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17 min read

Gratitude Culture as a Competitive Differentiator

Creating and promoting a company culture of gratitude leads to higher recruitment and retention success rates.


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Lisa Ryan has the unusual title of Chief Appreciation Strategist for her company, Grategy. She's also the author of Thank You Very Much: Gratitude Strategies to Create a Workplace Culture that Rocks! You can quickly tell that Lisa has a strong opinion about gratitude and its impact on a company's growth. Gratitude starts with listening. What do employees like most about their jobs? What would they change? A short "stay" pulse interview (as opposed to the traditional "exit" interview) can provide valuable insights for both managers and marketing. 

Listening alone isn't enough, of course. Managers need to have the resources and authority to act upon feedback. Marketing has the opportunity to use internal feedback to inform brand messaging for both internal and external campaigns.

During the episode, you'll hear Lisa and I bat around ideas of how leadership, HR and marketing can all work together to better define a gratitude culture and craft messaging that will not only reinforce this culture internally but be used externally for recruiting. She also discusses her take on the Great Resignation and how individual priorities and expectations from their work culture have permanently shifted across generational lines. 

When Lisa is not on the keynote stage or consulting with manufacturing companies, she is in the host seat of her podcast, The Manufacturers' Network. 






On today's show, I'm bringing in an HR expert to discuss how building a company culture of gratitude can lead to higher success rates in recruiting and retention. We also debate the role of executive HR and marketing when it comes to defining brand messaging and promoting company culture both internally and externally. Let's do this. Welcome to Content Marketing Engineered, your source for building trust and generating demand with technical content. Here is your host, Wendy Covey. Hi and welcome to Content Marketing Engineered. On each episode, I'll break down an industry trend, challenge or best practice in reaching technical audiences. You'll meet colleagues, friends, and clients of mine who will stop by to share their stories, and I hope that you leave each episode feeling inspired and ready to take action. Before we jump in, I'd like to give a brief shout out to my agency, TREW Marketing. TREW is a full service agency located in beautiful Austin, Texas, serving highly technical company. For more information, visit And now on with our podcast. Hey everyone, and welcome to another episode of Content Marketing, Engineered. Today. I'm joined by Lisa Ryan. She's the Chief Appreciation Strategist at Grategy.

She's also a podcast host of the Manufacturers Network, and on top of that, she's the author of many books, and her latest is called thank You Very Much Gratitude Strategies to Create a Workplace Culture That Rocks. Thank you for being on the show today, Lisa.

Thanks so much for having me.

Well, I wanted to bring you on because I know that there's a very tight connection, or can be a very tight connection between recruiting and retention strategies and marketing. And I feel like that's teamwork that is often overlooked. And so I am excited to get in your head today about how those two entities can team together to better work towards business goals. But before we do that, I'd love to hear a little bit about your career journey and what led you to start your company and do all the things that you're doing today.

Sure. I started my career actually in HR. I was an executive recruiter and really one of the few people on the planet who can actually say they sold their mother. Now, I placed her in a job that she absolutely hated, but basically I said, Mother, you've got to stay there at least 90 days because I have a guarantee and I can't afford to get back the commission I made on you. So, thankfully, mom was there for two and a half years. It was fine. From there, I went into industrial sales, where I sold electrical cord and cable into the maintenance environment. And then I spent seven years in the welding industry, and from there I went into health care. But when my medical sales position was eliminated via group conference call, with twelve of us getting canned at the same time, oh boy. I knew that this was my opportunity to venture out on my own. And when I looked at my career, manufacturing was my favorite part of it. I loved being around passionate people who made stuff and being in the welding industry where I got to go in steel mills and auto plants and into the salt mine.

So I was literally a mile down below Lake Erie and went 4 miles out. I just knew that that's where I wanted to focus my efforts. So hence, when I started my speaking business, that's where all of my outbound outreach goes to, is manufacturing skilled trades. Basically, if the colors blue, they're my people, and I'm having a blast. Great.

