Campbell Soup Company was failing badly when Douglas Conant became CEO in 2001. When he left in 2011 it was back on top.
Not only that, the company was a perennial winner of Gallup’s “Great Workplace Award” and a booster of opportunities for women and minorities.
How did Conant mastermind this amazing turnaround? In large part, by writing thank-you notes. A whole lot of thank-you notes.
Over the course of his 10-year CEO term, he sent more than 30,000 thank-you notes to his employees and customers. That averages out to about 10 hand-written cards a day.
He didn’t send them by tweet, email or text. He wrote a personal card to each recipient. And he didn’t farm the chore out to a secretary or intern. He wrote each one by hand himself.
“I made it personal,” says Conant.
The Personal Touch
Forbes writer Deborah Sweeney says Conant’s feat is even more remarkable when you consider that Campbell’s only has 20,000 employees. That means he made personal contact with pretty much every single person who works there. She writes:
“[H]e sent his notes out to celebrate his staff and their personal contributions to Campbell. These weren’t just notes for the sake of notes (though I’m sure some were just for fun). But they demanded the need to pay attention to each individual member of the company. A pat on the back does more than make the body feel good – it builds trust. Trust in the form of what is known as the Campbell Promise: ‘Campbell valuing people; people valuing Campbell.’”
4 Benefits You Can Bank On
Here are five ways writing personal thank-you notes can pay immediate dividends:
1. It slows you down. Cranking out 10 hand-written notes a day takes time. If you mess up, you have to start over. The only way to do it is with intention and focus. In today’s frantic world, those are skills worth cultivating.
2. It gets you out of yourself. For a note to really mean something, it has to take into account the thoughts, circumstances and feelings of the person receiving it. That means you have to get out of your own head. You have to think about someone else.
3. It gives you a brief digital holiday. Sometimes you need a break from the keypad. Sitting down and writing a note is the perfect escape.
4. It gives the recipient something they can hold onto. Sure, you can always tell them “thanks” or “job well done.” But putting something in their hand – something tangible and lasting – takes appreciation to another level.
Maybe you’re not a writer. Or perhaps you dislike notes.
That’s cool. There are other ways to be a concerned, engaged leader. Here are some of Conant’s other team-building practices: inviting 20 employees from each level of the company to lunch every four to six weeks, making himself visible on the Campbell campus, strolling around in sneakers and asking everyone he encountered “How can I help?”
The main point was that Conant did not do all of this to be popular, though his employees loved him. He didn’t do it to get a pay raise, although corporate profits soared under his direction.
He did it because he was a great leader. “Leadership isn’t about you,” he says. “It’s about them.”
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He is a former Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.