“Secrets To Success” From NetApp’s Greg Gardner: Personal Is Memorable

Featured Series: Simple Secrets to Success From Execs Who Know

WashingtonExec reached out to area executives to gain insight and share local “secrets to success” stories.

Greg Gardner, Chief Architect of Defense Solutions at NetApp told WashingtonExec his method of achieving a strong corporate culture.

Greg Gardner: We often forget that men and women at all organizational levels have their own significant ambitions, each wants to look forward to coming to work in the morning, each wants to be a winner. At NetApp we believe that inspired employees do the extraordinary, and great outcomes for our partners, customers, investors happen when inspired and motivated employees come together with a common purpose.

It may not seem like a big thing but I have found that sending handwritten notes to employees when they do something particularly well – or even up to standard – is a very powerful motivator. Recognizing individual performance in a simple yet tangible motivator that creates a rewarding work environment. And when employees are happy, our customers and partners can tell. In fact, NetApp was recently named one of Washingtonian Magazine’s 50 Great Places to Work, something I consider to be an exciting validation of our cultural success.

Here are some tips for how to make these notes successful:

  1. These are not notes sent on the occasion of birthdays or promotions…those have little value.
  2. These are notes written to subordinates after you personally witness their performance.  This means you have to walk around and, as the old “One Minute Manager” recommended, catch people doing something right.
  3. The notes are addressed to and delivered directly to the individual, not through a manager/leader, and should be received by the individual within 24 hours of the behavior mentioned in the note.
  4. The notes are uniformly positive and complimentary, though brief.  NEVER is there any form of negative comment in any one of these notes.
  5. The notes address the individual’s specific performance and include a comment about how important that individual is to the organization.
  6. The notes are written on a unique card stock and sealed in an envelope addressed to the individual.
  7. Notes should be a routine practice.  In an organization of 1500 persons, the leader might write between 5-10 each day – again, each based on specifically observed performance.
  8. A closing note of caution: Before a leader begins writing these notes, she/he must commit to writing them throughout their tenure.  If they peter out and stop, the organization will view the practice with cynicism as another flash in the pan leadership fad.

Think through the idea of handwritten notes and if you believe in it, implement it – you will both raise the morale of your organization and, surprisingly, you’ll be rewarded in retirement with visits from former members of your extended team who show you one of your notes and ask if you remember writing it….remarkable.

*This article was featured in the 11/7 edition of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority online magazine E-Bird.

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