Feb 21, 2016 4 min read

Organizational Thank-Yous

Organizational Thank-Yous

Thanking people for their good work is one of the most powerful, least used tools we have at the office. It makes us feel good, makes them feel good, encourages the right behaviors, and reminds everyone that we pay attention to quality. Random acts of appreciation at the office are hugely undervalued. HR-organized hero-of-the-month programs also send an important message.  Public rewards and acknowledgements help us build the culture  we want.

In that spirit, here’s a more specific, organization-minded appreciation model for product executives and other leaders trying to improve cross-functional collaboration. Every few weeks during my regular staff meetings (the last few times I’ve had permanent staff), I’ve ask various forms of this question of my product managers:

“Who on your extended product teams is doing a great job? Who is under-recognized, or filling the next role up, or recently showed cross-functional leadership? Next time we’re forming a product team, who would you pick first? What team or group is doing something we want to highlight?   Share a specific instance.”

An obvious question that we should all be asking.  What to do with the answer?

Of course, I want my product manager to have pulled that person aside for a personal thank-you, as soon as possible after noticing whatever went well. (Coworkers aren’t puppies, but we want deliver positive feedback as soon as possible after the desired behavior.) Depending on the situation, this might also include a public thank-you at the next standup.

But this also gives me (as a manager) a chance for more powerful, positive, unscheduled conversations with my management peers.

[With the head of user docs] “We appreciate your whole team, but Marco has been especially valuable this week on the Lego/Rover team. We’re building out automated UI testing, and he’s helping the rest of the product team sort ‘wrong app behavior’ from ‘wrong test script’ from ‘out-of-date user guide and FAQ.’ He really knows his stuff. My other product managers want to steal him.”

  • [With a support manager]: “I know Geeta is the newest hire on API Partner Tech Support, but it was a huge win pulling her into that Santander troubleshooting call. Her solution was much smarter than ours. She’s going to be great. Please let her know who much we appreciate her insight.”
  • [With an engineering manager]: “Everyone’s tired of me complaining about story estimation… but the Prague team stepped up and quick-sized next month’s backlog. Sprint planning is suddenly going smoothly. OK if I buy them pizza?”

Specific, behavior-focused, relatively quick. Obvious.  There should be no need to remind ourselves to thank our coworkers. But this is often forgotten, or not reinforced as a cultural norm.

As product leaders and product managers, we have responsibility but no authority. Influence without a big stick. Sometimes more hat than cattle. We can’t force anyone to collaborate, cooperate, think creatively, put their team first, or step into a temporary leadership gap. No one works for us. So we have to be students of organizational behavior and motivational theory.

So it’s worth tallying some good results of semi-consistent, management-conveyed thank-yous:

  • Those individuals feel appreciated. Of course. One thank-you from a product manager and a second one from their own boss.
  • Teams notice that good work matters. Everyone wants to be appreciated. Positive energy.
  • We shift perception a bit. Product managers aren’t there just to complain or demand, but also to build morale. A source of positive energy.  Which keeps us emotionally tuned into our teams.
  • Subtly, over time, we become talent scouts. Managers value our observations.  The best folks sometimes get the plumb assignments.  We work more with our preferred teammates. Folks notice that we notice. Our opinions matter just a little bit more.

This is about the long game: small investments that pay dividends next year. Or five years from now. It’s not (directly or immediately) about money or status or rank or stock options or a commendation in someone’s HR file. It’s about motivation and psychic rewards. It’s about getting our teams to want to do great work.

BTW, there’s something else important happening here. I’m paying it forward, building trust with my peers who know that Product understands what they do. Occasionally, after lots of happy conversations, I need to have that very-rare-but-very-necessary performance chat:

  • [With the VP Engineeering] “You know I support your team every way I can, and you’ve got tremendous talent. But we’re having a real problem with Jeremy on the NextGen Architecture team. He’s late to meetings, disrespectful to the team, and ignoring what we’re hearing from customers. He’s blocking progress. Jeremy doesn’t report to me, but…”

Not a conversation to be taken lightly, so I need to have done my homework. If some of my product managers have successfully worked with Jeremy before, I need to dig into what’s different. Or raise concerns more tentatively. This can’t be about popularity or personality or a badly conceived project. But leadership is about being clear and direct. If Jeremy is still an architect next quarter, I want him not working with my product managers.


As leaders and executives, we have to use the full range of tools to motivate teams, build collaboration, and encourage good behavior. Recognizing good work and good workers is quick, powerful, free, obvious, and underused.

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