I grew up in an Oprah household. I would often rush home from school to catch The Rosie O’Donnell Show —a fun, celebrity-filled, koosh ball romp with a side of Rosie’s craft corner. But once the curtains closed on the Rosie show, my mom would come into the family room for the main event—The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Oprah’s talk show ran for 25 seasons and collected 47 Daytime Emmy awards. Along with millions of other fans, I tuned into her final show on May 25, 2011. As she reminisced about memories from her soundstage in Chicago, Oprah shared a lesson from her career that’s stuck with me to this day.
“I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show and all 30,000 had one thing in common. They all wanted validation...every single person you ever will meet shares that common desire. They want to know: ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?’”
Oprah has since expanded on the importance of validation in many other speeches and commencement addresses. She calls it the “common denominator in the human experience” and says it even applies to Ms. “Run the World” herself — Beyonce.
It may seem obvious, but so often in our professional careers, especially at fast-paced startups, we forget the human behind the email, the person behind the C-suite title, or the experienced, but nervous, candidate coming for an interview.
I could write pages on the power of creating exceptional employee experiences, but for now, with Oprah and Beyonce in mind, here are three areas in which I have had success with my teams.
As your company grows, it will be tough to keep up with everyone’s birthdays. There are some cool Slack plug-ins that allow you to auto-notify the team of someone’s birthday. Yet I am a big advocate of putting the responsibility of birthday celebrations on individual teams—those that work closest to the person celebrating.
A key here is to celebrate people how they would be most comfortable. Some people (like me) would like to walk into work and have a surprise party with music blaring and people shouting in their face. Others are reserved and prefer something a little more low key.
Never underestimate the power of passing around a handwritten birthday card and presenting it to your teammate at the beginning or end of a routine meeting. Small gestures can have a big impact. A pro-tip: don’t be afraid to ask the CEO to sign the card.
It’s commonplace to throw an office baby shower for those that are imminently expecting. What’s often overlooked is the challenge of returning to work. Sometimes employees need a recap or 1:1 re-onboarding with their manager to get back into the groove of a fast-moving business.
Continuing the trend of small gestures, reach out to the new parent before they return to ask what they have been enjoying in their time away (aside from their cute new child, of course!). Adorn their desk with their go-to snacks, drinks, fresh flowers, and maybe even a celebrity gossip magazine. Leaving your newborn child is hard enough. The first day back at work shouldn’t feel hard, too.
Birthdays are a given. Engagements and weddings are pretty likely celebrations, too. But I have found the most meaningful moments are the in-betweens. If a coworker finished their 200-hour yoga certification training, send them a small note to congratulate them on their hard work. When someone’s band releases a new song, throw a mini “release” party. Better yet, gather some teammates to go to their next live show.
As I write this, I am reminded that work and life don’t have to be mutually exclusive. We can build working communities that root for our team, in both personal and professional endeavors.
And if you find yourself having a bad day, as an Oprah aficionado, I recommend watching this.