A Simple Thank You
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A Simple Thank You by Kevin McManus

First published in Industrial Engineer magazine February 2005

One of the lowest cost performance improvement tools is also one of the least used - and the least correctly used. I'm talking about the thank-you. Companies spend thousands of dollars learning to design and install formal ways to recognize employees while failing to ensure that a simple thank-you is used consistently and effectively in the organization. Before you make the same mistake, take a thank-you application (TYA) assessment of your own company.

The assessment process is simple. During the course of one working day, count the number of times you hear someone say "thank you" to someone else or when you use the phrase yourself. Also keep track of how often someone uses a well-designed thank-you - one with real meaning attached to it. The chance to give good informal recognition is often missed entirely, and when the opportunity is seized, the compliment can be halfhearted or presented in a insincere manner.

In addition to giving you an indication of how well your organization is using this low-cost tool, the TYA assessment will give you a snapshot of your organizational culture. Too often, thank-you is used as a tool (or even as a weapon) for people to get what they want instead of as a way to show gratitude or send a message of appreciation for the contributions or courtesy extended to us.

I still remember the feedback I received as part of a performance review that occurred almost 20 years ago. My supervisor informed me that one of the two people I supervised felt that I did not appreciate her efforts. I was shocked to hear this because I really did appreciate her work and knew that I could not get things done without her help. When I shared this with my boss, he encouraged me to think about how many times I had actually told her that directly. From that point forward, I have tried to improve on the frequency and delivery of my thank-yous.

Failing to use this simple tool sends a powerful message to people, just as effectively using it does. We are trying to get people to use new work practices, focus on the customer more, and improve the quality of their work. We spends lots of money trying to learn better ways to motivate people through the use of gift certificates, plaques, and tickets to sporting events that are given out to only a select group of people. At the same time, we fail to say thank you to each of our people every day in a manner that means something to them.

How does your staff know what is important to you? How often do you fail to recognize behaviors that are consistent with what you expect? Positive behavior reinforcement is a much more powerful motivator than negative feedback - it helps develop intrinsic motivation as opposed to extrinsic motivation. Saying thank you is free, and it is a form of recognition that can be distributed at any time.

I hope you TYA assessment proves me wrong, at least in the case if your organization. I experience several interactions each day as a customer, and more often than not, the service provider either fails to thank me for my business or does so in a manner that is consistent with the "Remember to say thank you" note that is scrawled on the time sheet next to the cash register. We have digressed as a society to that level - we have to be reminded to tell people we appreciate them. Real thank you's require a human touch.

Would You Like to Learn More?

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How to Develop a High Performance Work Culture
10 Ways to Change Your Work Culture
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Last Revised - March 2, 2015