Say thank you

If you want to be a bad product manager, don’t bother expressing your gratitude. Don’t thank team members and co-workers for doing what they’re paid to do anyways. They shouldn’t get used to being thanked for just doing their job. Don’t thank salespeople for providing feedback from customers. After all, you’re going to use that feedback to make the product better, which will just make their jobs even easier. Don’t thank customers who spend time talking with you. You’ve already given them a cheap t-shirt with your logo on it — what else do they want? They should be honored that you wanted to get their feedback instead of spending time with all those other customers you have. They should be the ones thanking you, right?

If you want to be a good product manager, make sure to express your appreciation on a regular basis. There are a few reasons why you want to thank direct reports, co-workers, partners and customers:

  1. It reinforces behaviors that you want to see repeated. If a colleague provides tips to a new team member, finds and fixes an issue, or spends time documenting some suggested changes, thanking them specifically is the best way to increase the likelihood that they will do it again. Even the task or activity is part of their job definition, they are more likely to repaeat the behavior more often when they feel like someone notices and appreciates it.
  2. It reinforces behaviors that you want to see spread to others. Not all praise should be given in public, but when you thank a team member for a specific activity in a meeting or presentation, others will hear it and the desired behaviors will hopefully spread.
  3. It makes it more likely that someone will help you — and thank you — in return. Though this sounds very self-serving, it really is the essence of being part of a product development team. Everyone needs to help everyone else. Especially as a product manager, you need the help and support of many different people and departments to deliver a successful product. Over at Slow Leadership, Carmine Coyote writes about The power of gratitude:

    Thanking others and recognizing how much we all depend on support and co-operation makes it far more likely that help will be there when you need it. Those who help others most freely are most likely to be helped in their turn—provided that gratitude as recognized for what it is: a major constituent in the glue that holds together groups of all sizes, from a few friends to society as a whole.

  4. It makes it more likely that someone will forgive you when you make a mistake. Again, this is not meant to be self-serving, only to point out the reality that everyone will make mistakes, and people are more likely to forgive your mistakes if you forgive theirs and appreciate their successes. Also from The power of gratitude:

    A grateful customer is more likely to overlook future mistakes and stay loyal despite the temptations offered by competitors. A grateful employee is less likely to leave when times get tough. Grateful colleagues pull together. Grateful bosses trust their people more and are trusted more in return.

  5. Lastly, and maybe most importantly: it is the right thing to do. There is no explicit ROI that can be calculated. There is no HR rule that covers it. Thanking people when they do something good — even if it is part of their job description, even if it is something that they should be expected to do, whether it is something that you have to ask them to do or not — is just the right thing to do.

Saying thank you is not that difficult. It should be more than just a flippant “Thanks!” but does not need to be a detailed speech. Thank the person, tell them why you are thanking them, and tell them how you or the product or the company or anyone benefited from what they did. Here is a simple example: “Joe, I wanted to thank you for catching that bug in the system yesterday. If you hadn’t found it, we would have lost a day of work waiting for a new build. You really saved us a lot of time and it will help the project stay on schedule. Thanks again, I really appreciate it, and I know everyone else does as well.” It can be just as simple as that.

Whether you thank someone verbally, via email, or via a written note (yes, by hand, with pen on paper — writing “real” thank you notes is an important and dying art), the important point is that you are expressing honest and genuine thanks for their behaviors and actions. Expressing real gratitude does not cost anything and it will pay off in dividends for everyone over the long run. To quote Carmine Coyote once more, “Today’s bonus may become tomorrow’s expectation, but genuine gratitude can last for a lifetime.”

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5 thoughts on “Say thank you

  1. I think that this is one of the most important posts you’ve made, and I agree 200%. However, I think you missed one really important aspect. Sayng thank you makes people feel good!

    It’s a feel good feeling, the sentiment that people are helping and accomplishing a goal that makes them produce the behaviours you outline.

    I attribute most of my ability to get things done to the fact that I always make sure that I say thank you. Even when someone has consitently and regularly screwed-up, when it goes right I say a big thank you.

    Now’s my time Jeff:

    Thank you for writing this blog, it helps me think about how I can improve my daily job and reminds me of what I’ve already learnt. And of course, it’s a good read!

  2. Thank you is very improtant in my daily job, i like to say thank you when i feel someone really help me.

  3. OK – I admit it – I am English. Does that mean that I cannot say thank you…absolutely not – I do it regularly since I was brought up well and I genuinely enjoy saying it when deserved. Not wanting to be stereotypical (which therefore indicates I am now about to be), us Brits don’t accept praise or thanks very well over here – and therefore it’s important to try to get the balance right for the audience or recipient – depending on where they are from. Too much praise and thanks can be considered false…just something to think about when working with cross-country teams.

    Something else a colleague of mine recently told me (after he facilitated a fantastic week-long meeting for me) was that a thank you to a group a few days after the event can mean so much more than just the thank you at 5pm when the meeting wraps up. Why? Well…it does 1 main thing – and that is to show that you really meant it…because you are still thinking about the good work someone or a group has done even after the initial buzz is over. I try to do this (when I mean it of course) with people and teams, since I really believe it works – and it extends the buzz and motivation.

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