Thank You Less Thank You’s

© 2001 Naomi Karten,

When is a thank you not a thank you? Consider these situations:

The anonymous thank you

While preparing an important presentation, a woman named Ginny requested and received assistance from six people. The presentation was a success. Afterwards, she emailed a message of appreciation to the six. The message began: "Thank you for your inputÖ". No opening names, no greeting, no indication of who the recipients were.

A thank you ought to be a personal thing. Given that only six people were involved, Ginny could easily have sent a separate message to each one, so that she could address each by name. There is, after all, a big difference between "Thank you for your input" (whoever you are) and "Scott, thank you for your input." How much more special Scott might have felt to be personally appreciated for his contribution, rather than to be merged into an anonymous list. 

The sideways thank you

A company event included a recognition ceremony for the people involved in a complex and highly successful implementation. I was pleased that John, the director, planned this acknowledgment; so often, management views the successful completion of a tough job as "what we pay them to do." Not worthy of any special attention, in other words.

John invited each person in turn to the front of the room and described that person’s contribution to the project. Unfortunately, though, instead of looking at each and saying, for example, "Sarah, thank you for the role you played . . .," or "Sarah, your role involved xyz, and I thank you for your efforts," he looked at the audience and said, "Sarah’s role was to xyz."

See the difference? Instead of speaking to each person, he spoke to the audience about each person. John understood the value of public recognition, but it would have had more impact if he had expressed it directly and personally to those who had earned it. 

The clueless thank you

Here’s a message from a senior VP to his managers and directors:

"I want to congratulate you for your superb work in recent months. I hope you will pass along my deep appreciation and personally thank those who report to you. I’m excited about our people and the performance the company experiences through their efforts. We have a great year ahead. Let’s not lose our momentum."

How many people do you suppose felt thanked by this message? Many might have if it had been part of a culture of appreciation. Such was not the case, however. Low morale and high turnover plagued the company, due in part to a prolonged pattern of non-appreciation, made worse by a reorg which treated employees as irrelevant. In such a context, an isolated, long overdue, global, yay-team thank you like this one can only worsen morale and hasten turnover. Which is what it did.

If you want people to feel lifted by your thanks, thank them personally, thank them directly, thank them now.

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