The Productivity of “Thank You”

Our church ran an event where a group of students donated a bunch of their time to help out a ministry they normally never interact with. The event had some extra money at the end, so I suggested they buy a gift card for the team leader to say “thank you.” They declined, fearing the other students would be angry that they were left out. I then suggested that they either buy something for everyone or find another way to meaningfully thank these students. They still said no.

I later spoke with the team leader, and he said that he probably wouldn’t ever do that kind of event again because he didn’t feel appreciated and it was outside his normal passion area.

There was one silver lining, however. One of the participants came up and told him that she saw God working through him. That stuck with him and made it worth it.

Leadership Lesson: a meaningful “thank you” is a powerful motivator

Researchers at Stony Brook University (link to article) recently looked at something similar by asking what makes people keep contributing to Wikipedia (rather than stopping), and what increases their productivity. The grand summary?

expressions of appreciation by other Wikipedia contributors, including awards, helped to fuel what they called a “spirit of generosity.”

In other words, when someone was recognized and praised for their good work by someone who was qualified to evaluate their work, they stayed connected and became WAY more productive for a very long time.

All it took was an informal digital award that gets displayed on their profile page. Not money. Not gift cards. Not a certificate or plaque. A pretty picture to show on your online profile.

How much of an impact did this make?

The team concluded that receiving a barnstar increased productivity by 60 percent and made contributors six times more likely to receive additional barnstars from other community members, revealing that informal rewards significantly impact individual effort.

Putting it into Practice

There are two basic differences between my story and the research article. In my story, the leader received a personal and private “thank you.” In the research article, contributors received a personal and public“thank you.”

  • How can I thank someone publicly? Privately?
  • Who has recently made a significant contribution? How can I thank them publicly or privately?
  • Who has recently started and hit an early milestone? How can I keep them motivated with a “thank you?”