Why CEOs Can't Get It Right When They Try to Say ‘Thanks’


The CEO wanted to express his appreciation.

"Thank you, everyone, for your hard work," he told several thousand employees.

Some must have wondered, "Everyone???"

Well, one can't really say, "Thank you all, except for Kelly in Purchasing, Scott in Sales, and the entire Engineering Department—what exactly do you guys do all day?"

Saying thanks is polite. My mother taught me that. Every year on my birthday, I'd get a card from a mysterious "Aunt Fanny."

I don't remember ever meeting Fanny. She wasn't really my aunt, she was a distant relative, maybe a 2nd or 3rd Aunt, some kind of back-up Aunt—whenever someone tried to explain her, it took a long time and was extremely complicated—and her name wasn't really Fanny, it was something else like Francis, or Fran, or Floyd.

But she never forgot my birthday, and I always had to thank her. My mother was right about that. It was good practice.

So there's nothing wrong with thanking several thousand employees. A lot of people feel over-worked and under-appreciated.

"Does Hillary know what a good job she's doing?" President Obama asked Vice President Biden about the Secretary of State.

"Why don't you tell her," Biden said (NY Times, 3/19/10).

Sounds simple. But suppose you were President—how would you do it?

  1. Thank the State Department, in general, for their good work. Assume Hillary knows that includes her.
  2. Thank Hillary through a third party, who could gossip, "You'll never guess what the President was saying about you the other day!" Third party could be anyone with credibility—the Vice President, a random Supreme Court Justice, a former astronaut.
  3. Tell H. face-to-face, "Good job."
  4. Give H. a few examples of how she's completely exceeded your expectations.

Tip: It's easy to forget saying thanks. Also easy to thank everyone in general. But it's more powerful to thank individuals for specifics.

Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (www.expresspotential.com), Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. He is the author of “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

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