Postcards: an anachronism or a tool to personalize communication?

IMG_4852You can still find them in souvenir shops, but who buys postcards?

Likely most people don’t. It’s so easy to post photos and update friends and family from almost anywhere in the world via social media.

But let’s not be too quick to relegate postcards to the dustbin of history, to a time when the only way travellers could communicate with the folks back home was through the postal service.

What distinguishes postcards from other, more immediate ways of communication is that these brief, handwritten messages are more personal than photos and updates posted to Facebook or Instagram. It’s a message to one or a few, rather than a message meant for everyone in your community. 

The equivalent in the context of staff recognition is the difference between a handwritten thank-you note and an all-staff email (“You all doing very, very well!”) or a letter of appreciation which was “personalized” using a mail merge program.

Postcards can be used as a way to deliver vacation-themed staff recognition. Use postcards as you would thank-you notes, expressing appreciation to a staff member or the team for their contributions. Tell them you are enjoying a truly relaxing vacation, confident you left the organization “in good hands.”

Suggested Action: The next time you are on vacation, send a few postcards to staff members (individuals or the whole team) to let them know you are thinking of them and to express your confidence that they are doing a great job in your absence.


Participants in my Staff Recognition: One Piece at a Time workshops identify a variety of ways with which to recognize staff. Email or call (780) 232-3828 to learn more or to schedule training for leaders within your organization.


Is this someone you would hire for a leadership role?

Unknown Person Concept“Your mission [Insert your name here], should you choose to accept it, . . .” (with apologies to the 1966-1973 TV series and the more recent movie franchise:

Hire someone to lead an organization that is facing external threats so extreme that its very existence is at risk.

Others (we’ll think of them as references) have stepped forward with their thoughts about a prime candidate:

  • He suffers from bouts of depression*
  • Some of his comments border on racist
  • He’s already old enough to be retired (65)*
  • He is a heavy smoker and drinks too much
  • He’s overweight
  • He loves gambling
  • Many of his decisions have had disastrous consequences

What do you think? Is this someone who you entrust with a leadership position?

Of course, some of these observations—those marked with an asterisk—should not factor into your hiring decision, as that would discriminate against the candidate on grounds protected by human rights legislation.

Even setting those aside, almost of any one of the others would seem to disqualify this person from assuming a leadership role.

In the real-world situation that inspired this scenario, the decision makers ignored the naysayers and hired this candidate.

Fortunately, this turned out to be the right decision. It worked out. If it hadn’t, you might be reading this article in German.

By now, you have likely figured out that the person who attracted so many negative comments was Winston Churchill, who in May 1940 became the British prime minister and proved to be the right person to lead the nation through one of the darkest periods in its history.

What this exercise demonstrates is the importance of being cautious about what we hear when checking references. Most of the time, references are people you don’t know (i.e. strangers) and who you have no reason to trust will provide you with anything but candidate-approved (and perhaps candidate-scripted) words of praise.

If “Is X a good worker?” or “Would you hire Y again?” are typical of the questions you ask when checking references, you’re squandering a valuable opportunity to learn more about candidates before making hiring decisions.

If the stranger says you should—or should not—hire the candidate, what do you do?

You could take the advice and then explain that you made your decision because that’s what’s what a stranger told you to do. After all, if you can’t trust a stranger, who can you trust?

Or, it’s time to stop asking strangers for their opinions, because when it comes to hiring decisions, the only opinions that count are yours and those of other members of your interview panel.

Ask references to describe what the candidates did when they encountered circumstances similar to those your staff members face regularly—similar to what you should ask candidates to do during interviews.

When you ask questions about what the candidate did, you are using reference checks to gather evidence on which to base your hiring decision and turning the candidate’s references into your hiring allies.

Now, let’s recall the final words from the message on those Mission Impossible tapes.

As always, should you or any of your Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck.”

Good luck indeed! When a hiring decision goes wrong, everyone seems to remember that it was your decision and everyone else disavows any responsibility.


Suggested Action: Review the questions you ask when checking references. Are you asking for their opinions or for descriptions of what the candidate did in specific circumstances? Be prepared to rewrite your questions to require reference to focus on the facts.


During Interview Right to Hire Right workshops, participants will develop reference check questions, which will help them gather high-quality evidence on which to base their hiring decisions. Email or phone (780) 232-3828 to learn more or to schedule training for leaders from your organization.

Cool recognition on a hot summer day

Variety of popsicles isolated on whiteLast summer, ours was part of the city of Edmonton’s neighbourhood renewal program—new sidewalks, new streetlights and new pavement. These enhancements required several months of construction through all types of weather before the project wrapped up.

On one particularly warm day, I watched as someone, who I assumed was from the construction company, delivered Popsicles to the crew working on the sidewalk in front of the house.

This was a simple gesture, which seemed to acknowledge the crew for persisting through the heat of the day to complete their work.

It is something that other organizations with staff which works outside during hot summer days could adopt. A frozen treat or cold drinks is a simple, inexpensive, yet appreciated way to acknowledge those who work all day under a hot sun.

