Gratitude as a Performance Metric?

By Jon Miller Updated on November 29th, 2020

Each year during the November harvest festival, I take time to reflect on thankfulness. This year it’s less about appreciating the fruits of efforts, payoffs from sacrifices, or being grateful for seeds sewn long ago. It feels more like an exercise in surveying the land after a flood has washed away the crops and seeing that the flood also deposited a new layer of fertile soil on our fields.

A Few Things I’m Grateful for This Year

I am grateful for many things in the past year. Having my daughters home all day, allowing me to spend more time with them. Less demand for in-person consulting, allowing me to focus on writing projects. Fewer in-person meetings, less travel and reduced social gatherings, allowing me to make progress on new or half-finished home improvement projects. I step away from my computer at least once every two hours, thanks to the new routine of our small dog who needs to go outside.

It’s been an unusual year for nearly everyone, requiring adjustment. There’s no point in reflecting on what was lost in order to gain the benefits. Much of that was out of our control. Part of what keeps us well in times like these is the ability to express and feel gratitude. This can be for what we have or for what we are working on recovering.

Gratitude as a Performance Metric

I’ve written before about the practice of team members finding someone to thank as part of a daily huddle or other accountability routine. In this context, gratitude is a results or outcome metric. It’s what we feel and express, as a result of a helpful action, behavior or circumstance. More is certainly better, but the key point is to keep gratitude top of mind, and to sustainably find things to be grateful about.

Good Processes Bring Good Results

Making gratitude part of a daily team ritual requires people to actively look for reasons to be grateful. This can be to recognize efforts or attitudes of individuals. It can be to appreciate collaboration with a customer or partner firm. Sometimes team members share personal situations that make them grateful.

When this is too much about work, or too closely tied to the other performance metrics, there is a risk that it devolves to “I’d like to thanks to X for doing their job.” It becomes formulaic and loses the spirit of gratitude. It’s up to each person when, how and even if they feel gratitude. We can’t demand it. We can only create the environment in which people can recognize, feel and express it.

What is Your Process Metric for Gratitude?

This makes me think that we need a process metric for gratitude. Each team can figure out what that means in their context. It might be instances of filling in for each other, burdens shared or removed, teaming on tasks, time spent listening, or whatever seems to result in the outcome of gratitude. People have different needs and thresholds, so this is not an exact science. But the more we measure and encourage doing the commonsense things that help others. We need a process metric for sowing the seeds of gratitude.

  1. Rick Foreman

    November 30, 2020 - 9:21 am

    This is such a powerful truth that executed daily throughout the year can make an amazing difference. Gratitude and kindness are superpowers because we’re dealing with humans who have needs. My mentor John Maxwell, often states, “People don’t know we care unless we show it,” and expressions of gratitude play a huge role. Thanks for sharing. We need more of this!

    • Jon Miller

      November 30, 2020 - 11:39 am

      Thanks Rick. I love the idea that these area superpowers.

    • Ed Miller

      December 24, 2020 - 1:35 pm

      I wanted to add another twist is your thinking. I have found that the most successful teams that embrace LEAN ENTERPRISE and make it a natural act embedded in their DNA and people that are most fulfilled by their professional career. Individual fulfillment, therefore, is critical for sustained growth and results. Yes these people are committed to their teams but they all have taken away personal satisfaction. This is in the form of continuous learning, trying new things and of course winning for their people , customer and stakeholders. That sense of accomplishment as a measure of individual fulfillment you might want to further define as key metrics for the organization. It also drive the respect for people… this was very important to us at Wiremold, where we focused on developing our people.

      Thanks for thought provoking comments.

      Ed Miller

  2. Kevin

    November 30, 2020 - 10:25 am

    Great post and one of my favorite topics. As Rick mentioned above, gratitude (and kindness) truly are superpowers. I’d add that you don’t need to have gratitude just for people, but also for situations and things.

    Many years ago when I initially started to cultivate a practice of gratitude, I soon fell into the “doing your job” trap you mentioned – being generically thankful for family, friends, health, etc. To break out of this I changed to require it to be specific and recent (or recently recognized). That added a lot of meaning.

    Two months ago I read an article on how to take this a radical step further: find aspects of something negative to be grateful for – a situation, person, etc that angered you for example. Focus on the same situation every day for a week, finding something new each day. Very challenging, but what an incredible and radical reframing results from it! The example in the article was a recently-divorced dad who wanted to be on good terms with his ex for the sake of their kids. This gratitude exercise created the reframing for that to happen.

    • Michael Bremer

      November 30, 2020 - 11:15 am

      Wow….I like that thought of trying to turn anger into something positive. I’ll have to ponder that this week. Jon’s write up on gratitude is also thought provoking. Perhaps we don’t need a metric as much as we need a practice. The challenge then becoming how to keep it ‘real’ and meaningful. Good thoughts…thanks.

    • Jon Miller

      November 30, 2020 - 11:42 am

      Good point Michael. The point is to have a practice. A process metric would ideally remind us to practice.

    • Jon Miller

      November 30, 2020 - 11:50 am

      Thanks Kevin. Being intentional about gratitude could help people build a bridge across a few of the unpleasant stages in the Kubler-Ross grief model of denial-anger-bargaining-depression-acceptance. Perhaps denial-anger-GRATITUDE-acceptance.

    • Jon Miller

      December 27, 2020 - 1:19 am

      Hi Ed
      Good points. I agree that taking a broader view beyond teams and individuals is important. Gratitude should extend quickly and naturally to internal customers (teams adjacent to your owns), external suppliers and customers, and there you have it – an enterprise.

