Notes You Don’t Have to Write (But Should)

657815680In the 90s I was the leader of 2 ad agencies in the Philadelphia area, Earle Palmer Brown and RBT/Strum, which later became the Star Group. Neither of those agencies exist today. I take no blame for their demise which happened years after my departure, nor do I take any credit for any successes they had after my departure either. But even though these agencies are long gone, and I am almost 20 years removed from running an ad agency, apparently some notes I wrote still live on. I am surprised that this is the case, and that’s the subject of today’s Struming.

Here’s the background: In 1991 I attended a YPO (Young Presidents Organization) leadership seminar and the speaker challenged the business leaders in the room to state the exact date that each joined their respective businesses. Virtually every one could. In my case it was March 13, 1989 when I joined Earle Palmer Brown.

The seminar leader then said that if the date was so memorable to each of us, it would clearly also be important to the employees of our respective firms and therefore recognizing it annually provides an opportunity. Not just milestone anniversaries like 5, 10, 15 years etc. Every year.

Coming out of that seminar I vowed to write a note to every employee on each anniversary with some thoughts on their performance and words of encouragement. There more than 100 employees at the firm so there were roughly 10 notes each month, and my assistant helped organize the process by providing me the person/date at the beginning of each month. This forced me to reflect on their work and in some cases when I didn’t know the person as well, do some homework about them. That was good for me too.

I would hand write a note on company letterhead, and then mail it to their home. No email. No interoffice memo. A hand-written note. What I have discovered is that many employees kept those notes. Clearly they appreciated the recognition and earnest sentiments in these notes, but it also showed me the power of individual recognition. I believe, even in today’s digital age, that a hand written note is far more powerful than an easier to execute, but less personal, email.

Milan noteOne such anniversary note, shown here, went to Milan Martin, who joined RBT/Strum in his entry job in the industry as an “apprentice” (take that Mr. President) back in 1997. In fact the anniversary note, shown here, is one of several notes I wrote Milan along the way, including a note when he first joined the firm as well in which I told him to work hard, be truthful, and do more than what was expected. He listened. Milan grew up to become President of Grey/San Francisco and was recently named Chief Marketing Officer at Concourse Golf. So he’s done well for himself. I am flattered that he remembered the words of encouragement that I had provided him when he was a young grasshopper trying to make his mark. Recently he shared with me the 4 notes I had written to him 20+ years ago.

In looking back, I was not so visionary, nor the best leader, yet I was smart enough to hear a good idea, embrace it and execute it well. In retrospect, beyond the encouragement it provided the recipient, it also helped me think more about each person and their contributions.

While salary/benefits are always important in one’s career, recognition and appreciation are equally important. Next time a highly regarded employee departs, ask yourself if you did everything to express your appreciation for their hard work that they deserved.

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  1. ks says:

    I remember on my first day at RBT/Strum receiving a handwritten note from you in my company mailbox (back when companies had such things as company mailboxes). It was short but sincere, welcoming me to the company with much the same advice you offered Milan. A year or so later, I received another note thanking me for my hard work. I was surprised and impressed that you actually cited specific examples.

    The best people I’ve ever served all share this trait in common: the consistent ability to make people feel that their contributions are valuable. It takes no effort to say “welcome” or “thank you,” yet I’m consistently astonished how few self-ordained leaders actually take the time to do this.

    You’re a good egg, Lonny.

    • Lonny Strum says:

      Thanks Kel. Appreciate the feedback. And always appreciated people like you who worked hard and cared about their work. As a business leader you are only as good as the talent of the staff.

  2. Beth Johnson says:

    A great reminder (or kick in the pants)! I’ve been meaning to initiate this practice at my company. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Staci says:

    What a great, smart, easy thing to incorporate into our business. Love the idea — and I still write cards and notes all the time. Guess you could say I’m “old school.” Ha! Love your articles — always so insightful, Lonny!

    • Lonny Strum says:

      I am the one who is “old school” (but with a forward outlook). There are some things of yesteryear that are still effective. Actually written note/mail is far more effective now since the volume has dropped

  4. Mark Glidden says:

    Love this idea Lonny, thanks so much for sharing. I likely have a few hand written notes at home from leaders I was blessed enough to work with with in my fledgling days and I know what they meant to me.

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