Well, it's an industry that needs you, particularly right now, because while this postcoded job market is really, I want to say unusual, unprecedented. What's the right word? What are you seeing? What are the trends in manufacturing right now when it comes to recruiting and retention?

Well, there was an issue before Covet. I mean, we still had an aging workforce. We had the graying of the whole industry, silver, tsunami, whatever you want to call it. But after Covet, it got even worse because people started to change their priorities. The baby boomers got to see what it was like to spend more time with their grandkids and their families. So this whole group of people that we never thought were going to leave or retire are all of a sudden found that there's life outside of working. And then we also had people like my husband, who was in the great resignation, who were asking themselves the question, is this the company I want to end my career with? And in his case, the answer was no. So he got another job. And I will tell you what, you hear the whole thing about happy wife, happy life, happy husband, complete change of happy life. Absolutely. So the problem is still there. It's just exacerbated with more things being thrown into the mix, like the different priorities, and do I really want to spend the rest of my career here?

Yeah. And what I found interesting about what you just said was it wasn't just one generation, right? It's priority shifts among multiple generations for different reasons. Wow, that's really interesting. But then you hear, you see, on the other hand, companies struggling with we need to bring people back in person, and we need to go back to life as we knew it before the recession. I mean, look at Elon coming under fire right now because he's having everybody come back. So what are you advising to companies about how to carve that path forward?

Well, when it comes to Elon Musk, it's his company and he can do whatever he wants. But there's this expectation of flexibility because really the only thing that all of us have in common with people like Elon Musk, jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, et cetera, are the fact that we have the exact same 24 hours in the day and that time is the most crucial element. So whether it be it's always a good idea that we get together and we can have those personal relationships, but you also have this expectation of flexibility where I can work from home. My husband, again, works for a manufacturing company. He's in accounting, so he doesn't have to be on the line or anything. But he was always one of those people that I go to the office. But he's working for a company that allows him flexibility and he's like, you know what, it's cool to be able to work from home Wednesdays and Fridays. Now, mind you, he spends most of the time on teams talking to his manager and the other accounting people there. But the point being is that his leadership team trusts him enough. And I think that that's an issue.

His employees are like, hey, I worked from home for two years and I got the work done with no issues. And all of a sudden you don't trust me and you feel that you have to have me back in the office. That doesn't make any sense. And again, this is not for people on the line because obviously machines don't run themselves in a lot of cases. But when you have the opportunity for flexibility, for flexibility in shifts, flexible scheduling, all of these things, to be able to look for ways to give time back to employees, that's going to create a bigger win.

Yeah. And it's gone from a perk to an expectation for many roles, it sounds like. I'll tell you TREW, marketing has always operated virtually. We've been in business 14 years, and I often the number one thing that people ask me that were skeptics and this course was precoveted before people understood this was, how do you trust that the work is getting done? It was that word trust again. And I said, well, if they're not getting the work done, it's going to show itself whether I'm standing over cubicle or not. So I'm hiring the right people. I'm trusting them to do their jobs, and it just works. So it's not that difficult to wrap your head around, I don't think.


So let's say we have a company, manufacturing company, that has the right policies and they're doing a lot of the right things here. How can they use that in a marketing sense for recruitment? What types of activities are you doing or messaging or channels are you using to help them use that to their advantage?

Well, a lot of it starts with just looking at your website. If you have a lot of corporate stock photos with a bunch of people that don't look anything like the people who are interviewing for the job. They're not going to interview with you if you're not paying attention to your glass door reviews from your employees and at least responding even if somebody leaves a bad review. A message from the leadership team or from HR can make a huge difference. What is your social media like? Are you posting videos? Are you showing people what a day in the life is like? Are you allowing people the opportunity to get to know your company through fun videos, through Instagram and TikTok and all these different things where your employees are hanging out now? For me, most of my employees are hanging out on LinkedIn, and plus, I just don't get like, the whole TikTok thing. So the point is that looking where your employees are and if you're looking to bring more millennials and gen z into your workplace than expanding your focus outside of just LinkedIn and Facebook, that's where you're going to find the people because they're checking you out before they even fill out an application in a lot of cases.

