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Coming out of a long-delayed teleconference with my customer, where she profusely thanked my team members for navigating the challenges in the project and delivering the output neatly, I was reminded of the student conferences that happen in my college.

Once or twice a year, we students come together to organize a conference in our course of study. Professors and researchers from other institutes and industry attend the conference, speak about their work and exchange ideas with the students. Irrespective of the format of such conferences, there is one event that happens predictably, more as a rule, like the opening diagonal serve in Ping-Pong, though how each conference proceeds after that is random and varies greatly.

The dean of our college enters the stage with sheets of paper and patiently reads out to the audience his appreciations for our accomplishments – students who had achieved the top ranks in the university exams, students who have published research papers in the past year, sportsmen and sportswomen who have bagged medals – all these people are duly appreciated. We students half-listen to him as if he is a foreign language soap we are forced to watch, and at the end, clap him away so that our main events can begin.

Why were we so thankless and dispassionate, despite knowing that the Dean had taken great pains to curate all that past information in order to appreciate us publicly?

Maybe because of just that. His appreciations came a long time after our achievements and even then, he did what he did only because the etiquette asked for it, not because he genuinely felt like congratulating.

For how many of us is this ‘Gosh! yes,’ true?

How many times have we thanked or appreciated somebody just because the dais called for it?

How many times have we taken our team member’s gesture for granted until we are forced to realize it is good behaviour to thank?

Building a platform

It is entertaining to wonder how the human mind assumes any favour it receives is rightly due to it and therefore could be accepted and dismissed without further ado.

When we were thinking of the values to run our organization by, the values that will guide us every day in the workplace, we knew this particular hardwire was touchy and were determined to kill it, starting from the grassroots level. But how exactly did we go about it?

You may or may not be a fan of the Harry Potter series, but you sure must have come across the storyline. A student of little powers has to fight a deadly villain. The statement that J.K. Rowling wanted to make through her series is that good always triumphs evil. So how did she go about it? Take all the characteristics of ‘good’ and mould the protagonist out of it and take all the characteristics of ‘evil’ and mould the villain from it. So Harry Potter is friendly, selfless and courageous while the villain Voldemort is self-obsessed, overly ambitious and ruthless, even nicknamed ‘The Dark Lord’. When crowds of audience saw the boy defeating the villain in the finale, it was reaffirmed in their hearts that good always wins over evil. This would not have been our take-away had J.K. Rowling been an advocate of optimism posting quotes on social media. No one would stop scrolling to read.

So while hanging placards like ‘Thank and appreciate heartily and immediately’ over our coffee machines or on the doors to meeting rooms might have been easier, it might not have been effective.

Instead, what we wanted to create was a virtual, always available platform to let people thank and appreciate each other anytime.

How could we give a character to this, how could we turn this wispy principle we had chosen as one of the workplace values into a concrete form of expression?

Does Harry Potter ring a bell?

We decided to mould this virtual platform into a shiny brass bell of 5 pounds and hang it in the middle of our workplace by a brass wall hanger.

In the hustle of everyday work, there are many things that happen; a group of friends join for a water-cooler catch-up, a flustered soul prays for the printer to not jam yet again, a calm cookie reads the headlines over a cup of brewed coffee. When one of our 600 walks to the wall where the bell hangs and rings it thrice, the entire workplace stops chatting/working/sipping and turns its head. At this point, our team member shares their appreciation by thanking out loud and applause chimes in from all over the floor. This applause comes from those who join in to thank, those who value the efforts and even individuals who might not be closely related but take a moment to praise the gesture.

The idea taking root and becoming a practice and then a culture was profound when we opened our new office in Germany last year. Despite adorning it with the latest technology and convenient products, it looked incomplete. What we found to be missing was the celebratory bell, so we procured a similar brass bell in Munich. Yet, we couldn’t source a hanger and only after we shipped in a hanger from our headquarters did the workspace chime in.

The echoes from ringing a bell

Once a dais was created, the extended occasions that have come to be celebrated with this bell are surprising!

Last year, when our CEO won the emerging entrepreneur award from an industry body, we sounded the bell and shared a common pride in the news. As recently as three months back, we wanted to appreciate the hard work of our housekeeping staff in keeping our workplace clean and sanitized so that we could work without any anxiety about the virus. So we rang the bell to thank them all for their extra effort and attention to detail.

This instantaneous platform, we see, has been bringing out the genuineness in the thank-you of our people, which makes both the giver and the receiver feel good and offers the rest of us some free encouragement.