Tools For Motivating Employees. The Power of Handwritten Notes and Cards.

employee recognition header

Summary: This post contains not only an article about the engagement value of handwritten notes in employee recognition, but also a video interview with Chester Elton, author of “The Carrot Principle,” expanding on the subject.  In addition, there are links to sources of message samples and there are two pdf sets of printable note templates you can use to make your own clip-on notes or sticky notes.

Time after time, research shows employees value recognition above money.

There is only so much reward value to money.  Sure, people want to be fairly compensated.  But they’d rather have less money and an appreciative boss.

In fact, many people take jobs or stay with jobs with companies that don’t pay as well as the average, if the bosses and co-workers are friendly, caring, understanding and appreciative.

There are two kinds of employees you need to recognize.

As you might expect, people want recognition for various levels of above-average work — from “this is a particularly good job” through “this is outstanding” to “Wow! I think you just saved the company!”  You can easily see and desire to reward particularly good performance.

But there are plenty of good, steady workers who deliver the work you hired them for.  Their work is consistent and reliable.  It is of the good quality you expect of workers at their levels. It is the work that you need to make the organization operate smoothly.  And they show up on time, work the full day and do what is expected of them.

Usually, you can’t think of any one action or project that is deserving of particular praise.  They don’t do anything especially outstanding.  It’s just that having employees like these is outstanding in and of itself.

Those employees want and deserve recognition as much as the so-called “star performers.”  They are “stars” in their own way.

You need both types of performers.  The first type help your business grow.  The second type make it run.  In fact, most of your best employees have both types of characteristics — they are steady and reliable, yet they also are able to go above and beyond.

So, how do you recognize both kinds of good employee performance and productivity.  And how do you do it so that it is genuine and reflects the value of the performance?

A great way is to send handwritten notes.  Notes that  tell the employee specifically what contribution he or she made.

Most verbal praise lasts as long as the paper it’s not printed on.  Not to mention that few people know how to express themselves fully but succinctly when they are face to face.

A handwritten note may be the highest form of personal recognition.  It implies that you took the time to think about the employee and write it yourself.  You didn’t have your secretary or assistant type and email a standard “good work” message.  It is an original, one-off, completely individual acknowledgement.

Because it is unique to that employee, the employee usually keeps it.  Values it.  Because the employee feels valued.  Noticed.  Appreciated.

You can’t buy the goodwill that comes with that kind of feeling.  It feeds the employee’s self-esteem.  Money and gifts can’t do that.  Personal attention can.

It doesn’t take a long letter.  Something the size of a sticky note can work very well for the more frequent and casual messages.  Sticky notes actually are perfect for sending a quick “thank you” or “good job” right on the documents or objects that you are praising.  Or, if you primarily exchange documents by email, you can print out a document you want to comment on and stick a note to it.  It’s easy to do this so you can do it fairly frequently.

For both kinds of performance I mentioned earlier, you can merely write a few words that say specifically what you appreciated about the employee’s work and sign it.  As a base for your handwritten note, you can use pre-printed note paper, cards and sticky notes that call special attention to your message. (People love them.)

You can also download sample messages to help you compose your own.  Just be sure to point out something in particular about the work of the employee you’re writing to.  Keep in mind that it is a personal message.

Here are some sites where you can copy or download sample messages.

  1. (this site also has printed note paper and cards you can use to write your message on.)

In addition, I’ve made some sticky note style print-ables you can use to write your notes on.  You can download them here:  It is a tw0-page pdf.  You can use one set of four notes for praising special achievements and the other for messages that recognize the value of continuous, everyday good work.


In this video, Chester Elton, author of The Carrot Principle talks about the power of specific recognition and the handwritten note

Workplace Magic: Almost Instant Conflict Management

This technique is for people directly involved in a conflict, not their managers, employees or business partners. It only works for those who actually have the power to end the conflict.

The Three Things You Have To Realize

1. Conflict isn’t about the facts, it’s about the feelings. If you are in conflict, you feel that you have been cheated, betrayed, victimized, helpless (disempowered), unfairly blamed, abandoned, unjustly penalized, ignored, marginalized, discriminated against or whatever. And you feel angry. Perhaps you feel hurt.

2. Most conflict is petty. It just doesn’t feel petty to the people involved. That is to say, the actual facts or cause of the feelings behind the conflict are petty. Most of the time, the causes of conflict are repeated annoyances by people who can’t get away from one another.

Conflicts usually involve things like offices mates who constantly talk too much or too loudly on the phone while you try to work. Or people who drop into your office or cubicle to whine and complain and waste your time. Or people who manipulate things so you end up doing their work. Or people who gossip about you. People who tell lies about you. Bosses who don’t back you or support you. Bosses who don’t listen when you report issues that affect your work. Bosses who ignore your expert advice, which you were hired to give them. Or senseless office rules that interfere with your work or your ability to perform your best.

Sure, there are plenty of things that happen that are serious. And you need to deal with those, too. But most the most common conflict you find at work is in the nature of what psychologists call simple “ego injuries.” You feel hurt and angry because something bothersome is going on that you can’t control and it makes you feel powerless and unimportant.

3. The person who controls his emotions wins the conflict. Because ending the conflict is winning. If you take charge of your emotions you take the power in the conflict. Regardless of rank, status or relative strength.


The Two Things You Have To Do


1. Refuse engagement or disengage from conflict — let it go. The conflict can only remain if both parties contend. You can let it go if you accept this one simple fact as truth: no matter what you do you cannot directly change (or fix) another person or another person’s behavior. (It also helps to realize that you can’t change his mind, beliefs or feelings, either. At least not directly.)

