By Robert A. Eckert
When I arrived at Mattel, the company was losing almost a million dollars a day, the bonus pool was empty, and equity awards were underwater. I believed that those challenges were surmountable. On my first day, at a “town hall” gathering in the cafeteria, I said, “I know how this works. We will turn things around, and because I’m the new, outsider CEO, I’ll get a lot of the credit. But I know who’s really going to deserve the thanks—all of you. I appreciate what you’re about to accomplish.”
I had just arrived from Kraft Foods, where I spent the first 23 years of my career. By the time I was chosen to lead the world’s largest toy company, I had experienced every layer of organizational life, starting as an entry-level grunt. And although I worked hard, I also had a lot of help. My parents and teachers influenced me in powerful and positive ways. My 15 different bosses at Kraft all supported, guided, and taught me. Well, all but one—who, by the way, lasted only a year at the company. I found myself saying thank you a lot. Yet I’m also a learner by nature, as I expect most readers of this column are. So I learned to say thank you even more, because the effect was obvious.
Most people come to work every day aiming to do a good job even if my one bad boss didn’t believe that. And most people—and, as a result, most organizations—actually do pretty well. What should they get in return? Cosmetics entrepreneur Mary Kay Ash put it this way: “There are two things people want more than sex and money: recognition and praise.”
Now, I’m not Pollyannaish. My colleagues can vouch for my toughness. But what’s wrong with recognizing a job well done? Why not say thank you more often—and mean it?
At Mattel, we do that with our Rave Reviews program, which allows employees to recognize and thank one another with a simple e-certificate for a free soft drink or coffee. We also give out a Chairman’s Award to exceptional senior managers at our most public gatherings. I believe that habits like those are key to Mattel’s having been named, for six years running, one of Fortune’s Best Companies to Work For. I’m also a fan of encouraging gratitude from outside a company’s borders. As a frequent flier on American Airlines, for example, I receive Applause awards that I can hand out to its employees who deliver superior service.
Wherever I show my thanks, these tips work well for me:
- Set aside time every week to acknowledge people’s good work.
- Handwrite thank-you notes whenever you can. The personal touch matters in the digital age.
- Punish in private; praise in public. Make the public praise timely and specific.
- Remember to cc people’s supervisors. “Don’t tell me. Tell my boss.”
- Foster a culture of gratitude. It’s a game changer for sustainably better performance.
I recently retired from Mattel—and, by the way, my colleagues executed that transition brilliantly. When HBR invited me to pen a column reflecting on my career, this was my thought: What a perfect opportunity to publicly thank everyone who made my work so much fun! If I’ve practiced what I preach, you know who you are.