Years ago, when I was just starting out as a newspaper reporter, I worked at a paper run by publisher Dave Lawrence. Although he was in charge of a large, busy daily metro newspaper, he often took to the time to send out handwritten notes when someone's work particularly pleased him.
They arrived in stiff, yellow inter-office memo envelopes, closed by a string, and were known around the newsroom as 'Dave Raves.'
I'd been at the paper for a few months, working the night desk, and was pretty sure he had no idea who I was. A couple of my stories had made the front page, but mostly I wrote minor briefs and obituaries that got tucked away in the back sections.
And then one day, I came in to work and found, in my mailbox, one of those little envelopes from the publisher's office. It was a handwritten 'Dave Rave' praising an obit I'd recently written about a local cartoonist.
That note meant the world to me.
I was young, just starting out, and not too sure of myself yet, but getting a note like that from the boss was a sign that maybe I wasn't going to suck at the job. With nothing more than a short sentence, he'd given me a shot of confidence that both pushed and carried me on into my career as a writer.
The note came to mind recently when I read an article in the Washington Post about Greg Gardner, an executive with Sunnyvale, Calif-based NetApp. When he gets a chance to work with one of the company's 11,500 employees, he takes the time to send out a handwritten thank-you card acknowledging them.
Gardner began writing thank-you notes during his 30 years in the Army. He prefers to write them with a fountain pen he’s had since the 1980s.
“When the conditions are right — when I’m at home at my desk, I take out that lovely pen,” he said. “But that’s not the only thing I use. I’ll scribble away with a ballpoint if that’s all I’ve got.”
Along the way, Gardner has set a few ground rules for himself: Notes must offer only praise, should be handwritten, and must go out within 24 hours.
The notes are just a couple of lines, and he only writes one or two a month – usually after working with someone face-to-face – but they're the kind of thing no one expects and everyone loves. The few minutes it takes for him to write the note, slip into an envelope and deliver it is nothing compared to the tremendous impact on morale.
According to the article, he even recently ran into a soldier who had been under his command when he was an Army officer. The soldier had kept the notes he'd received from Gardner and compiled them in a book. Obviously, they were important to him.
Who wouldn't want a boss like that?
Last week on Twitter, @Elizabeth24407 from London reported that she'd come in to work and discovered a handwritten note and a brand-new Parker Pen from her manager, reminding her that she is a "star."
Understandably, it made her day.
So, for you bosses out there, consider writing a little note once in a while. It doesn't have to be fancy, just a few lines, relatively neat. It will likely mean much more than you know.