Developing Your Talent

Affirming the Value of Your Workforce through Small Decencies

By Steve Harrison on April 22, 2013

The attitudes and behaviors we bring to the office every day shape the culture of an organization – arousing strong performance or dampening motivation. Inspirational leaders never underestimate the impact of attitude and the power of “small decencies” demonstrated in their behavior. They recognize – and respect – that doing business goes beyond financial results. They understand the transformative powers of unprompted acts of kindness and generosity – small decencies – that immediately affirm the importance and value of individual team members.

As I discuss in my book, The Manager’s Book of Decencies: How Small Gestures Can Build Great Companies, “Small decencies by definition are authentic, low cost, spontaneous, and require no elaborate planning or permission, so they are easy to use with frequency.” There are also no strings attached. A small decency does not come shrouded in the cloak of a hidden agenda, nor is it extended with the expectation of reciprocity – it’s simply a serendipitous demonstration of appreciation. Can the organization benefit from these freely offered gestures? Of course. Small decencies are organic and grow naturally, spreading goodwill that fuels a corporate culture driven by passion and purpose.

Decencies are observable behaviors that act as catalysts for action: tangible evidence that we matter and that every role is essential to the success of an organization. For example, during the course of a workday, great leaders make time for brief, impromptu conversations with colleagues beyond the executive suite – be they receptionists, front-line or backroom personnel. No large investment in time or resources is involved, and the decency shouldn’t intrude on other obligations of a busy day. To be most effective, small decencies should be replicable across a wide audience and apply to different circumstances.

Leaders who demonstrate small decencies will notice the ripple throughout the organization as others follow suit – generating kindness and pride among employees, customers, vendors, and even the community. So whether you’re leading a little league sports team, a high school classroom, a community organization or a global corporation with thousands of moving parts, it’s never out of fashion to extend tangible gestures of acknowledgement and appreciation. It’s simply the right thing to do.

In upcoming posts I’ll talk about specific ways to implement small decencies in the workplace.


 Steve Harrison is a longtime management and corporate culture innovator.  He is the author of The Manager’s Book of Decencies: How Small Gestures Can Build Great Companies.  This is the first in an eight-part series from Steve addressing a philosophy of doing business that goes beyond the transfer of goods and services. It calls for a transfer of values known as small decencies.   Steve is co-founder and Chairman of Lee Hecht Harrison and former chief ethics and compliance officer of Adecco Group. 

3 Responses to “Affirming the Value of Your Workforce through Small Decencies”

  1. Kent Wrenn

    “It’s the little things that make a BIG difference” our CEO would say. As the head of a $1.5B organization his simple act of holding open the door for a co-worker, greeting them with a smile and more often than not by name, was a small gestures that made a big difference for that person and everyone who witnessed it. He was, simply, “the most decent person” I knew and who is still teaching me lessons today – 10 years since I last saw him.

  2. Peter Doris

    Well begun. I’ll look forward to the unfolding of Steve’s thinking in the coming posts


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