This type of summer-themed recognition need not be limited to outside workers. There are several other ways to provide summer-themed recognition, such as delivering ice cream treats to staff at their desks or saying thank you for a week of hard work by arranging for staff to leave early on a sunny Friday afternoon.

Suggested Activity: Add to the list of summer-themed staff recognition techniques. What are other ways to recognize staff, which are particularly suited to the hot summer days? Add your suggestions in the comment box below.

When hiring, search for evidence that shows that the candidate has enhanced the reputation of previous employers

Knowledge Experience Quality Trust Reputation Steps 3d Illustrat

As I listened to the president read the charge to a new member who was being inducted into our Rotary club, it struck me that one sentence was as applicable to workplaces as it was to service club membership.

“Rotary will be judged by your actions, and you therefore take on a great responsibility in becoming a Rotarian.”

It may not be stated as clearly and directly as during the Rotary indication ceremony, but every new staff member assumes a huge responsibility—to maintain and enhance the reputation of the organization. 

This should be an important consideration, whatever the organization. “Our school, our business, our department will be judged by your actions.”

In his book, Moments of Truth, Jan Carlzon writes that, “Any time a customer comes into contact with a business . . . they have the opportunity to form an impression.”

Judgments are made. The school or business or department’s reputation is on the line every time someone comes into contact with it. The perception may be enhanced or it may take a hit depending on what one person—any one of your organization’s employees—does or says.

How is the telephone answered? How are customers greeted? Is the staff member knowledgeable about products or services? Are inquiries answered quickly, politely and accurately? Are customers thanked for their business? Are complaints resolved satisfactorily?

This may sound like direction for customer service training, but that’s not the intent here. It’s about hiring the right people—people whose words and actions will enhance the organization’s reputation.

Owners who hire for their businesses, managers who hire for their department, or principals who hire for their schools should use interviews and reference checks to discover what impact the candidates’ actions have had on the reputation of previous employers.

Ask the candidates to describe what they have said or done which changed how a customer felt about the organization. How did they deal with a customer with a complaint? How did they greet customers? How did they answer customers’ questions? How did they acquire the knowledge they needed to answer the customers’ inquiries? How did they define what the customer should expect from a product or service?

Reference checks should be used to ask for descriptions of what the candidates did in the same circumstances as those discussed during interviews, and to confirm what the candidates said when interviewed.

After collecting information from interviews and reference checks, compare what you heard to how your top performers—in this case, those who do the most to enhance your organization’s reputation—do under similar circumstances. The better the match, the greater the potential that you have found the right person to add to your staff.


Suggested Action: Describe with specificity what your top performers say and do to enhance your organization’s reputation. Use this information to create criteria against which to assess job-seekers.


Participants in Interview Right to Hire Right workshops are challenged to identify behaviours that make their top performers successful and to use this information to create interview questions which will help them identify candidates with the potential to become top performers. Email or phone (780) 232-3828 to learn more or to schedule training for your leadership team. 

It takes more than trinkets and tokens to convey your message of appreciation.

Different Champion Golden Trophy, Trophies. Winners Cups On Blue

When people in leadership positions think about recognizing staff, the question that often arises is, what can we give them to show they are appreciated? 

The possibilities are without limit. Trophies, certificates, gift cards, merchandise, thank-you notes, recognition events and letters of commendation to be placed in personnel files are just the beginning. We all have our favourite ways to recognize staff and ways in which we prefer to be recognized.

All of these tokens of appreciation work for some, but not for all. There is no equivalent of a Swiss Army knife, which we can use successfully to recognize all staff. One-size-fits-all doesn’t exist. One-size only fits one.

You will discover that some people value trophies, certificates or plaques, while others quickly relegate these items to the local landfill. Some will treasure and save handwritten thank-you notes, but others will assign value only to formal letters from the boss (or the boss’s boss), which can be added to their personnel file. 

Only one person determines the value of recognition—the recipient. Therefore, it’s important to know them well enough to recognize them in Appropriate ways. Ask questions to discover what’s important to individuals. What are their interests and recognition preferences?

What you learn can be used to discover the best tools to help convey your message of appreciation, but even knowing the answers to these questions doesn’t guarantee success in recognizing staff. 

Identifying the right tools to recognize staff is important, but recognition isn’t about favourite treats, mugs decorated with cartoon characters or books by authors who recipients like. These are just objectives, tokens and trinkets. 

They help convey the message of appreciation, but on their own they will not express your gratitude. That depends on how the recognition is presented. Providing an Appropriate token of appreciation may strengthen your message of appreciation, but the message of appreciation is expressed in words, not with trinkets. Recognition comes from the heart, not from a catalogue of merchandise.

People may not always remember the gifts they receive—they may not always value the gifts they receive—but they will remember the words you spoke and how those made them feel. 

Suggested Action: Examine your staff recognition practices. Are they trinket-based or does your recognition begin with words, with tokens of appreciation used only to strengthen that message?


Participants in Staff Recognition: One Piece at a Time workshops identify ways to use Appropriate tokens and other tools to strengthen their messages of appreciation. Email or call (780) 232-3828 to learn more or to schedule a workshop for members of your leadership team.

