The Power of Gratitude in Product Management

Editor’s note: the following was written by a guest blogger. If you have product management/tech industry experience, and would like to contribute to the blog, please contact [email protected]

Gratitude is an emblem of strength, and when put into practice, it can effectuate stronger organizations. 

Every employee wants to feel appreciated and valued – this is one of the most profound and fundamental human aspirations we all share. The science of human relationships contends that we all want to be seen and acknowledged. There are comprehensive studies that indicate when gratitude is embodied in the ethos of an institution, the customers, employees, and business benefit substantially. 

Gratitude During The Pandemic

Expressing gratitude in our workplace has never been more imperative due to the impact of the pandemic. It has directly influenced our well-being and mental fitness.

We are all experiencing unease about the world, our families, careers, and the uncertainty of what life will be like post COVID. There were engagement parties, weddings, birthday parties and travel that we have put on hold, unsure as to when or even if we will be able to reschedule these events. 

The last 18 months are a testament to the importance of introducing appreciation into our product management culture. Our teams need to be seen, valued, and appreciated, and as product leaders, we are in a privileged role that enables us to put gratitude into practice. 

Product Management and Gratitude 

As product managers, we steer the overall success story of our product(s) by epitomizing the voice of value. We are context providers, emphasis creators, influence identifiers, interpreters, customer advocates, and collaborators. We can achieve all these things as a corollary of expressing gratitude to customers, interns, direct reports, scrum teams, teammates, colleagues, partners, stakeholders, and even leadership.

My PM superpower (I thrive in finding insights beyond the sight of others) long ago purveyed my perception that when I practice gratitude frequently, it carries into the product management culture of my establishment. As a consequence, other people pass on gratitude as well, and eventually, the following transpires: 

  • Thankfulness improves effectualness 
  • Appreciative product leaders are unobtrusive
  • Appreciative product leaders have an advancement awareness

Let’s dive into each one in more detail.

Thankfulness Improves Effectualness

When gratitude is put into action, thankfulness improves effectualness in employees. After we release a new product or feature or see that our scrum and cross-functional teams have been working extra hours to complete a project, I handwrite a personalized thank you note to each member of the engineering, design, content, and partner teams. 

I have routinely done this regardless of the company I worked for – it took me a while to understand its gravity to the people who received these notes. 

A couple of years ago, a new engineer on our team took a picture of a personalized thank you note that I had left on his desk. He sent it to his parents, who lived in another country. He wanted his family to understand the effect of his contribution to the project we had just launched. He wanted them to know he was greatly appreciated and valued at work. I will never forget the excitement in his voice after his parents had sent him back a message about how proud they were of him.

Just recently, a tech lead I had worked with two years ago sent me a picture of a thank you card I had left him. I was floored that after all this time, he kept and still had the card. He wanted me to know how much he valued the gesture.  

Beyond a personalized thank-you card, if I find that someone on my team has done an outstanding job, I make it a practice to write a complimentary note to their immediate supervisor listing their accomplishment and its impact on the project and our organization. 

Another way I demonstrate appreciation is by celebrating the big and small milestones of our cross-functional teams. Pre-Covid, I have been known to bring in donuts, cupcakes, and gummy bears. When a team member is engaged, getting married, having a child, or even getting their driver‘s license in the U.S., we acknowledge and celebrate these momentous events. 

It takes a village to build our products. As a result, I communicate thankfulness to interns, colleagues, partners, and stakeholders by listing their names and departments on a slide when I have the opportunity to present to our leadership. I always bring attention to their efforts – especially if they had to adjust their roadmap to accommodate our project.  

Since my company has a rewards and recognition program, I always take the time to nominate team members for their achievements and be sure to outline exactly how their accomplishments bring value to those affected by their work.

When our interns have completed their tenure, I always give them a thank you note that lists their accomplishments and how appreciative we are that they chose to join our company for the summer and what a difference they made to our teams.  I do this so that when they eventually start their full-time PM role(s), they will pass on the act of gratitude. 

