Thursday, April 26, 2007

Noticing--at arm's length

After writing Tuesday afternoon about going to the workplace (gemba), making direct observations, then noticing the good efforts of people, I was confronted on Tuesday evening with how NOT to do this.  Man, was it uncomfortable. 
At a committee meeting of a local volunteer organization, the chair had gone to some effort to express gratitude to several volunteers who had put in some considerable effort.  The kicker?  The chair had not seen the work, had only heard about it.  Yet, sincerely, he wanted to thank these people. 
Unfortunately, it got more distant.  He prepared beforehand a generic "thank you" letter for the seven people.  Each letter was identical, with no name on it.  The platitudes on the letter were nice but vague.  He then asked all of us on the committee to sign the letter so he could send it to the seven volunteers. 
I stopped the group and asked "So which letter is going to which person?" 
This seemed to stymie the group.  "What do you mean?"
"I mean, let's make this just a little bit personal.  I'd like to add something specific about what each person did.  But I can't do that unless I know which of these identical letters is going to which person."
My concern caused a bit of a stir.  It prompted quite a discussion about whether to put the name of the person on the front or on the back of the letter, in pencil or in ink.  I tried to be polite but it took some effort.  Eventually the group decided to put the names in pencil, on the top front corner of each letter, so the chair could later erase them when he mailed them out.  So goes the committee decision-making process.
The letters went around the table.  Most people dutifully signed their names, some added a hand-written generic greeting such as "Nice job!" or "Thanks so much!"  A couple of us put something personal that related to the specific task and/or the specific person. 
I suppose the recipients will appreciate the letter.  The letter did, after all, notice their efforts and we all crave notice.  Yet it would have been so much easier to make it so much better. 
Try thanking someone directly today.  See what you learn. 
And keep learning.

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