And they're asking themselves, does this look like a company where I'm going to feel comfortable, where I'm going to fit in and what I'm going to like? So creating that type of marketing that puts you in the forefront of everybody else that those employees, potential employees, are filling out applications for.

I know you mentioned to me in a prior conversation that you said, marketing is a superpower, and that really stuck with me. Why do you think that is? Why a superpower? Why do you use that word?

Because I love it. Well, I was looking at it from my own business, from an entrepreneurial standpoint when I started my speaking business, because I have a sales career of more than 25 years in sales. And I love sales and I love marketing. It's really just part of what I do. But you can have the best speech in the world, but if nobody knows who you are, it doesn't matter. So especially at the beginning, to be able to market, you can be a better marketer than you are. For example, in my case, a speaker. So at least it gives you more opportunities to get your message out there. So giving people the opportunity to find you through marketing, through exposure in a whole bunch of different ways. And one of the best things that the whole pandemic brought out was the ease of use of technology. So many apps, so much easy access that makes it easier than it's ever been before. So, yeah, marketing is such a crucial point because like I said, you can have a great product, but if nobody knows about it and nobody's talking about you, what's the point?

Yeah, and translating that to you can have a great company culture, but if no one knows what it is, none of these recruits know, if you're not out there talking about it externally, you're missing a big opportunity. But focusing on culture a little bit more. I know that you talk a lot about havoc, creating a culture of gratitude. Tell me, what does that mean and what might marketing's role be in helping to I don't know, either define that or promote that internally.

Employees are much more likely to work harder for you and give their blood, sweat their tears to your organization if they feel acknowledged and appreciated for their efforts. So am I saying you should thank your employees for doing their job? Well, yes, I am. Because if you don't, if you're sitting there thinking, well, I'm paying them, they get paid, they get thanked every Friday. It's not enough. And your employees will give you exactly the amount of effort that you are paying them for, perhaps a little less. But if they feel that you are listening to them, if you appreciate their efforts, if you value their input, then they are going to give more to your organization and they will actually work for less money. Now, this is not giving you an excuse not to pay them market wage, because we know in the course of all of this that wages are going up. I mean, if you can make $24 an hour working at Target, for goodness sake, we have to take a look at the wages that we're paying in manufacturing. But what happens a lot of times with employees is they will be like, they love their job, but some competitor down the street makes them an offer they can't refuse five or $10 more an hour.

And they're like, oh, I have an awesome job here, but I'm going to go to another company that is also an awesome job and make more money. And then they get to that other company and they discover why that company has to pay them so much more money. And they actually want to come back to the original employer and will accept less money than they were just taking at the job they left. Because getting the money right is important, but getting the culture right is essential.

Yeah. And not everybody's work, love language is about money, right? It's one aspect. But lots of people want praise, want feedback. There's all sorts of ways to recognize someone, right? It's not just about that paycheck.


Good. So tell me about does it make sense ever to have a marketing campaign focused on your employees? And what might that look like? What have you seen?

Well, I know that Kent Gladys, who is a friend of mine through LinkedIn, and he's been on my podcast, he's the head of an association, and I think that he does it beautifully. Now, mind you, he's in association with members, but regularly what he does is he promotes his members. He'll show photos from them, he'll explain what they're doing. He'll give them kudos for the work that they're doing in the community. He does a really great job. I've seen the same thing with organizations where if you have an employee of the month or you have a person that's gone above and beyond to give them a shout out on LinkedIn, on social media, on something, and there are companies that are afraid to do that because they think that they are just setting up those star employees to be poached by somebody else. And in a lot of cases, that's not going to happen because that employee feels valued. Another association that I worked with, the Associated Equipment Distributors, at their annual conference, they actually have a Tech of the Year award. And so managers will nominate their texts for this award, and then they choose nine of them, and they all get to go to the annual event, and they get recognized on stage.

