Cultures of Gratitude

I haven't yet come across a CEO who says he/she wants to instill in their organization 'a culture of gratitude'. I've heard them ask for cultures of innovation, teamwork, collaboration, creativity, and customer service among others but not gratitude.

Yet organizations, thinking of them here as entities with personas, have a lot to feeling grateful for: that they have customers or clients willing to buy their products and service, that they have suppliers able to supply them with stuff to operate, that they have shareholders willing to invest money in them, (or in the case of non-profits volunteers willing to invest time in them), that they have employees willing to work for them, that they have regulations to help their competitive position (witness SAP just having to pay Oracle $1.3 billion this week in a copyright infringement lawsuit). I'm sure you can think of other aspects in where organizations could feel gratitude. Would having a 'culture of gratitude' make a difference to performance – preferably in the direction of high performance? Maybe, but probably only if gratitude was seen as a positive organizational attribute and not a credibility buster.

Years ago (1987) I remember Roger Harrison wrote a pamphlet called Organization Culture and Quality of Service: a strategy for releasing love in the workplace. I went to look for it online as I was writing this piece. I did not find the pamphlet there (though I have since found it in physical form on my bookshelf) but I did find an essay (2008) Accessing the Power of Love in the Workplace written by Harrison in which he says:

For most of my working life, love has not been an idea in good currency in organizations-to say the least. When, in the eighties, I first wrote about the importance of understanding love in the workplace and tapping into its power, I did so against the counsel of trusted colleagues who had my best interests at heart and were concerned that I maintain my credibility.

It's an interesting essay to read because 'love' in the workplace is like 'gratitude' in that neither is expressed as and organizational cultural attribute that could add value by being cultivated – though you sometimes see them voiced or evident at an individual level in organizations.

What set me down this path of thinking today (Thanksgiving Day) on gratitude was the article I'd just sent someone on Naikan called Reflecting on You, by Harris Salat. Naikan is a Japanese therapy that has gratitude (as well as guilt) at its core. Investigating this a bit further I found an interview with Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and author of two books on gratitude.

In the interview he says "It [gratitude] really becomes an attitude that we can choose that makes life better for ourselves and for other people." The Naikan approach mentioned in the Salat article suggests that by regularly asking yourself three questions: What have I received from (insert name)? What have I given (insert name)? What troubles or difficulties have I caused (insert name)? You will, over time, in Emmons words "acknowledge where things come from and the people to whom one is indebted. And this regular practice of working with the questions brings remarkable personal benefits in terms of happiness, and health benefits to people who practice it. "

Both the article and the interview intrigued me as I was already familiar with organizational techniques that focus not on trying to overcome barriers, obstacle, and hurdles to issues, but rather looking for what's going well in organizational life and aiming to extend or replicate it – Appreciative Inquiry, and 'Positive Deviance' are two approaches to this but neither is looking specifically at gratitude. My thought is that organizational cultures of gratitude could be beneficial to all stakeholders.

So are there any organizations interested in cultivating 'cultures of gratitude' and if not, would it be beneficial if they were? Any answers to this question would be much appreciated?