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Employee + client retention through radical generosity (feat. John Ruhlin)

Aug 4, 2021

You have a business plan. You have a marketing plan. But do you have a relationship plan? 


Most leaders would agree that success depends heavily on relationships — with team members, with suppliers, with partners, with clients and customers. Yet, many don’t prioritize relationship-building in a meaningful, memorable way.


Instead, leaders may default to the “expected” ways of relationship building: giving standard gifts at birthdays, the holidays or dinners out during the “wooing” period with a potential employee or client.


According to John Ruhlin, this type of gifting is expected and just table stakes. It’s the bare minimum, and it doesn’t earn you any “brownie points” with the recipient.


John is the founder of Giftology, a company that specializes in building loyalty through radical generosity. He believes that the secret to employee retention, winning more high-figure deals, and earning incredible referrals is unexpected and emotionally intelligent gift-giving.


Where most leaders go wrong with gifting


The biggest mistake many leaders make when it comes to gifting is that they treat it like a transaction, trying to minimize their financial and time investment:

  • Giving a gift and immediately following it with an ask
  • Opting for a standard gift (such a bottle of wine) without personalization
  • Choosing the least expensive gift they can
  • Only gifting to the decision-makers
  • Sending trinkets with the company logo
  • Only gifting at expected times (such as at the holidays)


Each of these gifting tactics risks feeling like a manipulation to the recipient.  It’s clear there was no serious thought put into selecting the gift, or the gift itself feels designed to drive business rather than deepen a relationship.


How to use gifting for employee retention


As employees are asked to return to the office post-pandemic, many leaders are (rightfully) concerned about losing great team members.


John’s philosophy of radical generosity is an excellent way to make employees feel safe and appreciated during a stressful time. For example, during the pandemic, Giftology decided to think outside the box with employee gifts and give every team member a year of weekly housecleaning to make working remotely less stressful. Additionally, the company sent $5,000 mattresses to every employee household to help them sleep better and reduce stress.


Though such gifts may seem like an extravagance, John believes that thoughtful gifts like these go a long way toward encouraging employees to take ownership of their role at the company and show they care about well-being. As he puts it, to get the best from your team (including loyalty), you need to connect to their hearts, not their heads.


How leaders can start using generosity to build loyalty


If there’s one takeaway from John’s interview, it’s that leaders should create a relationship plan every year the same way they create a marketing plan. Decide on a percentage of profits you will reinvest into your relationships every year.


When business rises and falls on the strength of your relationships, any investment in people will have an incredible ROI.


John also shares…
  • How a thoughtful and well-timed gift increased referrals by 107% for one company
  • How to avoid your gift being perceived as a bribe or manipulation
  • The embarrassing mistake many companies make with employee gift-giving


To learn more from John, start by downloading the Giftology Business Gifting Playbook.


Interested in more? Here’s another great Enlightened Executive interview, featuring Erica Ariel Fox, who talks about the importance of negotiating with yourself first before doing any other types of negotiation.

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