Q&A: Maximizing the Power of Thank You Notes
By Laura Stavrenos with Lucy Crouch, R.N., Studer Group Coach
Do thank you notes really increase employee loyalty and satisfaction? Hardwired Results asked Studer Group coach Lucy Crouch to share her perspective on why they work, what gets in the way of sending them, and why they matter so much to employees….
"We implemented thank you notes in our organization and the impact has been beyond imagination. The release of energy is felt as one walks the hallways! I get a thrill watching people do a great job and am excited about coming to work. This is new. And great."
Phil Bagby, CEO
Ozarks Medical Center, West Plains, MO
HARDWIRED: Studer Group says that effective thank you notes are a "Must Have" to sustain a culture of service and operational excellence. Why are they so important?
LC: A personalized thank you note is one of the very best ways to validate for an employee that he or she is doing worthwhile work and making a difference. The note immediately connects the employee to purpose.… which is important to us in health care. In fact, our desire to make a difference is one of the main reasons we chose health care, whether we are clinicians or housekeepers.
Thank you notes re-recruit employees, a critical tactic when you consider that our nurses are constantly being recruited by other organizations. In fact, a leader at one of the organizations I coach told me about an O.R. nurse who had decided to take a new job. Just before she gave her notice, she came home to a thank you note from the CEO and decided to stay instead. She found herself valuing the culture and didn't want to leave it.
HARDWIRED: Thank you notes can also "manage up" or position people well. How do they do that exactly?
LC: Many organizations suffer from a "we/they" culture that blocks organizational alignment and achievement on key objectives. Thank you notes put everyone on the same side.
Imagine that Helen, a CNA, does a great job with discharge instructions for a patient and his family. Helen's supervisor notices and shares this with the CEO, asking him to send a thank you to Helen. This turns the flywheel in some important ways. First, the CEO is happy to learn the supervisor has trained the CNA well on discharge education. Helen is also thrilled to be recognized by the CEO, but even more importantly, she's been "re-recruited" by her direct supervisor. She feels valued and their bond is strengthened. And last, Helen may even share her note with family members. She becomes a role model for others to emulate on service to patients.
HARDWIRED: What makes for a 'gold standard' thank you?
LC: A note that is specific, hand-written, and mailed to the employee's home. "Thank you for doing a great job" comes off as vague and insincere. Instead try: "Jan told me you were especially sensitive to the needs of the Johnson family last Tuesday after their daughter's surgery. Thank you for being such a difference maker." Anyone can dash off a quick thank you by e-mail, but to receive a hand-written note in the mail is a precious gift. Employees show their parents, their kids, and their friends and neighbors. They keep them forever.
HARDWIRED: So if thank you notes are so valuable, why don't more of us send them?
LC: I think the biggest barrier to thank you notes is that in health care we are trained to identify a problem and fix it. That's why we recommend that when organizations first begin, they actually assign leaders a weekly number of thank you notes to write, and that the CEO's assistant track which leaders are sending them with a monthly review by the executive team.
Everyone favors writing thank you's, but some people may perceive tracking as somehow unreasonable. The truth is, it takes discipline so they don't fall off the "to-do" list until leaders experience first-hand what a difference they make in employee satisfaction and loyalty. The goal is not to mandate thank you notes, but rather, to require leaders to seek out and notice the positives. In world class organizations, thank you notes are hardwired so that all leaders have integrated them into daily operations. They create an incredible success spiral.
With a background in case management and quality improvement, Lucy Crouch, R.N. has served as a Baldrige National Examiner for two years and coached Studer Group organizations for five years.