up when I desperately needed one.


I instantly became ready to go another 10 rounds if called upon. For that gift, I want to thank her and let her know she was the inspiration behind this column. It only takes a few moments to say thank you — but her thoughtfulness will be remembered a long time.

Expressing gratitude can make a day, grow business — even change a life. As I see it, the only risk we face is failing to routinely put it into words. We can do better and it starts here … thank you for reading.

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