The Writing Habit: Best Gift You Can Give

2010 Update: I made the decision to bring Say “Alaka‘i” here to Talking Story in late May of 2010 when the Honolulu Advertiser, where the blog previously appeared, was merged with the Star Bulletin (Read more at Say “Alaka‘i” is Returning to the Mothership).

Therefore, the post appearing below is a copy of the one which had originally appeared there on December 14, 2008, so we will be able to reference it in the future when the original url it had been published on is no more…


The Writing Habit: Best Gift You Can Give

Welcome to Sunday Koa Kākou. Sunday is the day I answer questions you send to me. If you have a question connected to management and leadership, leave a comment here, or email me.

From the Say “Alaka‘i” mailbox:
I want to give my employees a gift this year that is practical and very useful. With budgets as they are it has to be fairly inexpensive, and I’m sure they’ll be pretty understanding about that, but I also don’t want it to be a token gift; I want it to mean something. Do you have any suggestions?

I think the best gift you can give is a Starter Kit for the Writing Habit.

Chances are that at any given time, no matter what else is going on in the market, in your industry, or in the entire world, more investments need to be made in the communications which power up the healthy energies of your organizational culture. I firmly believe that we don’t talk to each other enough —even in the very best workplaces. There is no such thing as too much talk, just too much talk on the wrong things, so what great leaders and managers do is seed better talk with lively communication systems and intriguing on-going conversations.

For example, yesterday’s suggestion box needs to be today’s business blog, one where transparency and two-way communication is valued, and anonymous complaining is banished forever in favor of collaborative conversation. You can keep it internal for your staff only to start ”“ just use free blogging software that can be password protected or tabbed onto your existing intranet ”“ then invite vendors and partners as guest posters when you are ready for them. Later, you may decide to open it up for your customers too.

Writing habits are another integral part of organizational culture communications, and it is one that is often forgotten or ignored. The best tool you have in any workplace ”“ bar none ”“ is good old paper and pencil, AND the expectation that everyone has both with them at all times, and they use them well. The reason is simple: Paper and pencil quickly and easily capture the ideas we have, big and small, that we will otherwise forget later and then fail to act on.

This is what goes in your Starter Kit for the Writing Habit:

1. Put together a pocket-sized writing kit: The idea here is to have something they can carry with them at all times. Assorted index cards work really well, and if you have those company logo’d telephone pads, insert one of those too. Include assorted post-its and reading flags, and other small stationery-type writing goodies that will make your gift colorful and fun.

2. Include pencils with great erasers instead of pens so you can give a whole box of them, printed with either the company name or even better, personalized with their names. Also; pencils don’t leak like pens will; people will stick them behind their ears or in hair buns and you will have the visual “we write here!” message that triggers (sounds a bit corny, but actually works in a magical way). They will share pencils readily when someone else needs one. Then there’s the eraser: The pure subconscious wonder of “I can always change my mind if I want to.”

3. Remember those old plastic pocket protectors? Bring them back to hold everything. Today you can find new ones that have an extra clear sleeve for business cards, or better still ”“ a picture of the ‘Ohana carried around as the reminder of how personally important work really is.

4. Absolutely Crucial: A personal letter from you. Explain why you are giving the Gift of a new Writing Habit (give it a name), and how you are hoping to see the art of writing begin to flourish in your workplace. Tell them you value them and every thought they have while they are working so hard on the work which has become so very meaningful and valuable to both of you. You know they are smart and creative, and you want them to know that every idea has the possibility of becoming a great idea, no matter how small it starts out. End with an invitation to send a note to you at any time, and tell them you will begin to send more messages to them to.

5. Those are the essentials. If you have some cash remaining add a package of thank you notes and envelopes that they can give each other when they appreciate something that has been done in the course of the workday.

6. Find some clever packaging for it, and wrap it all up as the gift it is. Handwrite your gift tags ”“ no printed mail-merge labels in a Writing Habit gift!

Last, go back and read the last sentence of number 4. Set a plan in motion that will help you keep that promise you just made. Send more letters, and trace dates on your calendar to remind you: A follow-up as a Happy New Year’s message would be a great start. Make sure you send a letter at least once every quarter.

Be sure you have a kit for yourself too, and immediately start to demonstrate how you use it. Be the person they would like to copy; as Mahatma Gandhi reminded us so well, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

And when people start coming to you, notes in hand, be ready to listen, and listen well.