During my time running product at KISSmetrics, I got to work with some awesome people. One of my favorite engineers was a guy named Nate. Nate lives in Ohio with his wife and two kids. He’s a good family man and a solid engineer. He’s always down to go the extra mile to make a feature awesome for customers. He also happens to be a HUGE Mark Price fan.
Nate had been doing some particularly awesome work with me lately and I wanted to thank him in a memorable way. I had heard others in engineering talk repeatedly about how Nate was obsessed with retired Cleveland Cavalier Mark Price, even wearing his jersey during engineering standups. Having noted that weeks ago, I knew that was the key to a great gift.
Finding the Gift:
Living in San Francisco, there isn’t a lot of Mark Price memorabilia available, so I went to Ebay to see what they had. Within minutes of searching, I stumbled upon Mark Price Figures and knew I had just the thing.
Using the Buy It Now feature, I quickly received the figure. I then added a personal note and shipped it off to Nate. When he received it, he reacted like a kid on Christmas:
Even better, Mark Price sits on Nate’s desk to this day.
You can do this too.
With just a few minutes of my time and less than $10 spent, I made Nate’s day. More importantly, I strengthened our work relationship. There is no amount of cash or gift card that would have meant nearly as much or had as deep an impact. And with it sitting on his desk, he is reminded every day of it.
How to give a great gift to a team member
What you’re saving financially is being made up for in thoughtfulness. Everyone wants to be recognized and appreciated as a unique individual and that’s why these gifts are so much better than money. There are a few keys to remember if you’re going to do this for a team member and want to have the same results.
The most important thing is to give a gift that uniquely resonates with that person. A Mark Price figure to any of my other coworkers would have been meaningless, but to Nate, it was perfect.
These aren’t just things they Like on Facebook. Pay attention to what your team talks about. What do they *love*? What are they passionate about beyond what most people are? Those are the things that matter. It could be books, board games, a fashion designer, their car, a certain sports team or player, or a restaurant they’re completely in love with. Just realize that the stronger the emotion, the more meaningful it will be when you present the gift.
Don’t just give the gift to them at a random time. Use it as a reward for great work or a behavior you want to reinforce in your culture. Nate had been going above and beyond on a number of projects and been really helpful in explaining technical challenges to me, a non-coding Product Manager. It was the perfect time to thank him.
The best gifts are also unexpected. It’s great to use these on birthdays, work anniversaries and the like, but it’s even more powerful when they don’t expect it at all.
If you’ve chosen a gift a team member will uniquely love and will present it to them at a time they’ve been doing great work, congratulations, you’re 90% there. The last thing to do is to reinforce the behavior you’re rewarding.
When I sent the figure to Nate, I included a personal note thanking him specifically for the the things I enjoyed working with him on and the help he gave in explaining technical challenges. This ensured that the gift that got such a positive emotional reaction was now tied to the behaviors I wanted to see more of.
But what about….
I know what you’re thinking. Your team is too big, too remote, too private, too busy, or too <excuse> to do this kind of thing.
If you want to really retain and motivate your best team members, these kinds of things pay massive dividends. You should make time for it. This took me about 30 minutes in total between ordering, writing the note, and shipping it. You cannot put a price on what a heavily motivated employee will do for your company, especially compared to one that feels unrecognized and unappreciated.
The Power of 1 on 1s
The best time to find out these kinds of things is in 1 on 1s. This is especially true if your reports are remote so you don’t get general office interactions. 1 on 1s are the one time a week an employee gets to talk about themselves instead of just what the company needs. Pay attention and you’ll learn what their motivations and passions are. Aligning work with those motives and recognizing their passions will pay massive dividends in team morale.
Nate wasn’t my direct report, but every 2 weeks we had a Google Hangout to talk about what was going on in the company, and catch up personally. I did this while I was the only PM at a 35 person company often juggling 4 different projects. I also never met Nate in person while I worked at KISSmetrics. What’s your excuse?
Remember the little things
I have the memory of a goldfish (or at least the urban legend version of one). Even meaningful things like this can slip my mind if I don’t record them. That’s why years ago I started keeping track of the passions, interests and motivations of people I work with. The system, when combined with good 1 on 1s and goal setting has helped me be a much better manager and is why I’m starting a company to help others do the same.
If you’re interested in getting early access to my app that will help you be a great, thoughtful manager, you can sign up below: