Appreciation shared will be returned with interest

A university professor began reflecting on the people who had a positive impact on his life. In particular, he remembered a schoolteacher who had gone out of her way to instill in him a love of poetry. He hadn't seen or spoken to her in many years, but he found her address and sent her a letter of thanks. A short time later, he received this reply:

"My dear Willie, I cannot tell you how much your note meant to me. I am in my 80s, living alone in a small room, cooking my own meals, lonely and, like the last leaf of autumn, lingering behind. You will be interested to know that I taught school for 50 years, and yours is the first note of appreciation I ever received. It came on a blue-cold morning, and it cheered me as nothing has in many years."

The teacher's note brought the professor to tears -- and then he began searching for others who'd shaped his life, just to say thanks.

If only more people held onto gratitude the way they hold a grudge!

None of us got to where we are alone. Whether the assistance we received was obvious or subtle, acknowledging someone's help is a big part of understanding the importance of saying thank you.

It's more than just good manners. Saying thank you -- and meaning it -- is never a bad idea. It appeals to a basic human need to be appreciated. It sets the stage for the next pleasant encounter. And it keeps in perspective the importance of receiving and giving help.

Retail giant Sam Walton wrote 10 rules for success, and the Wal-Mart founder didn't mince words when it came to being thankful. The fifth of Walton's rules is, "Appreciate everything your associates do for the business."

I wish I could convince every business owner and manager to adopt that attitude. If you have hired well and provided the necessary tools that allow your staff to perform their jobs, and they have achieved accordingly, the next logical step is to acknowledge their efforts.

The cost of praising someone is nil, but a recent study has found that the payoff can be huge. Employees want to be seen as competent, hardworking members of the team. Good managers want satisfied, motivated and productive staff members. What better motivator than thanking employees for their contributions to the company's success?

A Personnel Today survey of 350 human resources professionals found that the greatest factor in workplace productivity is a positive environment in which employees feel appreciated. According to the survey, two-thirds of the respondents said they felt a lot more productive when they received recognition for their work, while the remainder said they felt a little more productive.

Just feeling productive can be motivating in itself. When workers don't feel productive, frustration sets in, according to 84 percent of the survey respondents. Here's a startling result: 20 percent said they felt angry or depressed when they weren't able to work as hard as they could.

How to praise effectively? Try these ideas:

• Be sincere. Give praise only where it is due. If the employee feels the praise isn't genuine, it could have a negative effect.

• Give public praise. The goal is to encourage employees to keep up the good work, while simultaneously encouraging others to put out greater effort. Praising in public raises general morale.

• Be specific in your praise. Identify exactly what the employee worked on and what he or she accomplished. Don't just say, "Well done, Maggie."

• Provide some lasting recognition. Consider a letter in the employee's file or a simple celebration for the department that overcame a tough challenge. Appreciation is not a one-shot event. It needs to be ongoing.

A smart manager will establish a culture of gratitude. Expand the appreciative attitude to suppliers, vendors, delivery people and, of course, customers.

All links along the chain are essential to your success. It's so easy to ignore the person who delivers office supplies, the tech who unfroze your computer or the customer who referred you to a great new account. Big mistake. They all deserve acknowledgement, especially if you want to preserve the relationship.

And while you're at it, don't forget your favorite teacher.

Mackay's Moral: An attitude of gratitude should have wide latitude.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or send e-mail to harvey@mackay.com. His column is distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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