“Thank You”: The Most Effective Tool Every Executive Should Use

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In the perpetual pursuit for innovation, companies worldwide are willing to shell out millions, even billions, to gain an edge over their competitors. Amazon, in 2017, is reported to have spent ‘$16.1 billion’[1] on R&D (a 28.8% increase from their 2016 expenditure) and this kind of colossal spending is certainly one factor attributed to the retail giant’s success. Spending does not always directly translate to results, however, and I would argue that, for a lot of companies that are looking to increase their productivity, there is a simple and free option that could have the greatest impact. What’s the secret? It’s as simple as saying thank you.

The idea of thanking customers is not a new idea – or rather, it shouldn’t be – but there is a shortfall for some in this area. Have you ever thought about how many thanks you give to your workforce? There is a plethora of research which highlights the “Importance of expressing gratitude”[2] along with “Graciously thank[ing] other people for what they do”[3]. Politeness and displays of gratitude may seem obvious in a general setting, but a survey conducted by the John Templeton Foundation found that “People are less likely to express gratitude at work than anyplace else”[4]. The Gratitude Survey went on to suggest that 74% “Never or rarely express gratitude to their boss”[5] and 70% “Would feel better about themselves if their boss were more grateful”[6]. Another survey put forward by Willis Towers Watson also expressed that, even if environments where “Opportunity and well-being are clearly part of the culture”[7], manager recognition can still distinctly improve engagement in team projects, whereby they offer an increase in “Favourable engagement scores”[8] from 77% to 91%.

With all of this data in mind, one might think it wise to start increasing displays of gratitude for their staff’s performance. Maybe one might think that they’ll gain the lucrative benefits on offer by simply dropping the odd thank you e-mail, but I’m afraid to say it’s not that simple. True gratitude in the business world comes from showing “Sincere appreciation for something specific”[9] and not only “Acknowledge[ing] someone’s effort, thoughtfulness, intent, or action…[but also] the person himself”[10]. To this end, it takes more than an impersonal, throw away message and requires true communication with an employee to say that you really did understand the contribution they made as well as their sacrifices in delivering such a contribution.

What ways are there to show this sort of sincere appreciation? One idea could be to follow in the footsteps of Andy Mills, former chairman of Thomson Financial, by keeping a “Gift notebook”[11] to jot down small observations on what might make an appropriate gift for outstanding employees or team members. One could also take a leaf out of Mattel’s book and create a reward scheme similar to their Rave Reviews program, whereby employees could show gratitude to each other in the form of an “E-certificate for a free soft drink or coffee”[12]. In the Digital Age, it can also be quite refreshing to send a personal handwritten card or thank you note as a way to really show an individual that “You’re particularly grateful for [them] at work”[13].

Regardless of the steps you might employ to improve your dialogue of gratitude, remember that the focus should be on improving employees’ positive engagement and it should not be a superficial display. The aforementioned John Templeton Foundation Gratitude Survey revealed “94% of women and 96% of men agree that a grateful boss is more likely to be successful”[14], but you are not going to achieve the desired results if your heart isn’t in it; you will only succeed in that game if you have a genuine “Willingness to share credit”[15].

To practice what I’ve been preaching, I’d like to say a thank you to you, the reader, with my final thoughts. Thank you for taking the time to read not only this article, but also the rest of my business insights. Thank you for your warm and genuine comments with regards to my work with some excellent opinions and ideas on the relevant subjects. Finally, I’d like to thank you in advance for your consideration of my future articles; hopefully, I can continue to shine a light on some of the more interesting aspects of the modern corporate world.

[1] No author, The 2017 Global Innovation 1000 Study, Strategy&, (London: Pricewaterhouse Coopers, 2017).
[2] Francesca Gino, Be Grateful More Often, Harvard Business Review, (Boston: Harvard Business Publishing 20013).
[3] Ron Ashkenas, Make It a Habit to Give Thanks, Harvard Business Review, (Boston: Harvard Business Publishing 2012).
[4] Janice Kaplan, Gratitude Survey, (Pennsylvania: John Templeton Foundation, 2012), 3.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] No Author, Turbocharging Employee Engagement: The Power of Recognition from Managers, (London: Willis Towers Watson, 2010), 2.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Evan Baehr, 7 Ways to Thank People in Your Network, Harvard Business Review, (Boston: Harvard Business Publishing 2015).
[10] Peter Bregman, Do You Really Need to Say Thank You?, Harvard Business Review, (Boston: Harvard Business Publishing 2012).
[11] Evan Baehr, 7 Ways to Thank People in Your Network, Harvard Business Review, (Boston: Harvard Business Publishing 2015).
[12] Robert A Eckert, The Two Most Important Words, Harvard Business Review, (Boston: Harvard Business Publishing 2013).
[13] Henna Inam, A Thank-You Letter To Your Co-Workers, Forbes, (New York: Forbes Media, 2017).
[14] Janice Kaplan, Gratitude Survey, (Pennsylvania: John Templeton Foundation, 2012), 3.
[15] David DeSteno, How to Cultivate Gratitude, Compassion and Pride on Your Team, Harvard Business Review, (Boston: Harvard Business Publishing 2018).

About the Author: Steven Brown is a Partner in the Auckland office.

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