Saying thanks

It's the time of year when people in leadership roles start to think about saying thank you for a great year. My mailbox is full of offers for fruit baskets, care packages, Kringles (I live in Wisconsin, they are great!), and any number of corporate gift services.

There is nothing wrong with saying thanks at the end of the year! I know that the people on your team appreciate your thoughtfulness, but you can't say it too often. Research shows that at least half of all employees don't feel that their manager says thanks or appreciates them enough.

It does help if you make the gift as special to your team as possible; the formal corporate-style baskets are nice, but you'll make a bigger impact with something specific to a team challenge or accomplishment. A personal, handwritten note is also a great touch.

However. . . .

A great leader is thinking about saying thank you all through the year. A genuine leader knows about the specific obstacles that individuals face through the year, and makes sure to show appreciation aligned with those major milestones.

Some examples:

  • A sales team works for weeks putting together a large sales contract for a big new client. A great leader will say thanks – and she will do it when the bid is submitted, not when the bid is won. It may take weeks for the client to evaluate the proposal – so don't wait to say thanks for the work! Win or lose, you have to appreciate the contribution as it happens in order to have the best impact.
  • A technical team is ready with a large new release for a software platform. When the new release goes live, that's a great time to say thanks to the team. Why wait until the end of the year? Most people are expecting something at the end of the year, but celebrating and saying thanks for a major milestone is the best way to appreciate hard work.
  • Individual milestones, such as completion of a certification exam or a graduate degree, are also great chances to recognize people for hard work. Again, the key is to acknowledge the work, not just the results.

What can you do to say thanks? Celebrating all members of a team together creates camaraderie. Doing it during working hours means that no one has to take personal time. While you and some of your team may enjoy an after-hours repast, others on the team may have kids, spouse work schedules, or community leadership responsibilities that make extra time after work a burden, not a recognition of thanks.

Rewarding a few people more than others on a project creates jealousy and resentment. Make sure you include everyone in your thanks – and that includes clerical people, warehouse people, whoever is involved in supporting the team.

When you thank someone individually, be careful that your gift is not too large or too personal. A large or highly personal gift could be misconstrued as something more than a professional acknowledgement of thanks. A gift certificate to a person's favorite restaurant is a good example of an individualized gift because it doesn't obligate either a certain time or a person to celebrate with.

One of the best ideas I've seen is when a manager of mine wanted to thank me for a significant period of overtime and travel. He sent a letter of thanks and some flowers – to my wife! That one really made a lasting impression.

During this Thanksgiving, I hope you can take some time to spend with your family and friends, and that your work allows you a break from the daily routine. When you do get a chance to read this update (hopefully next week!), please know that I appreciate your time and readership. None of this happens without a great team of readers and colleagues like you.

I also want to extend my special thanks and appreciation to my dear wife Leslie. She reads all my posts before going live and invariably makes them better. She also supports the time investment for me to write! I could not have a better partner and supporter, and I appreciate what she does for me.

I wish you the best holiday times ahead!  

Dale Rebhorn

Dale Rebhorn

Dale Rebhorn is a teacher and student of leadership.
Madison, Wisconsin, USA