How do I create a culture of gratitude?

An old-fashioned concept that still holds up.
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Thank You Notes

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We know that high-performing organizations have a culture of engagement, inclusion, and are results driven. We also know that in these organizations people come to work each day wanting to have purpose in the work they do and to make a difference in the lives of others. How do we develop and support this great culture? We express gratitude for the great work happening in the organization.

Our job, as leaders, is to intentionally notice when employees are doing exceptional work, being especially helpful to others, and living the values/standards of the organization. Once we notice, we must act. One action that recognizes others for good work is writing a thank you note to that person. This note is hand-written, includes specific details for the recognition, and is mailed to the home of the individual. WHY? This makes the note even more special to the person receiving it. Thank you notes are meaningful and are saved over time by those on the receiving end. These are the good things that sustain us through the not so good times.

We’ve found that the highest performing leaders build solid and trusting relationships with their team. We’ve also found that most people we supervise want to do a good job and feel successful. We can accomplish the relationship building and provide feedback about performance by showing gratitude with a thank you note. When we recognize good work with gratitude, we are also communicating expectations.

Sincere gratitude is a culture changer. Recognition of good work gives us the opportunity to energize those we work with each day. It also models the importance of showing appreciation.


Most of us want leaders who:

  • appreciate our work
  • care about our well-being
  • let us know we are a valuable member of the team
  • recognize us individually for completing specific work that is aligned to results

It is not our responsibility to motivate others; it is our responsibility to connect the work people do each day with their passion. When we intentionally recognize achievements aligned to the mission and values of our organization, we reinforce the worthwhile work our employees accomplish and its importance to the success of the organization.

The thank you notes action includes two components, the intentional act to notice, and follow-up to write the note with specifics that were observed. Things to remember as we write the notes:

  • Be genuine and sincere
  • Be specific about what is being recognized as good work


Dear Emily,

I received a wonderful letter today from one of our parents. He said you were the person in the hall late in the afternoon who helped him find his son’s locker. Apparently, that was only the beginning, since you helped him unlock the locker and retrieve his son’s materials. This was important to the family since the son is critically ill and wanted to continue to stay current with his work. You helped the Dad and his son. Thank you for your unselfish spirit that always reaches out to others. I appreciate you and all you do for the families we serve.


It's More Than a Note

Organizations generally reward and recognize employees, but too often it has been the equivalent of a generic pat on the back. If we get specific about the behaviors we reward and recognize, we’ll go much further toward encouraging others to practice those behaviors. Plus, it’s important to create systems for recognition, such as writing a certain number of thank-you notes. Handwritten notes sent to employees’ homes can have a huge impact on their lives.

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