Bill and Melinda Gates’ letter to Warren Buffett highlights the importance of saying thanks

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Bill Gates and Warren Buffett share 25 years of friendship (Image from Gates Notes)
Source: GatesNotes.com

They might be some of the most successful businesspeople on the planet, but Bill and Melinda Gates clearly don’t underestimate the power of saying a simple “thank you”, with the pair giving a big shoutout on LinkedIn to Warren Buffett for his contributions to The Gates Foundation.

The Gates’ 2017 annual letter is addressed to Buffett himself to express the couple’s gratitude for his massive donation to their projects to fight disease and inequality. In 2006, Buffett pledged to give 85% of his fortune to charitable efforts, including The Gates Foundation.

Ten years on, the couple has outlined the impact that generosity has had in a detailed letter to the Berkshire Hathaway founder, which includes statistics on improving infant and child mortality rates and the foundation’s fight against malnutrition.

“We don’t have sales and profits to show you. But there are numbers we watch closely to guide our work and measure our progress,” the Gates explain.

“If you add up each year’s gains, 122 million children under age five have been saved over the past 25 years,” Bill Gates says.

“Thank you for putting your trust in us, Warren. We won’t let you down.”

The message, which has so far been engaged with tens of thousands of times on LinkedIn and garnered hundreds of comments, is just the latest example of business leaders putting stock in the humble thank you note.

In 2014, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg made writing one thank you “well considered” note a day his goal for the year. At the time he told Bloomberg Businessweek that he hoped the goal would shift his focus away from the critical mindset he used on a day-to-day when running the social media giant.

“I always kind of see how I want things to be better, and I’m generally not happy with how things are, or the level of service that we’re providing for people, or the quality of the teams that we built,” he said.

The idea of also focusing on those that have helped to secure wins for a business or organisation, instead of only honing in on problem solving, is something all business owners can learn from, as researchers at Utah State University and Brigham Young University recently explained in the Harvard Business Review.

Their work has found too often staff members see their bosses or leadership teams as ideas, rather than people, but managers can address this by connecting one-on-one with staff through things like thank you notes.

The act of saying thank you has garnered headlines in the US at the start of 2017, with businesses that had interacted with the Obama administration sending their own notes to the family thanking them for the support and exposure, while the Obamas themselves delivered messages to those that had helped them along the way.

But the approach has also been a long-respected way for business leaders to show they understand what their staff are doing and why that’s valuable. Former General Electric chief executive Jack Welch regularly pops up as an example of a great leader due in part to his commitment to writing direct notes of thanks to his staff across the company network.

Read more: The two words you must use if you want to network effectively

Keep it simple and specific 

Psychologist Eve Ash says managers often forget just how rarely feedback and appreciation is passed on in the churn of regular business, but a simple and specific note can quickly help strengthen a relationship.

“As long as it’s not a printed thank you with a signature at the bottom,” Ash warns.

“The most important thing is to go from the heart—it’s not about the amount, it’s not about the length.”

The two main things to consider when crafting a good thank you note is to be direct and specific about what actions the recipient did that helped, and why it was of value to you, Ash says.

The simple act of handwriting a message can also help make that connection, because it goes that step further to show personal effort.

“It now really stands out because that’s going to be the thing that sets you apart,” Ash says.

Ultimately, the takeaway for business owners is that not everyone will know you value their contributions if you stay silent.

“This is really about recognising that appreciation should be not assumed, so you want to verbalise it,” Ash says.

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Emma Koehn is SmartCompany’s senior journalist.

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