“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

- Mark Twain

My friend Jeff played piano with Tim McGraw for almost two decades.  When he started to look into recording on his own, he met with some industry types to talk about getting singed to a record deal.  They told him they had to figure out his potential commercial viability by calculating the strength of his following as an artist.  

Believe it or not Facebook follows, Twitter traffic, number of likes, fan emails to his artist website, etc. all had a numerical value.  But the thing that was worth the most… many, many order of magnitude beyond all the rest… was hand written (snail mail) letters from fans.

Someone taking the time to bypass all the convenience and impersonality of the much easier technological methods of communication, reflected a depth of feeling and interest that dwarfed the others.  

I am not surprised.  Are you?

I ignore a heap of e-mails on a daily basis, but don’t think I’ve ever left a handwritten letter unopened.

I heard Frank Blake, former Chairman/CEO of Home Depot talk about some of the tools he implemented as part of his successful run.  One particular thing he mentioned was that he wrote an average of 100 handwritten notes to employees every week of his 8 year term.

100 handwritten notes a week!!!!

I can’t imagine doing that. When I was leaving a 15 year career with a bank I was very fond of, a friend challenged me to finds ways to honor those I respected that I was leaving behind.  By the time I was done, I had interoffice’d 47 handwritten notes to other leaders at the bank.  The process took on a life of its own and it was incredibly gratifying to do, but it took an inordinate amount of time.

Frank said he wasn’t sure if the letter writing thing was really making a difference until he started to see them framed all over the place and saw the ripple effect of many of his mid-level managers continuing the practice through their staff members as well.

But the day that he decided he would never stop writing was when he was visiting one of the stores in Atlanta.  An employee approached him and asked him to rewrite the note he had sent to her.  He said that he would, but wanted to know why.  She said that all her co-workers told her that her note couldn’t be real… there was no way the chairman of a company with hundreds of thousands of employees would write personal notes.  Surely it had been done by machine.

But when she dunked the note in water to see if it were real, the ink ran and she had her answer.  She wanted another one so that she could frame it and save it forever.  He realized that team members are so jaded about even the sincerest of gestures of management, that he had to continue to fight to change their perceptions in this very small way.


  • How do you honor your team members as a regular practice?

  • Do you do it in ways that they actually receive it as sincere?

  • How would the sincerity of a handwritten note be consistent with the way you treat them on a day-to-day basis?

  • Got any stationary? Maybe you need to get some writing going.