For years the CEO of a mid-size software company – let’s call her Cheryl – asked her finance department to give her end-of-year pay checks that contained annual bonuses. Cheryl would sign them, then let payroll hand them out.

One year the company did poorly and the checks were smaller than usual. So Cheryl took them home over the weekend and in each envelope placed a personal, handwritten note thanking the employee for his or her specific accomplishments during a challenging year. Simple things like, “Joyce, your new collections process improved our cash flow during a tough year.” Or, “Bill, the two new hires you made this year were game changers for our Operations department.”

The following week EVERY SINGLE employee thanked her, either in person or through an email or voicemail. In the past no one had ever thanked Cheryl for a bonus check. Not once.

Now, Cheryl was an experienced leader who felt she knew a lot about motivating employees. But the response she got from the handwritten note shocked her. Did people just see money as an entitlement? And during her entire career had she underestimated the mysterious force she’d unleashed by scribbling a few cost-free words on a plain piece of paper?

The answer is yes. And that revelation was her greatest Christmas gift that year. She’s never managed people the same way again.

photo credit: moneyaware

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