Kevin P. Dincher

A long-time friend’s recent birthday got me thinking. In the two decades that I have known her, she has never once said thank you for a gift that we’ve sent her—not a birthday present, a Christmas gift, get-well flowers, or congratulatory chocolates—without our asking, “Did you get…?” When asked, she is effusive in her thanks, but having to ask tarnishes the sparkle a bit.

It is now two weeks since our birthday present arrived (thank you, UPS tracking), and we still haven’t heard from her. That has started me thinking about the power of saying (and not saying) thank you. Not the polite but perfunctory thanks you say to the person working the cash register at the grocery store or to the employee who just handed you a copy of the project plan you asked for. As important as those expressions of thanks are, they cost us little. Rather I’m thinking about those thoughtful expressions of thanks that require our time and personal effort. Like picking up the phone to thank a team member for her input at a meeting and explaining how it made a difference. Or writing a thoughtful email or letter to your marketing group thanking them for their work at a recent trade show and the positive impact that work had. Or maybe even getting up from behind your desk and walking across campus to shake the hand of that director who worked extra hours to ensure that report you requested at the last minute was ready when you needed it. Expressions of thanks that require your time, energy and thoughtfulness can be powerful

People Become More Generous

Being thanked makes people feel good about themselves, about their work and about the company where they work. When you acknowledge their efforts, people feel that what they are doing is worthwhile—and people thrive when their contributions have meaning. Letting people know that their work matters to you, to their team and to the company keeps them engaged, excited and motivated—and engaged, excited and motivated workers are more generous with their time, energy and talents. When you cultivate the practice of giving thanks, you encourage people to be more generous.

The opposite is also true: when people don’t hear that their work matters they become disengaged and less generous with their efforts. Why bother doing more if it doesn’t matter? Giving only routine expressions of thanks (or no thanks at all) encourages people to be less generous.

Saying “Thank You” Might Change You

Whether you manage a company, a department or a team, you focus a great deal of your energy each day on solving problems. It’s what managers do: fix what isn’t working, fill gaps, confront challenges, put out fires. In addition, there’s the difficult task of managing under-performing or problematic employees that can take so much time and energy. Cultivating the practice of giving thoughtful thanks broadens your focus: you become more aware of the talented people who are doing amazing work for you—and realize just how fortunate you and your company actually are.

This awareness also makes it easier for you to trust your people. There is much talk about the critical need for leaders to earn and maintain the trust of their workers, but it is just as essential that leaders be able to trust their employees. Leaders and managers who don’t trust their workers tend towards micromanagement. Micromanagement damages morale and erodes teamwork—and productivity and creativity suffer.

Say “Thank You” More Often

Many companies have rituals for saying thank you to their people—end-of-the-year celebrations, newsletter articles, blog posts—and if your company has these rituals, keep doing them. Such public acknowledgments are important and greatly appreciated. If, however, these are your only ways of saying thanks, then you need to up your game.

Always be on the lookout for reasons to thank people. Because so much focus goes to problems, we are usually good at finding out who is not doing good work. It can be a little more difficult to find the good news. Be proactive so you get the good news in a timely manner. Ask your managers and directors for feedback on the good work people are doing regularly and frequently. When you make it a regular part of your team meetings, you train your managers and directors to be on the lookout for the good news.

Once you hear the good news, don’t wait to say thanks. Saying thank you now has a greater impact than waiting a month.

Be Specific

Skip the generic “I hear you’ve been doing some really good work, Jane.” It sounds a bit patronizing (because it is). Be specific about Jane’s contribution and tell her the positive impact of her work. Thank her for the extra hours she put in to ensure that report you requested at the last minute was ready when you needed it—because without it you wouldn’t have been able to land that big new customer. Let Jane know how she saved the day.

Keep it Personal

Keep rewards and your saying thank you separate. Saying thank you in the right way can be a deeply personal and touching experience. Don’t ruin that possibility by offering anything other than your gratitude. There is of course great value in rewarding someone’s good work, but don’t turn your thanks into a quid pro quo transaction—you did “A” for me, so I’ll do “B” for you. If the person truly deserves to be rewarded, don’t couple it to your thanks. Utilize your company’s rewards system.

The magic words: “please” and “thank you.” We learned them as children, but they aren’t just for children. They convey a wealth of meaning to others—and are powerful.

Kevin Dincher is an organization development consultant, professional development coach and educator with 30 years of experience that includes not only OD consulting but also work in adult education,  counseling psychology and crisis management, program and operations management, and human resources.  Kevin currently provide services to non-profit organizations through a partnership with Professionals in Philanthropy.

LinkedIn: Kevin Dincher