Handwritten notes: The pen is mightier than the send

What would mean more to you … a “thank you” email from your organization’s CEO or a handwritten “thank you” note?

The answer is obvious. Hand­written notes carry a greater impact, communicate sincerity and can build stronger connections between managers, colleagues and business partners.

Still, the personal touch is rare. The average U.S. home received a personal letter only once every seven weeks in 2010, down from once every two weeks in 1987.

Advice: Go retro and incorporate handwritten notes into your recognition strategies—for employees, managers and even customers.

Many employers understand the power of the pen. Example: Sprint last year instituted “Thank You Thursdays,” on which employees wrote at least five thank-you notes to customers.  

Effective handwritten notes follow basic guidelines, are sent to the right people for the right reasons and are used sparingly. Less is more.

7 steps to a powerful note

1. Write the letter shortly after the event that prompts it. Use letter stationery, not ordinary white copier paper. Write with a pen. Keep it short. Use a sincere but professional tone.

2. Get to the point. The first sentence should express thanks for whatever assistance the person provided. Mention why the person was helpful. Include details, if appropriate, such as the occasion, circumstances and date of the assistance.

3. Briefly cite the results of the person’s actions. People like to know that they were helpful—and the end result of their helpfulness. Example: “Thank you for helping with the lunch-and-learn event on Tuesday. We had a great turnout and it will truly help employees make better 401(k) decisions.”

4. Compliment the recipient without being cheesy. It makes the person feel good and encourages additional future assistance. Example: “You have a depth of insight that helped our project succeed.”  

5. Express a desire to continue the professional relationship. Use a line such as “I look forward to the next time we can work together on a project.”

6. Avoid qualifiers that weaken the letter. Example: Don’t say, “I’m writing just to say thank you” or “I would like to thank you.” Instead, simply write, “Thank you for all the time spent doing the research that helped us win management approval for our proposal.”

7. End the letter with another thank-you and “Sincerely” or “Best Regards” followed by your first and last name. Proofread. Mail the letter to the person’s work address or drop it in his or her in-box.

Final tip: Don’t sell yourself in a thank-you note. It defeats the purpose.

Praise them like you should: 5 steps to giving real recognition

The main reason managers fail to praise their employees is that they just don’t know how to do it, says Bob Nelson, author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees. That’s why you need to teach supervisors how to give recognition and then provide them with the tools. Here are Nelson’s five guidelines for effective praising:

1. Make it sincere. Stop guessing at what rewards people want. Ask them. Example: Medtronic stopped giving people “stuff” for their years-of-service awards. Instead, it gives days off because the company finally asked employees, and that’s what they wanted.

2. Make it specific. If possible, relate the gift to the performance being rewarded. Apple once printed different company core values on T-shirts (“Integrity,” etc.) and gave them to employees who demonstrate those values. Some employees worked hard to collect all the shirts.

3. Make it personal. A bank asked new hires on their first day to write on an index card the three things that motivate them (time off, lunch with the boss, Starbucks coffee, etc.). The card is then given to their supervisors, who can mold rewards around those “wants.”

4. Make it positive and public. Don’t undercut praise by concluding with a note of criticism. And, when possible, convey the praise in person and in public. With public praising, you clarify exactly what the company values.

5. Make it proactive. Teach supervisors how to be on the lookout for positive behaviors. One tactic: Managers can put the name of every staff member on their weekly “To do” list. Then, managers can cross off each name as they dole out praise that week.