Throughout the year, flowers, letters and gifts come from friends and family. Generally attached to each item is a note of gratitude or congratulations. At my house, the notes and cards have special meaning. In one dresser drawer, there is barely room for another item because it is filled with cards and letters. You see, they have been saved for years and here’s why: after sad or depressing occasions, the cards are retrieved and re-read, bringing back memories of joy and happiness. Those cards are reminders of happier days. Who would have thought a 10-year-old birthday card with a handwritten note would have such tremendous value again and again?
The project manager
I recently visited a site with a project manager. Our discussion covered topics of what made some projects successful and why similar projects were a bust. We chatted about recognition, rewards and incentives for workers and both of us agreed we don’t believe incentives work well. We then decided certificates of appreciation and achievement and personal notes of thanks do work well. I asked him if he ever received any such mentions of achievement by his managers. He reached into his bottom desk drawer and quietly retrieved a folder filled with old papers. Embarrassed, he began to show me certificates from his company — some were from at least 20 years ago. He was very proud of them. He then showed me a note that must have been 30 years old. The paper was yellowed with wrinkled edges and had some water or tear stains. It was a handwritten note from the best supervisor he had ever worked under. Though the supervisor is now deceased, the memory of receiving the note from the boss and being recognized for supervisory skills and crew leadership was most memorable and was the only such note he had ever received.
It’s only paper
A piece of paper may cost only a fraction of a cent, if that much, yet even though it’s only one page with a note of recognition, it is of great value. Consider the Declaration of Independence or the Magna Carta — they are only paper. But, my, how priceless they are!
When I was learning of politics in the early ’70s, I wrote a letter to the then president of the United States, Richard Nixon. I really didn’t expect a reply, but about three months later, a special letter appeared in my mailbox. Even though an aide to the president must have written it, nonetheless, the man himself signed it. I still have it after some 40 years. Although I did not see eye to eye with Mr. Nixon on many issues, his letter to me is still special — and it’s only paper.
The message is clear
The project manager’s story is not complete regarding the file of special documents. The special letter mentioned probably took the boss less than a minute to draft, sign and seal. It only takes a minute to make someone proud, to establish a challenge or to reward a person who deserves recognition. Why is it such a rare occurrence in the construction business? Fortunately, I have received many such notes from my bosses, peers and subordinates. I’ve kept many of them throughout my career. You can forget kind words spoken, but when they are written, the message is indelible, undeniable and forever remembered. Written messages can last a lifetime.
How do you do it?
When I told the project manager how easy it was to start a recognition program, he pulled out a note pad and pen and began immediately. I suggested he start with one of his good performers and write a short note of recognition and thanks. He wrote something like this, “Joe: thanks a lot for helping us get through the push on the last concrete pour. Your team performed like I knew they could. Keep up the good work and remind your guys they are still the ‘A’ team. And thanks for being on my team. Sincerely.”
I can’t speak for everyone, but if a note like this were in my special folder, I’d be reading it over and over for years to come. In this age of instant communication, email, texting and the like, a handwritten note is even more rare and cannot be deleted from one’s memory or from one’s memory drawer.
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