How much impact can a small note of thanks have?

Last week I caught up with a former colleague.

She had recently been to a leadership conference, internal to her company, and was sharing some of her key take-aways with me.

One item that stuck out as a highlight was a discussion that had been held about thank-you notes. Specifically, hand-written thank-you notes, and the impact receiving one can have.

She mentioned that a former leader had been called out for their practice of writing personalized, hand-written thank you notes by several of the attendees

It got me thinking ... about the times I received recognition from a leader.

Have you ever received a personal thank-you note from your boss, or another superior at your company? Do you remember how it made you feel?

I can definitely remember receiving my first one! I’d been working for about six months only, and it came from my Supervisor’s boss, the Division Manager. I still have a print-out of that email more than 25 years later! It truly made an impression on me.

And I can also still remember the first time I received a handwritten note of thanks not too long after when I started in my first formal leadership role.

I was a supervising engineer and I’d been in the role for about four months. I’d been working hard with my engineers on their project cost management skills and discipline. You see our team’s projects were being featured on the company internal monthly report each month. But for all of the wrong reasons! With significant cost overruns - and many that had been unforeseen - we were losing credibility, okay, I was losing credibility with my boss. And as a new leader, I wanted to move quickly to turn this around.

I decided to get us focused, as a team, on ways we could get better at predicting and forecasting when our project costs would deviate from the initial plan. Instead of only thinking about the execution and operational aspects of the projects, as we'd historically been doing.

After a few months, the monthly project cost report came out and to my delight, none of our team projects were listed with cost overruns!

Our team had gone from being constantly a 'bad actor' on this report, to being in full compliance in just four months. I was so happy!

The next day, I found another copy of the report in my inbox. This time, it had a handwritten message across the top. It read, “Nothing from your team here. Well done!” (I still have this in my keepsake box, too!)

It felt so good to be recognized!

And it immediately occurred to me that I hadn't actually recognized my team.

I immediately hand-wrote a memo to my team, made copies for everyone of my boss's congrats note and attached that too. It took less than fifteen minutes.

Afterwards, I noticed that the impact on my team was incredible. They felt so happy to have been recognized for their efforts, not just by me, but also by my boss. And this, in turn, provided extra motivation and momentum to keep up the new practices we'd developed together to manage our project costs. Talk about a win-win!

I learned a lot from this small event. Here are the key points:

  • Recognition feels great to receive - especially for something that has taken concerted effort and commitment
  • Recognition given is always more impactful for others than you can imagine
  • Recognition helps support a culture of appreciation and motivates excellence in performance
  • Good old fashioned hand-written recognition means a lot to people
  • It doesn't take long to do it! And the cost-benefit ratio is awesome!

As I reflect on the many years of my career, I can honestly say, that the recognition notes and cards that I have received from superiors really did have a positive impact on me ... and it was this positive impact that I translated and passed down to the people working for and around me over the years, by taking the time to write thank-you cards myself. More times than not, my thank-you notes were received with a good deal of appreciation that was communicated back to me. This kind of reciprocity of gratitude really does set the tone for a great team environment.

When was the last time you received a note of recognition from your boss?

When is the next time you'll be sending some recognition to your high-achieving direct reports or peers?

Remember to make it personal, hand-written if possible, in today's socially distanced environment, with many of us still working from home, a letter or card in the old fashioned mail from you might be just what your team member needs!

Supporting you on your leadership journey,

Magenta Roads, Principal, Carla Santamaria

PS. Please share if you found this helpful.


Gratitude, Recognition, Thanks

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