And I mean, these people get all dressed up. They bring their families with them. It's a big deal. And then you think about it, it's such a good recruiting tool because the next week when they're at the bar with their friends, they're like, yeah, just got back from Vegas. Really? What were you doing in Vegas? Got an award. My manager said that was Tech of the Year. And they're like, wow, how do I work for a company like that? So when you catch your people in the act of doing things well and you recognize them, and there are so many apps to do that, using peer to peer recognition while in the plant itself, but taking that outside and letting the rest of the world know how proud you are of your team members, that goes a long way in creating connection.

I love that because it's about recognition of individual employees and showing an example of what the company values and why. And it's very tangible, it's very personal. And I think back to the 90s or maybe even the 80s, where you have these corporate mission statements and there'd be posters on the wall. And then I worked for a technology company, National Instruments, and we had our badges that had the guiding principles that you would carry around in your security badge. And that's great and all, but the turning point to me was when they took that mission statement and the motto and all of that stuff and told it through personal stories and had people I knew up on the wall and had awards ceremonies and took those principles and put them into action. And so I think it's a little bit of both, right? We need that top down messaging, but also that bottom up follow through and individual recognition.

Well, and really that's where it starts, with the top down, because there's too many times when it comes to employee engagement initiatives or appreciation initiatives that the leaders of the organization just look at that as an HR task. And if they're not buying it from the very tops of the organization, it's not going to happen. And we need also to create a culture where it's okay to create that full circle. Because if I go to you and you're my boss and I say, you know, Wendy, I just so enjoy working with you, you are like, my favorite boss of all time. And all my colleagues are like, oh, there's Lisa sucking up again. Look at that. What's she trying to get this time? I mean, managers need love too. It should be perfectly safe for me to be able to express my feelings about my boss to that person, letting them know what they like. As much as it's an expectation for you as my boss to catch me in the act of doing things well. One of my sessions, and this was several years ago, but it just stuck with me. I had a guy come up to me after one of my programs and he said, you know, Lisa, when I do something wrong, I get recognized 100% of the time.

And when I do something well, it rarely gets noticed. And we need to flip that script. Exactly. We need to flip that script so that we're focusing on what people are doing well first and then having the necessary difficult conversations for what needs to improved next.

Yeah. So back to setting that tone top down. You mentioned it's not just HR comes up with this. Right. It needs to be executive leadership. And one of the things that we do at TREW Marketing is when we're working on brand positioning and messaging with leadership, we gather voice of customer. What is the external target audience? These different buyer personas, what do they think about our company? And I feel like one step that's sometimes overlooked if there's not a strong HR function is what our employees think and putting all of those voices together to help inform this next iteration of branding and messaging. So I love the idea of this cross functional team and voices from all over, right?



I had one of my clients, a textile company, what they did is they put together an employee experience team and it was cross departmental from all the different areas of the plant and what they found. And they interviewed employees to see what they wanted and they wanted to listen to music. But when you have 200 employees wanting to listen to music, that is a cacophony of sound that would not be good. So what? They said, well, okay, that's a good idea, but how would we do it? It's like, okay, well, what if they listen to their music through earbuds? And this is before all the wireless ones and it's like, okay, well, that's cool, but isn't there some danger with the equipment, the wires getting caught? They said, well, what if they put the wires up through their shirt? Okay, that could work. But what they do is if somebody is talking to them, they're only allowed to wear one earbud at a time because of the fact from safety issues and stuff. And if somebody else comes to talk to them, they have to take that earbud out as a matter of respect. So they took an idea that basically cost the company no money, took no additional time, and it gave the people what they wanted.

And these are just the little things that we just listen and we act on what our employees want. And in most cases, it's going to be much less than we think that they want.

How often do you recommend that companies gather feedback like this from their employees?

Well, you want to do it often enough because too many times these companies will hire a high price consultant to come in and do this huge employee engagement survey. And then nine months go by and they're still compiling the data and the employees are like, well, that was a complete waste of my breath. Why would I share that? So we can, number one, make it more regular, not to the point of burnout six or seven questions done maybe once a quarter in these short pulse type surveys. But the most important thing is when you get that survey information back, that your managers have the resources they need to act on it. Because if they go and not that everything is going to cost money, but things do. So looking at some of the ways you can add to the budget so employees see that their leaders are acting on their suggestions and they're like, wow, this is actually worth sharing because the management team is acting on it. So it's important to survey regularly and survey across the board. And not only, like I said, the pulse type surveys, but one of my very favorite things to do and the biggest writer downer that I get in my programs is the Stay interview, because we've all heard about exit interviews, but like I say, I think that's a little late.