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When customers (particularly power users) take the time to attend a day in the life series, focus groups or advisory board meetings, I follow up each discussion with a personalized thank you note. Additionally, if my organization allows it, I send gourmet gift baskets to their office. 

When I routinely channel gratitude, I find that interns, direct reports, scrum teams, teammates, colleagues, partners, stakeholders, and customers feel appreciated; it demonstrates that their contribution matters. Moreover, it strengthens the actions we want to see repeated – their effectiveness and engagement increase, which is a success for the organization.

Appreciative Product Leaders Are Unobtrusive

One of the attributes product leaders who practice gratitude exemplify is they are unobtrusive.  This characteristic benefits organizations tremendously because these leaders know how to check their egos at the door. By doing so, they personify humbleness in revealing their failings while demonstrating their self-guided improvement. Essentially, they substantiate the growth and learning of other employees by acknowledging their very own imperfections and deficiencies. 

Such affectation is especially valuable because our diverse circumstances affect us at work. Working with individuals from diverse backgrounds that freely express their vulnerability and shortcomings reveals a humbleness that exemplifies collective empathy and a needed shared aspiration – an essential part of the science of human relationships. 

Likewise, I am comfortable telling the stories of my own professional setbacks, like products that have failed in the market and the lessons I’ve learned from those opportunities, how these experiences have shaped my product knowledge, helping me to be a high-performing product leader who knows how to build people and products.

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Transformational leadership is a dexterity necessary to transform, align, and inspire scrum teams, partners, stakeholders, teammates, and leaders. It is one of the styles I intentionally employ to alter and generate change that supports nurturing and shaping the future achievements of our organization. 

When I’m in a group, I will sometimes convey that I, too, don’t know how we’ll get to where we need to be – but I’m excited to go on the journey with my cohorts to figure it out. I find that aligning with my team puts them at ease because they realize that I don’t always have the answers, but I want to learn alongside them. 

Appreciative Product Leaders Have An Advancement Awareness

Appreciative product leaders have an advancement awareness because they are humble. This is motivated by gratitude which safeguards their insightfulness and accessibility to constructive feedback. These traits encourage them to want to be successful product and people leaders.

These types of product leaders recognize that they are constantly a work in progress. Their gratitude generates a shared sense of connection which contributes to their personal and professional growth. This development outlook fortifies their desire to constantly seek out advice to achieve their full potential.

Whether working in companies large or small, I have always ensured I had allies and mentors in leadership to go to for advice and coaching. If I am new to the organization, I look to them to help me understand its ethos, how best to assimilate into the culture, how to impact leadership and stakeholders via storytelling, how to collaborate best, and most importantly, how to bring product vision to fruition. 

When I receive feedback, I put those suggestions into action because I want to be a high-performing product leader. I want to excel not just in my current role but also in my future aspirations, which makes me work even harder at developing myself.

Final Thoughts

Product leaders who express gratitude safeguard that their customers, interns, direct reports, scrum teams, teammates, colleagues, partners, and stakeholders are seen, valued and appreciated. They ensure that the larger impact of their contribution to their organization‘s goals and objectives are not neglected. The recognition has an impact on their well-being, mental fitness, and organizational citizenship disposition.

In addition, when gratitude is put into action, it has a surplus effect that can ameliorate effectualness. Appreciative product leaders who are unobtrusive can motivate and develop people from diverse backgrounds by sharing their own stories of triumphs and setbacks. Likewise, appreciative product leaders have an advancement awareness; they will seek feedback to continue moulding themselves into the effective and fruitful leaders they strive to be. 

Product leaders who use gratitude end up building people who are more trusting in each other, can empathize, are comfortable being vulnerable, collaborate effectively, look out for each other, and make each other better. What you then have are motivated individuals who build best-in-class products for their organizations. 

Meet the Author

Ronke Majekodunmi

Ronke Majekodunmi is a Senior Product Manager with a mission to ensure immense enterprise satisfaction accessing payment-related information. At PayPal, she leads a web-based payments portal, develops the strategy of roadmaps, brings solutions to life by executing in an agile environment, and measures product solutions’ impact on key performance indicators.

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