Who is better prepared for interviews? Hint: it’s usually not the people who are hiring

Career Section in Bookstore (Focus on Career Sign)

When a job-seeker meets the people with a vacancy to fill, it’s often the candidate, and not those who will be asking the questions, who is better prepared for what will occur during the interview.

Why is that?

Because job-seekers prepare themselves to be interviewed. They take courses, attend seminars and read books to learn what they need to do to get a job. Few managers, supervisors and other leaders have prepared in a similar fashion.

Earlier this year, I tested this theory with a spontaneous survey during a breakout session at a teachers’ convention.

While these sessions are meant for principals, vice-principals and other educational administrators who make hiring decisions for their schools, the audience frequently also includes people who are, or soon will be, looking for a job.

The education students and other potential job-seekers are there to hear what I will say to administrators who might someday interview them. They want to know what to expect, so they will be ready for their next interviews.

“What have you done to prepare for your job search? Who has taken a course or attended a seminar on finding the right job? Who has read a book about how to be interviewed?” I asked.

Nearly every job-seeker responded that indeed they had taken some action to help them find a position.

The response to my next questions, directed toward the educational administrators, was markedly different. “What have you done to prepare for your role as interviewers? Have you ever taken a course, attended a workshop or read a book on how to hire the right people?”

Nary a hand was raised.

The results of this admittedly unscientific survey were hardly surprising. Visit any public library or bookstore and you will find many titles aimed at job-seekers. Topics range from preparing resumes and cover letters to how to prepare for and follow up interviews. You can even find lists of questions interviewers are most likely to ask, often with scripts suggesting how to respond.

For every 10 of these books you would hard-pressed to find even one title written to prepare managers, supervisors and other leaders to use interviews to identify the right people to hire.

Because publishers and booksellers are in the business of providing what customers will buy, it’s obvious that job-seekers are more likely to buy books on getting hired than those offering jobs are likely to buy books about hiring.

Colleges and universities offer courses to ready their students to find jobs, and agencies charged with assisting people to enter the workforce provide training and coach their clients on what to do and say when interviewed.

Those who hire need to level the playing field. Deciding who to hire is one of the most important decisions leaders make, and so you should be well-prepared. You may begin by downloading and reading my free e-book, 13 Reasons Managers Are “Unlucky” When Making Hiring Decisions, but don’t stop there.

Google “interviewing” for hundreds of articles on hiring. Keep reading Briefly Noted for articles offering advice on writing questions, conducting interviews, checking references and deciding who to hire. Check out previous articles posted to my blog. Scour the shelves of your local library or bookstore and search online booksellers for books on hiring the right people. Attend a course or workshop on interviewing.


Participants in Interview Right to Hire Right develop techniques that will enable them to consistently identify the right people to hire. Email or call (780) 232-3828 to learn more, or to schedule training for leaders within your organization.

The way these Rotarians acknowledge contributions could be adapted to enhance workplace peer recognition

bigstock--211174480Here’s a twist on the concept of a pass-along award, courtesy of the Rotary Club of Edmonton Whyte Avenue. It’s a way club members acknowledge the contributions of individual Rotarians.

The Whyte Knight Award is presented to, “a Rotarian who demonstrates outstanding service within the Old Strathcona community,” Rotarian Kristin Jennings explains.

Club president Kathy Strobl adds that the award is used to recognize “members who have made a valuable contribution to the projects we undertake as a club and for their dedication to ‘Service Above Self’ (Rotary International’s motto).”

A pass-along award is a tangible symbol of on-the-job success and appreciation, and a simple way to facilitate peer recognition in the workplace. The award is passed from one staff member to another. The recipient holds the award for a brief period of time, usually no more than a few days, before becoming responsible to pass it along to a deserving co-worker.

The Whyte Knight Award departs from this model for peer recognition in two ways. First the award stays with the recipient for a few weeks, rather than a few days.

Secondly, it’s not the recipient alone who identifies to whom the award will be presented next. He/she is expected to consult with one or two other members to decide who will be next to receive the award. This makes more members conscious of the need to recognize the contributions of other Rotarians.

The Whyte Knight Award concept may represent an enhancement that could be applied in most workplaces. Requiring recipients to work with colleagues to identify the next recipient reinforces the organization’s commitment to peer recognition. The discussion of who and what behaviour deserves to be recognized could focus more people on recognizing their peers.

To provide time for the recipient and others to consider who next to recognize and to reach their decision, it may be necessary to extend the time the current recipient possesses the award. Perhaps one week would be appropriate. A specific day could be a designated each week on which the next recipient is announced.

Suggested Action: Does your organization have a pass-along award? If not, maybe it’s time to create one, following either the Whyte Knight model or the more traditional approach. Click here to read tips on how to implement a pass-along award.


A pass-along award is one technique included when the power of peer recognition is discussed during the Staff Recognition: One Piece at a Time program. Email or call (780) 232-3828 to learn more or to schedule a workshop for members of your leadership team.