Hey, why are you leaving instead of going and talking to every employee and asking them as few as two questions? Tell me three things that you like about working here and then that becomes fodder for your recruiting efforts. And tell me three things that you would change if you were me. You don't want to phrase it like tell me three things that you hate about working here because that would be not be a conversation that you'd want to have.


But if you were me, what would you change? And then looking at those areas and seeing what you can act on. So the Stay Interview, the fact that you're listening to employees, that you're acting on them. Employees just want to be heard. They want to be listened to and their ideas acted on so they feel that they're valuable to the organization.

Excellent. And I love this feedback. And not only the managers can act upon that feedback, it's given the right resources. Great point. And also the marketing can use this feedback to develop messaging, as you say, for recruiting or internal campaigns. So a lot of gold that comes out surveys. Great. Well, shifting gears really fast, I want to make sure we leave time for you to just tell me about your podcast. So it's called the Manufacturer's Network, and how long has it been around and what's the focus of the show?

Well, the funny thing about that is I have been on tons of podcasts, and I was on the industrial and why am I blanking on it? Industrial Talk podcast. And I became fast friends with Scott McKenzie and he's like, you need a podcast? I'm like, no, I like being a guest on podcast. I don't want to have a podcast. And I fought him tooth and nail for months, and then, of course, Covet came around, so I have a Covet inspired podcast. Like, so many of them got started, but I thought that it would be fun to start on 12321. So January 23 of 21 is when my podcast launched with the first ten episodes. But the goal in the Manufacturers Network podcast, the goal of it is to give some meat some ideas, some strategies that manufacturers can use, and also to leave the door open for people to connect with each other and continue the conversation. So I'm learning a lot. I think that I'm just having a blast with it because there's so much new technology and new ways of looking at business and new ways of doing business and manufacturing that it's just been a blast.

So, yeah, thanks for that. It's been a lot of fun.

I really enjoy your podcast. One, you're natural, natural conversation, but I think it's an interesting one because you have such diverse stories on there. So obviously manufacturing is the connection point, but you have a business story one day and a more technical story the next, and it just gives someone a full picture of what's going on in all aspects of manufacturing. So it's pretty unique in that regard, I think. So good job. Thank you. Where can our listeners go to learn more about you and connect?

Sure. My website is, so you can catch me there. And also on LinkedIn, if you look at Lisa Ryan and Gratitude, which is the name of my company for gratitude strategies, I do a lot of posting on LinkedIn, so just send me a note that you heard me on the show today and then I'll accept your request. That would be awesome. Great.

And I'll include links to those in our Show Notes today. Thank you so much for being here with me and sharing your expertise, Lisa. I really appreciate it.

You're very welcome.

Thanks for joining me today on Content Marketing Engineers. For Show Notes, including links to resources, visit TREWemarketing. Compodcast. While there, you can subscribe to our blog and our newsletter and order a copy of my book, Content Marketing Engineers. Also, I would love your reviews on this podcast, so please, when you get a chance, subscribe and leave me a review on your favorite podcast subscription platform. Thanks and have a great day.

Wendy Covey

Wendy Covey is a CEO, a technical marketing leader, author of Content Marketing, Engineered, one of The Wall Street Journal’s 10 Most Innovative Entrepreneurs in America, and she holds a Texas fishing record. She resides in a small Hill Country town southwest of Austin, Texas, where she enjoys outdoor adventures with her family.

About TREW Marketing

TREW Marketing is a strategy-first content marketing agency serving B2B companies that target highly technical buyers. With deep experience in the design, embedded, measurement and automation, and software industries, TREW Marketing provides branding, marketing strategy, content development, and digital marketing services to help customers efficiently and effectively achieve business goals.