Small Gestures, Big Payoffs A simple thank-you note or a five minute chat can make employees feel included and valued.

There are many simple ways to create a positive feeling among your staff, change old habits, and link everyone's actions to a shared vision. Along those lines, it doesn't take a major effort to come up with ways to thank people for a job well done. The following examples are from companies I've found doing small things that make a big difference.

Innovative Thank-You's - At Bush Gardens, owned by Anheuser-Bush Inc. in Tampa, Fla., all managers receive simple tokens with the words "thank you" on one side and the company's logo on the other. At any time, any manager can give a token to an employee doing a great job. If turned in, the tokens are worth $10. What's really interesting is that more than 50 percent of the recipients prefer to keep the tokens as a reminder of their achievement and the person who noticed it.

- American Airlines in Dallas, Texas, provides a software program to all employees to print out thank- you notes to give to other employees on the job. This simple idea helps to leverage the company's recent investment in home computers and free Internet access for all employees.

Employee-Driven Change - At the General Electric lightning arrester plant located in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, representatives from all parts of the plant come together to discuss suggested changes or improvements. Instead of having the managers make all the decisions, however, the hourly workers - known as "associates" - run the meetings on their own. The managers - known as "advisers" - intervene only at the request of the team. A year after start-up, the plant's employees measured 20 percent higher in productivity than their closest counterpart in the mainland United States.

Shared Vision - At American Express in Phoenix, AZ, managers are trained not only to communicate decisions, but to explain to employees exactly why they have made those decisions - a concept they call "link & label." For example, if someone is given a development opportunity, such as a chance to take on a special assignment, the manager explains why the assignment is being offered and how it fits into the employee's career development plan. This approach has gone a long way toward showing employees that their managers - and their company - have their best interests at heart.

Continuous Communication - The Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Fla., makes use of "five-minute chats," during which managers talk with 10 employees - known as "cast members" - who do not work directly under them. The goal is simple: to check in on how the employees are doing. The result is priceless: a more united, better informed staff that has a greater sense of teamwork, especially during busy times.

1. Focus on what can be done, not on what can't. Keep a positive outlook as a manager, and you'll find it's contagious.

2. Don't dismiss small gestures. These can - and do - make a significant impact on today's employees, if you take them seriously and give them a chance to work.

3. Recognize the power of each person. Each person on your team can have a significant impact in their immediate sphere of influence: with customers, the people they work with, and their ability to suggest and follow up on ideas.