The conflict is about your trying to change someone else or his/her behavior. By some sort of force. That person is resisting. He thinks he’s right. He knows he’s right. He feels he’s right. It’s like trying to change someone’s religion or politics. Can’t be done.

But think about it for a moment. You, too, think you are right and that the other person is wrong. He can’t change you either. The real conflict in a conflict is each side trying to force the other to do something he doesn’t want to do. It doesn’t have to do with who’s right or wrong. It doesn’t even have to do with who is stronger. It has to do with how you get and use power. And the only real power to change is the power you use to control your own feelings and behavior.

You can change how you look at what is happening and change what you do. You can stop struggling to get the other person to change.

You can start doing things that make the other party have to change in response to your behavior. Or you can do something that makes his behavior irrelevant. For example, if the person is constantly annoying you with noise, you can simply ignore him and wear headphones with noise cancellation or earplugs.

Sure, he’s an inconsiderate pig. So what? Your real solution is to stop the noise, not reform the pig. You can go directly for the end result you want through your own power rather than through trying to force a solution on someone over whom you have no power.

2. Explore and plan for resolution of the underlying dispute — even if only you, all by yourself, work out the plan and create the outcome. Once you have accepted that the only thing you really have control over is yourself, you can get clear on how to solve your problem without involving the other party in the solution.

If you choose to disengage from conflict, the conflict is over. Almost instantly. Seemingly magically. And it reveals to you that, all along, you had the power you had to get what you really needed.

The following two YouTube videos have different perspectives and different issues involved in workplace conflict.

Depersonalizing Petty Personality Issues.

This video by Ed Trimnell is addressed to someone who is rather new to the workplace, but it works for anyone:

4 Magic Phrases.

This video by Daniel O’Connor of Power Diversity takes on the issue of how to respond to negativity in workplace communication. It’s both entertaining and helpful.


Zombie Employees — An Age-Old Problem

They’re everywhere.  Zombie employees. You see their listless, soul-less, “the-porch-lights-are-on-but-nobody’s-home” behavior.  They do only what they’re told to do and then do nothing until instructed what to do next. They’re bored. They’re resentful of requests to do anything new or different.  If they don’t know something, they don’t try to find out.  If they do know something, they don’t share it. I could go on, but you know them.  You’ve been a customer who’s had to deal with them.  You’ve been a manager who’s had to try to get work out of them.  You’ve been a co-worker whose projects are held up by them.

There are many theories about what causes employee attitude and behavior like this.  Some assign blame to the lack of engagement.  Or to lack of training.  Or to lack of motivation.  The possibilities seem endless.

Bill Jerome’s “Learn To Keep Your Company Free Of Zombie Employees” — — covers the subject from the point of view of employers. Jerome offers a 5-question “zombie test” that assesses how corporate organization, management and culture might encourage or discourage zombie behavior in a company.

In “The Manager’s Guide to Surviving the Zombie Employee Apocalypse” – — Merry Richter talks about the possible effects of the current recession and the traumas of unemployment, underemployment and overwork in the aftermath of radical downsizings.

Jeff Hunter speaks directly to employees who have been “zombiefied” by lousy or dead-end jobs in “Are You a Zombie Employee & Job Seeker?” — — He suggests that choosing a better job, career or employer might be the answer for the individual.

All of these writers have good points.  For decades, management consultants have been trying to help companies figure out how to transform unproductive, unmotivated employees.  Many techniques have been developed.  They’ve often worked.  But no one’s ever found any real generally-applicable solutions.  Solutions that can be repeated in most organizations and situations.  Managers, co-workers and the affected employees themselves have to try various solutions to see what works.  A good deal of the time, nothing does work.

And, it’s been going on from time out of mind.  Whatever the status of the worker — employee, serf, servant, slave, monk, nun, bondsman, apprentice — and whatever the status of the boss — master, nobleman, landlord, employer, abbot, mother superior, master craftsman — the one in charge has often complained of the laziness and stupidity of the worker, and the worker has often complained of the unreasonableness or downright evil of the boss.

Even in domestic service there have long been books like “The Servant Problem : An Attempt At Its Solution” by “Experienced Mistress” (1899) — — that tell the tales of woe in managing household workers.

There have always been plenty of worker “zombies” who want to have jobs and be paid, need to have jobs to survive, but don’t want to work.  Don’t like to work. Never intend to do more than they absolutely must.  Workers who will never improve, regardless of training, motivational programs, coaching, rewards or punishment.

The sad truth is that you have to be able to know well and assess each (yes, each) individual to see why he or she has gone “zombie.”  Or if he has always been a zombie worker.  You will have to decide how much work it will take to make him productive.  Figure out if he can be made productive at all or if he will always be a zombie worker.

That means you’ll have to actually talk with him about it.  Listen to what he has to say.  Talk with others who work with him.  Find out if he has a reason for his behavior and attitude, or if he’s just one of the kind who never wanted to actually work.  Find out if you can accommodate his particular needs and still get the time and money value back that you need for your efforts.  See if you think he’s worth it.  If he is, great.  It’s usually better for the organization and everyone involved if you can transform the relationship to a productive one.

But remember, much of the time it just isn’t worth the effort unless you know for sure at least half of the problem is with the organization and not the employee.  Much of the time it’s just better to replace the employee.  You’re not a social worker.  You’re a business owner or manager who needs to get the work done and make money for the business.