Managers pay attention to results but leaders pay attention to the people who enable those results. It's your responsibility as a leader pay close attention to those entrusted to you and to encourage the behaviors that make a difference to your organization. There are countless ways to do this: public recognition, bonuses, time off, and others. One of the most meaningful, though, is a well-written employee appreciation letter.
A letter of commendation works its magic in several different ways:
While there is no single template for a perfect letter, here are some important guidelines that can make yours truly great.
1. Skip the email and bring out the pen:
For most, email has become a burden: your employees spend a big part of their day frantically working to clear their inbox. Emails are disposable - they all either end up in the trash or in some neglected archive. Don't cheapen your appreciation letter by putting it in email.
Instead, bring out the pen and paper. This has two major effects: the extra effort makes the letter feel much more important AND a handwritten note creates a more personal connection between you and the employee. Even if your handwriting leaves something to be desired, your sincerity and your personality will shine through in every curve, dot, and line.
Use a fancy thank you card if you have one but, if not, any old paper will do. Since your pen probably doesn't have a delete key, write up your note first on a computer then rewrite it by hand. End with your signature.
Keep your note to a page or less. This will take some discipline but will increase the impact of your letter.
2. Start with the two magic words:
Your very first sentence should start with two words: "Thank You." This endeavor is all about gratitude and that should be clear from the beginning. Try to encapsulate as much as you can about WHY you're thankful in the first words of your letter: " Thank you for your exceptional leadership at last week's senior management offsite" or " Thank you for going above and beyond to deliver our quarterly account review on time and with excellence."
3. You can't spell Recognition without "I":
Most managers will feel the instinct to speak on behalf of "the company." They assume that the gratitude of an organization somehow carries more weight than their own. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. Employees don't form relationships or seek the approval of faceless entities... They will appreciate YOUR approval much more.
Instead of lines like " we are deeply grateful for...," say " I am deeply grateful for..." Just like the choice to go with a handwritten note, this will make your thank you note more meaningful and will reinforce the bond between you and your employee. It will also reinforce to the employee that you've personally noticed their wins - critical as your employee contemplates upcoming reviews, bonus allocations, etc.
4. Focus on actions and on results:
If you had to choose between actions and results, we'd recommend writing about the employee's actions since these are what the employee controls. Fortunately, however, you can do both.
Start by acknowledging what the employee did and what made it special. If it's truly a "standout," let the employee know: " In my 15 years at ACME, I've never seen a more engaging training presentation." What adjectives describe HOW the employee delivered (accurate, creative, innovative, etc.)? Use them generously...
Then, tell them why their actions were important. You may be surprised to find out that your employee knows less about this than you do. Include a few quantitative nuggets, if applicable, about incremental sales, dollars saved, improved efficiency, etc. If you received positive feedback about the employee's actions, include that too: " Your client called me to tell me how brilliant your recommendation was. They've signed up for another year with our firm!"
5. Start a virtuous cycle:
Use your appreciation letter as a way to take your employee's contributions further. If you've delivered on steps 1-4, you'll have a motivated and receptive audience. What do you hope that they do next??
Has your employee shown through their actions that they're ready for additional responsibility? If so, let them know: " Because of the skill you demonstrated, I'd like to give you more opportunities to lead our team's presentations to our board."
Alternately, perhaps the employee's win is transferable to others: " Let's grab lunch next week. I'd like to talk through how we could train the team on your new approach."
As you close out your appreciation letter, thank the employee again - make sure you remind them that this is about them. Fold the letter up, put it in an envelope, and leave it quietly at your employee's workspace (or in their mailbox).
In the short term, you'll almost certainly hear from the recipient. In the longer-term, I'm confident your appreciation letter will drive even stronger results!
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