There’s been much media handwringing these days about the lack of engagement among U.S. workers.

And just as many remedies are offered, from segmented programs for different generations to changing performance management models.

Yet a mere 80 years ago, Dale Carnegie solved the issue in How to Win Friends and Influence People.

It’s something none of us hear enough of.  It cost nothing and requires little effort.  Which, as Google’s Larry Page admitted, “Appreciation is the best motivation.”

Studies upon surveys prove the power of gratitude, from an increase in annual operating income (Harvard Business Review) to healthy heart outcomes (from the University of California/San Diego School of Medicine).  No one, though, pays much attention to how best to deliver the praise.  So here are a few of our guidelines:

  • Get real – and specific.  Generic thanks don’t work.  Be precise about the reason for recognition.
  • Deliver today, not tomorrow.  If the behavior’s to be repeated, try to give thanks immediately – or as close to the “you did good” event as possible.
  • Authenticity is the word of the decade.  Think sincere and spontaneous – and embed it in context.  Writing an email to the team?  Makes sense to include an “attaboy/girl.” 
  • Avoid exclamation marks – and OVER-superlatives.  [‘Nuff said!!!]
  • Pick the most appropriate vehicle … we favor the most impactful, i.e., face to face.

After all, World Kindness Day is only six months away.


In holidays past, way past, those little green elves from the late, great Marshall Field’s store would run around Chicagoland and perform what were dubbed “random acts of kindness.”

Senior citizens, outside in the cold, would get stick lip balm.

Kids strolling along State Street were handed yummy hot chocolates.

Free ornaments would glitter in hands of passers-by.

Not to mention gifting those huggable Field’s teddy bears and British racing green shopping bags.

Though definitely not yet the season, we remembered these activities recently, after perusing a University of Rochester psych professor’s research findings.  About newlyweds, of all subjects.  The study?  How to show compassion.  The results?  That small selfless acts increase individual (and couple) happiness.

Well, duh … sorta.  What tantalizes us is the professional reciprocity:  In these busy, stressed days, when everyone takes everybody and everything for granted, these randomnesses might just work in our own worlds of communications and branding and design.

It’s all about TLC, you see, and articulating, usually through behaviors (rather than words), that the person(s) are appreciated and respected.  Further, that their needs and concerns are recognized.  Think about the apps …

Project teams, laboring on long and intensive initiatives, usually get honored by an end-of-project dinner.  Why not once a week, when it’s unexpected, hold a “complimentary” (deliberate spelling) lunch? 

Going above and beyond responsibilities deserves a spur-of-the-moment notice … notes to the manager of managers, even a half day off.

How about a broadscale communications, to the department, even division wide, about the great work that’s being done in marketing and design?  Even if it’s in process?

It’s important, the professor underscores, to be open to requests, accept without judging, and go out of the way to simply “be there.”  Sure sound like good principles for succeeding at what we do.


It’s sorta expected, in our business.

After all, we’re outside experts or, at the best, business partners who work with companies on a variety of short- and long-term projects. Though we might be around for a while, we’re definitely hired help.

All fine.  So the idea of thanks (given to us) is somewhat novel, and one that’s never guaranteed.  Nonetheless, we do perk up when we hear good words, and remember the whos and whats of the conversation.

What’s unexpected, though, is the endemic lack of thanks today in the workplace, full-time colleagues and leaders who work for one company.  In its typical fashion, The Wall Street Journal, late last year, riffed on a recent “there’s no gratitude” survey, then proceeded to set up a typology of those managers who just couldn’t show appreciation.   To us, the publication’s five characters were (pick one):  1) somewhat stereotyped, 2) overblown, and/or 3) created for the sake of a headline.

For whatever reasons (and feel free to make up your own), thanks just isn’t embedded in contemporary vocabularies.  Or, if it is, it’s somehow, er, fake.  How many times have you gotten an e-missive that, oh by the way, acknowledges your contributions (usually the middle of a list of things you have to do)?  Or been lobbed an off-handed compliment on the way out the door?

We’re not imagining this.  Survey says, for instance, that only 10 percent utter a thank you to colleagues, while 7 percent manage to be gracious to the boss-person.  Are dollars or other tangible rewards good substitutes for an authentic note about “job well done”?  Is everyone way too busy to look back and forward on a day’s work to compliment the support given?  Or do we need to add an amendment to the Ten Big Ones about being grateful each and every day?

Aretha, you got it right.