Who Writes 30,000 Hand Written Notes?

Abundance Gratitude Organizational culture


Key Point: I was recently at a leadership conference. The speaker asked the attendees, an executive crowd of about 500, to raise their hand if they “needed recognition or acknowledgement for their work?” A few brave but sheepish souls put their arms in the air. The same presenter then asked the audience to raise their hands if they “found themselves doing their best work when recognized and encouraged?” And you guessed it; almost the entire conference raised their arms without any hesitation. The leadership expert on stage happened to be Santa Clara professor Jim Kouzes, co- author of the million plus bestseller The Leadership Challenge. He then quipped, with a little smirk, “So obviously regardless of whether you put your hand up in response to the first question, we all need encouragement and recognition. Get over it.”

The individual who personally wrote an estimated 30,000 hand written notes is recently retired CEO of Campbell Soup, Doug Conant. Can you imagine the habit system he employed and his deeply held belief and routine regarding abundance and recognition? By the way Conant was no “cream puff,” he completely reinvented a tired and underperforming Campbell’s by focusing on establishing a renewed culture (including replacing 300 of the top 350 leaders). The following is an excerpt from an interview in August 2012’s Sloan Management Review.

“Ten to twenty personal notes a day! How did you choose who to write to?

Conant actively engaged staff in CSR with his practice of writing 10 to 20 personal notes to employees every day.

“Well, I had access to our portal and I would see all the things going right in the company. With the aid of a staff member, I would pick about 10 to 20 things every day and I would hand write a note to the person saying, ‘Thanks for the help. I understand we’re ahead of schedule. Nice job.’ Over the course of my career I sent out about 30,000 personal notes, and we only had 20,000 employees.

So I was personally connecting with them, and as I would send notes to them, it created a platform where they would send notes back to me. We sort of naturally had this unique dialogue that could be hand written or via email, where employees would start sending me things.”

Character Move:

  1. Develop a habit system to give recognition. Ok, you probably don’t have a staff member that can pick 10 to 20 notable things every day for you to acknowledge. But without an assistant, I know you can identify one thing someone does that is worthy of positively reinforcing. Send that personal hand written note, leave them a voice mail, or an email, etc. The medium is less important than the specific behavior you’re reinforcing. Just friggin do it!
  2. At the end of each day, ask yourself this active question: “Did I do my best today to encourage, acknowledge and demonstrate genuine care for someone in my work organization AND family/friends?” Answer this every day and I guarantee you will become a more abundant leader, friend, dad, husband, etc.

[Ed. Note: As you spend time on my blog, I will bring you the best of learning from both research driven results and experiential leadership. Conant’s 30,000 notes references 12 years of success from a top CEO who achieved real turn around results; financial and otherwise. The end of day active question recommendation in the Character Move above, is based on both Marshall Goldsmith and Jim Kouzes work; two of the top leadership consultants in the world.]

Daily recognition in The Triangle,