The Power of ‘thank you’

  • Published
  • By Maj. Sanjit Singh
  • 509th Contracting Squadron Commander
My coworkers and I had been working for nearly two years to develop a business plan to purchase 60, C-17s with a set budget. There were many statutory and fiscal barriers to achieving the team's goal of buying the aircraft. It was an incredible undertaking that required long hours, weekend work and time away from our families. It was one of the most challenging and time-consuming assignments in my career, but one I truly enjoyed. It wasn't the work that made the experience enjoyable, but rather knowing my work and effort were appreciated.

Our leaders (not bosses) always said "thank you" to my teammates and I, even for small actions, that made us feel good, which encouraged us to work harder to achieve the team's goals. A very simple form of recognition, saying "thank you," increased our job satisfaction.

Saying "thank you" was ingrained in the culture of the C-17 System Program Office during my assignment. Saying "thank you" permeated throughout the program office. It wasn't uncommon for the SPO director, the contracting chief and colleagues to personally congratulate team members for a job well done.

Employees appreciate personal and public forms of recognition for their efforts. This does not mean we should go around saying "thank you" just to say it, but to recognize outstanding performance when it occurs. By recognizing outstanding effort and results, leaders motivate their employees to achieve great productivity while enforcing a standard they want others to emulate.

Make it a point to speak up and tell your Airmen and civilians they've done a great job. They won't know if you don't tell them. Never assume they will know you appreciate their outstanding work and dedication to the mission.

If possible, personally thank an employee for a job well done. I believe employees appreciate it when their leaders take time to personally extend their gratitude. However, brief their contact may be with leadership, Airmen and civilians appreciate the recognition of their work. By publicly recognizing an employee's achievements, leaders send a positive message that the employee has earned praise that merits everyone's attention, especially coworkers. Getting out and recognizing an employee also serves the leader well in other areas. This sends a message to everyone that the leader just doesn't come out when something goes wrong and it demonstrates the leader's concern about the work that is being performed.

If personal recognition is not possible for whatever reason, I recommend writing a personal note to the Airmen or civilian for their outstanding performance. This also sends a powerful positive message. It demonstrates that the leader recognizes the employee's great work and feels it is necessary to take the time to extend gratitude in writing. A written "thank you" is a tangible form of appreciation, one the employee can feel good about every time the note is read.

The recognition should be timely as well. Think of a time when you were on the receiving end of timely recognition. I bet it made you feel good to be appreciated for your work. Don't wait two or three months after an employee's accomplishment to say "thank you." Waiting will send a negative message, one that diminishes the value of the accomplishment. Ideally, recognition should be given about the same time an achievement is realized. Delays will only weaken the impact of the recognition.

Throughout the acquisition of the 60 C-17s, outstanding contribution by team members was recognized by leadership and coworkers. Everyone who received recognition understood why they were being heralded. This resulted in the development of a strong team that was able to develop a successful business plan. The end result, was the team developing a business solution that allowed for the aircraft to be purchased within the set budget while saving taxpayers nearly $1.3 billion.

Recognizing Airmen and civilians in any organization can happen at any time. We should not wait for formal ceremonies to extend a "thank you" for a job well done. In many cases, a pat on the back goes a long way in making a positive difference in someone's life. Saying "thank you" is the simplest form of recognition that can have extraordinary positive work performance results.