I’ve been trying to break the back of my Christmas shopping recently but find myself struggling with what to get for people for who seem to ‘have everything’. I don’t want to buy something just for the sake of it and I want to give them a gift that is meaningful and that they’ll cherish. It can be a tough brief to meet!  I find myself always coming back to the same question: what would add value to their lives?

In business too, where money can be tight but we still want to acknowledge and reward our team members, it can be a similar challenge. What can we give them or do for them that they will really value, beyond the immediate cost? As leaders, how can we add value to our colleagues’ lives?

  1. Personalise it

Just as a handmade or personalised gift can make the biggest impact at Christmas, our starting point as a leader should always be the other person. We need to treat them as THEY wish to be treated, not as WE wish to be treated. If we are truly to add value to another’s life, we must first put ourselves in their shoes rather than projecting our own desires onto them. While we may relish the idea of a day off work to play golf, to a colleague it could be the opportunity to go to their child’s school play. When considering how to reward a team member, think carefully about what they would deeply appreciate.

  1. Listen well

If you find yourself struggling to think of something, perhaps because you don’t know the person very well, this is revealing in itself. As a leader it’s our job to understand and listen to our team members, to find out what makes them tick. Feeling stumped about how to add value to them suggests that we’re not spending sufficient time with them or listening carefully enough.

  1. Be present

It has been said that the greatest gift we can give someone is to be fully present – not just spending time together, but really inhabiting that moment to the exclusion of all else. As we explored in a previous blog on the subject, this is something that takes a good deal of practice but has the potential to be transformational for both participants. Have a look at the article to discover our seven tips for being present. It’s a great way to add value to any relationship, at home or at work.

  1. Feel the joy

The element of reciprocity in gift giving is just as important in the workplace as outside it. When we’ve really got it right and are able to add value to a colleague’s life, we too feel the benefit. As I wrote in a blog on servant leadership a couple of years ago, “I  derive great joy and personal happiness from doing things for others, taking time to surprise them and trying to exceed their expectations.” Not only do we get the hit of dopamine as the giver, but we also get the pleasure of working alongside a colleague who feels newly motivated and appreciated, leading to improved performance. It’s what we call Profit and Smiles.

  1. It’s not about the cost

While it’s important that organisations are seen to ‘put their money where their mouth is’ and invest in reward and recognition, there are also some very powerful cost-free ways to make a tangible difference to employees. One that we use ourselves on a regular basis is what we call ‘the honk’. At the start of every monthly team meeting everyone suggests a ‘honk’, a shoutout to a colleague to acknowledge their contribution or achievements. As leaders we like to think that our teams know how much they are valued, but in so many cases it’s only when they exit an organisation that they actually receive the praise and recognition they deserve, in their leaving card!

Good luck with your Christmas shopping this year and, while you’re writing your shopping list, put some thought into how you can add value to your colleagues lives too. Not just at Christmas, but every day. It will be time and money well spent. I’d also love to hear your own stories of gifts or recognition you’ve received that made a lasting impression.

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