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Thank-you notes: Small effort, big impact

Editor’s Note: Quint Studer is the author of Building a Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change Is Reshaping America.” He will speak in Elkins on Thursday, March 5.

I’ve written many thank-you notes over the years, and it’s something I still do today. Often 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 me 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, awards, and 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 one note from my grandfather had made on them.

So the dots connected for me at the wake. Though many of these people didn’t know my grandpa, his taking the time to write meant so much to them, 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 thank-you notes. How were they composed? How were they sent? Who were they from?

So how can you hardwire thank-you notes into your and your organization’s lives? Here are some tips to help create a significant impact with your thank-you notes and how to create a system that helps ensure notes are written.

Be specific. I’m asked this a lot: “Should thank-you notes be handwritten or is e-mail okay?” While an e-mail or text is better than no note at all, a handwritten note is much more impactful (though a handwritten note is best, a typed note can also be extremely effective). What really makes the note effective is its specificity (i.e., what the person did, the impact it had, some background information, etc.). The more specific the note the better.

Send the note to the person’s home if possible. A note sent 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. Once I was speaking to a large group, and I asked the audience if they had ever received a thank-you note from their boss. Some hands went up. I asked one of the people how he 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 used a system in which each week selected leaders are asked to send me an email with the name of an employee (or customer, vendor, etc.) and why this person should get a thank-you note. I then take their email and write a thank-you note to the employee, always letting the employee know I have gotten a note from their supervisor and outlining what the note said.

The main message is: Don’t underestimate the difference you can make in people’s lives by letting them know they are appreciated.

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