I’ve written many thank you notes over the years, and it’s something I still do today. Many are written to people in my home city of Pensacola.
Often during the week I’ll have someone come up to me, thank me and tell me they have kept the note. Sometimes I’ll walk into a business and the owner will show where he or she has put my thank you note on display.
It’s a win-win feeling.
The positive effect thank you notes create became evident to me as a 16-year-old at my grandfather’s wake in 1967. My grandfather, L.L. Studer, had written countless notes. He congratulated people on new jobs. On awards. He’d congratulate for noted accomplishments. They were addressed to people young and old.
At his wake, the line of people waiting to talk to my grandmother Belle Studer was enormous. Many of those people let her know the impact that of one note from my grandfather had made on them.
The next day, I found about four file cabinets with four drawers each. In them were hundreds of carbon copies of notes my grandfather had sent. I remember specific topics: One was congratulations for the success of a high school band. One was for becoming an eagle scout. One was for being named president of a service club. Several were congratulatory for job promotions.
So the dots connected for me at the wake. Though many of these people didn’t know grandpa, the impact of taking his time to write meant so much, and they relayed that message to my grandma. Hearing this had an impact that still lives with me today.
I studied a number of tactics meant to create organizational excellence years ago, and thank you notes came up in the top six. However, when looking deeper it was more than just sending a thank you note. How was it composed? How were they sent? Who were they from?
So how can you hardwire thank you notes into you and your organization’s life? There is a good way and a great way.
I’ll give some tips to help create a significant impact with your thank you notes and how to create a system that helps assure notes are written (I find most of us have good intentions but our actions when it comes to sending thank you’s can pale in comparison.) For this column, I’ll keep the focus on workplace thank you notes.
- Be specific. I’m asked this a lot – “Should they be hand written or is e-mail ok?” While an e-mail or text is better than no note at all, a hand-written note is much more impactful. In addition, a hand written note is the best, however a typed note can also be extremely effective. What really makes the notes effective is its specificity. A general thank you note is better than no note, however the magic is in the specifics. Such as what the person has done, the impact it has, some background information, etc. The more specific the note the more impact is has. The note does not have to be long, however it does need to be specific.
- Send the note to the home if possible. A note to the home of an employee leaves an indelible mark. It becomes a family conversation. I could write a book on stories I have heard over the years from people about the impact of a note received at home. I speaking to a large group and I asked the audience if they have ever received a thank you note from their boss. Some hands went up. I asked one of the people how they felt. “Would you like to see it?” he replied. In the front pocket of his folder he carried the note he had received from the president of the company.
- Create a system and have the notes come from the direct supervisor’s boss or better yet the person in the top leadership position. Since my days in Chicago in the mid 1990s I have set up a system in which each week selected leaders as asked to send me an email, with the name of an employee (can be customer, vendor etc.). They also outline why this person should get a thank you. I then take their note and write a thank you to the employee always letting them know I had gotten a note from their supervisor and outline what the note said. Then it goes to the employee’s home. This has so many great effects.
— Seeing supervisors know they need to send a name to me, they are much more aware of the many good work the staff is doing.
— It helps me learn more specifically the great work taking place, some of which are actions and ideas we can scale throughout the organization.
— It makes me more visible to the employee who I may not see very often due to the shift or location people work in.
I outline the above approach I ask an organization I’m working with this question: “If you get a note from your supervisor’s boss or the top leader in the organization that outlines that they are writing due to the note they received from your direct supervisor, how does that make you feel about your supervisor?”
The answer is always great.
I then ask “How does it make your feel about the person you received the note from?” The answer is even better. This creates a win/win/win.
The main message is don’t underestimate the difference you make in people’s lives by letting them know they are appreciated.