  3. Kamal Deep

    November 30, 2020 - 4:11 pm

    Great article! Being helpful and supportive through listening and actions is precious. And I agree it does sow seeds for gratitude but one must not expect gratitude in return, if it come it is fine. Giving gratitude is an asset whereas expecting gratitude can make one miserable.

    • Jon Miller

      December 1, 2020 - 11:21 am

      Hello Kamal and thanks for your great point. You’re right, we can only create the conditions for people to be helped, feel and express gratitude, if hey so wish.

  4. Anthony Clyne

    December 1, 2020 - 8:23 am

    Maybe in the Daily meeting have an indicator “Acts Of Gratitude” on something like a safety cross to capture what used to be called “Random Acts Of Kindness”.

    • Jon Miller

      December 1, 2020 - 11:22 am

      Good idea Anthony

  5. David

    December 4, 2020 - 6:49 am

    Gratitude is a great motivator of people, a little gratitude every time, I believe can increase the productivity of an individual.


    December 10, 2020 - 9:19 am

    Hi Jon,

    Like so many things in life that promote a GREATER GOOD over and above the simple and easy banality of everyday routines… expressing GRATITUDE, pursuing CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT, promoting and pursuing a COMMON/COLLECTIVE GOOD, freely SHARING ONE’s KNOWLEDGE, MENTORING/SUPPORTING/ENABLING others, creating and sustaining and evolving a NURTURING ENVIRONMENT… they ALL require a different and higher-order mindset. Yet, so many of the institutions and navigational aids that once served the purpose of unifying and elevating collective thinking have given way to a preponderance of manipulative and disorienting dis/mis-information, pompous self-promotion/adoration, identity-based (cult-like) THINKING AND BEHAVING, etc. And I’m sure that those who are caught up in this dysfunctional pattern of THINKING AND BEHAVING are GRATEFUL for whatever SOCIAL and ECONOMIC ADVANTAGES it bring to them. And it seems that this way of SELF-CENTRIC THINKING AND BEHAVING depends on expressing GRATITUDE toward others who support it and disdain for those who don’t.

    Bottom line: HUMANITY does NOT need MORE GRATITUDE, what it needs is GRATITUDE expressed for the RIGHT (i.e., HIGHER-ORDER) REASONS… reasons that are directed toward an elevated state-of-being for society as a whole and for the ENVIRONMENT in which that society exists. For example, I would be EXTREMELY GRATEFUL for a NATION-WIDE/COLLECTIVE COMMITMENT to RAPIDLY GETTING OFF FOSSIL FUELS and MOVING TOWARD SUSTAINABLE SOURCES OF ENERGY. Hopefully, no one should have to be told what it is they can/should be grateful for or be LIMITED to only what is PRACTICAL, WITHIN REASON, or only what is in their limited sphere of influence.


    December 10, 2020 - 9:28 am

    Hi Jon,

    PS – The ONLY way GRATITUDE could make for a meaningful performance metric is if it were DIRECTED TOWARD A MEANINGFUL END RESULT; one that has a beneficial impact the longer-term viability of HUMANITY. Acts/expressions of GRATITUDE that are both incremental in nature and left up to the discretion of the individual expresser(s) does little to move the needle/dial measuring OVERALL SYSTEMIC WELL-BEING to where it needs to be for long-term sustainability. NOT having a HIGHLY-COMPELLING AND COLLECTIVE TRUE NORTH ORIENTATION as a navigational beacon to move toward ends up being merely a feel-good facade… much like the practice of FAKE LEAN in so many business organizations/institutions.

    • Jon Miller

      December 10, 2020 - 11:18 am

      Great points Jay. You’re right. If the overall direction and purpose are wrong, promoting gratitude to enable an organization to get to the wrong goal faster would be empty at best, counterproductive at first. What we could argue for is to start with gratitude within small groups, then between organizations, customers, social groups and even non-humans such as the biosphere and the planet’s ecosystem. We exploit it without much gratitude at the moment.

  8. Steven Farrugia

    January 3, 2021 - 9:14 pm

    Great article. Gratitude is the secret ingredient to Culture success and sustainability. It is also the key generator of resilience in people, a much needed trait of change and continuous improvement.
    Great news is we discovered this over 10 years ago and have research how to measure gratitude and the living values of an organisation. It was such a breakthrough and so important that we made it into a charity organisation called ShareTree. If you want to not only measure but cultivate gratitude and culture, then you might want to check out the free ShareTree App that is breaking ground in this space.

  9. Christopher H Biggs

    January 11, 2021 - 8:13 am

    Jon, I just getting around to appreciate your insightful posting. Gratitude is perhaps the most important metric. Doctors Lee and Ashton are experimenting with their Big 5 Personality traits (which they already expanded to include Humility and Honesty called HEXACO) and are adding a factor of Altruism. I believe that gratitude like altruism is an emerging behavior particularly in our Western culture where we have experienced so much for so long that it is about time that we realize we could do without many of the cultural trappings in both our professional and personal worlds. In fact, making a plan of gratitude by giving is a measurable behavior that compliments your brave hypothesis the gratitude is a performance metric. What do you think?

    • Jon Miller

      January 11, 2021 - 11:31 am

      Hello Christopher
      Thanks for your comment. I agree that making gratitude part of our awareness and behavior is an attitude adjustment that civilization needs. Whatever is worth doing or being, it’s worth measuring our progress towards.

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