Recently, Harvard Business Review published an article called “The Easiest Thing You Can Do to Be a Great Boss” that highlighted the need for recognition within the workplace. In the article, HBR highlights the additional value most people feel when getting a handwritten note over an email. Recognizing your team is an essential area of business I think many people neglect to think about. Make it personal and write the note by hand!
This is a principle one of my first business coaches taught me early in my career. Ken Vanderberg stressed the importance of saying thank you. He also stressed the importance of writing messages by hand.
I took Ken’s advice, and I have actively written thank you notes for about 17 years. The HBR article caused me to pause and think back on the power of these notes. Seldom will I get direct feedback from the person that I give the letter of recognition to. Despite that fact, I always see a difference in their spirit and attitude. It is a powerful tool that anyone can use, not just a boss.
I took this principle a step further as I matured in my career and as my business grew. We started a tradition early in the company to have a corporate meeting and holiday party right after Christmas. The first few years we began holding this get-together, I decided to do something bigger than just write a note to “high performers” on the team. I decided to follow the Jim Collins’ principle of having the right people on the bus. We had recently downsized, and I wanted to make a point to the team that we had the right people on the bus. So, a few weeks before Christmas, I wrote a personal holiday card for each employee.
These cards didn’t just say, “Merry Christmas! -Wade.” For each card, I spent time thinking about something the person had done that year and thanking them for it. More importantly, I would try to find something to highlight at work, or in their lives, that I was excited about for the coming year. Like the notes I sent before, very few people said anything to me about the holiday cards. But boy, did it make a huge difference.
This yearly holiday card became a tradition, and now I send one to every employee, every year. I have also expanded that to suppliers and friends of the business. I can tell you it is a ton of work, but it always pays off. The key to the real value is this – you can’t just sign your name to a generic note. You have to say something personal, and the other person has to believe you thought about it.
HBR puts it best when they say the easiest way to be a great boss is… just don’t limit that to the boss. This is so easy, and I would encourage everyone to try to send at least one handwritten note a week. Also, take a digital picture before you send the letter. I wish I had started doing that years ago, for better record keeping!
My only regret on this subject is that it took me 17 years to send one to my first coach — the one that gave me the idea. Thanks, Ken. Your handwritten note is in the mail.