x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Go old school in a digital age

By expressing their appreciation on Facebook posts, employers can lift the morale of those who work for them.

Try a Facebook variation of the old-fashioned thank-you note for a job well done, writes Tommy Weir. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
Try a Facebook variation of the old-fashioned thank-you note for a job well done, writes Tommy Weir. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images


I was enjoying lunch with a lieutenant-colonel from the British army, when he told me how he kept his troops motivated while out on mission under difficult circumstances.

Knowing that the long days and years of being away from home and family were taking a toll on his troops, he believed it was important to "capture their hearts" to keep them motivated.

Rather than relying on sophisticated motivational tools, he reverted to the old school approach of writing notes of appreciation. He even took pictures with them completing their tasks. Capturing their hearts came by what he did next. Instead of giving the notes and pictures directly to his soldiers, he sent them to their families spreading the recognition beyond the base.

Listening to his story immediately made me wonder, should leaders write on their employee's Facebook walls?

Before being corrupted by technology, giving handwritten notes of appreciation for employees' hard work was actually taught as an act of motivation. It worked - there are countless stories of employees taking these notes home to proudly share with their loved ones.

They made their way to the dinner table, where the employee shared them with their spouses and children. In some homes, they were prominently hung on the refrigerator next to schoolwork. The employees were so proud to have received this recognition that they showed it off. Unfortunately, we have largely done away with handwritten notes in our digital era and the subsequent act of capturing employees' hearts is disappearing with it.

This idea of writing on their wall was triggered in my mind by the inspirational leadership acts of Grahame Maher. He was the chief executive of Vodafone Qatar before his untimely passing in November 2010 at the age of 51. Grahame was a leader who had a purpose - to make a difference for people.

He placed people firmly in the centre of the business and modelled it for all to see. His employees were shocked when Grahame personally welcomed them to Vodafone. He would casually sit down with them during orientation and have very relaxed conversations with his new recruits. Grahame was an approachable leader. This was not limited to orientating the new staff - every day he went out of his way to talk with employees at all levels in the organisation.

What fascinated me about his story is that his employees took their picture with him, then put it on Facebook, tagging Grahame in the photo. They were proudly showing off their boss. If simply taking a photo with the boss captured their heart, how much more would a note from you on their wall? I could see Grahame doing this had he thought of it.

I know the argument that many have against this idea - "I don't want to be friends with my employees on Facebook. I want to have a private life."

Fine then, set up a work version of your Facebook page that you use only for colleagues and employees. Then write away. Do not let your need for some privacy stand in the way of capturing your employees' heart and motivating them.

A simple message: "Great work today" or "I'm proud of the way that you delivered on this project", posted for the world to see will have a huge benefit. This inspirational act of recognition will translate into your employees putting more heart into the already long hours.


Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, an adviser and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center