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Have you ever wondered why some innovators who are relatively low in the hierarchy are able to get results in big organizations while others flail? Have you ever wondered why some people always seem to be offered incredible opportunities while others get the scraps?

Moving a large organization, even when one wields little power as an entry-level employee or outside vendor, boils down to using two words: Thank You.

The Employee Appreciation Vacuum

Rank and file employees in corporations and government are some of the most underappreciated people on the planet—especially with today's economy where furlough Friday's and corporate layoffs are the norm. The attitude of many companies, (most likely driven by some Machiavellian human resource policy to reign in costs) is that people should not be "thanked" for doing their job.

Yet a wise mentor once explained to me, "The person who holds the pen has more power than you think." Although senior executives make decisions to buy the pen, the "pen holding" employee controls what it writes.

Consider Radar from the hit 1970's TV series M*A*S*H. He had no power on the organization chart, yet he wielded a tremendous amount of power when it came to securing premium supplies for the military base. There are Radars in every organization, executive assistants, first or second line employees, or odd ducks with no direct reports who are extremely effective at working across the organization and making things happen. Often, these employees have a network of contacts who help each other out. Those networks are usually connected by respect and gratitude.

Honor Employees for their Work

Showing gratitude and respect is often a lost art in today's frenzied and digitally-dominated workplaces. In the war for time and attention, personal expressions of gratitude seem to be perpetual losers. Don't let them be.

Although an e-mail thank you is a good start, nothing is more powerful than looking someone in the eye or delivering a handwritten note. Sincere thank yous and truly personal gestures are effective because they are so infrequent today. You have to invest valuable time to make such personal offers of respect and gratitude, but the payoff is worth it. That payoff comes not just in people who are willing to work with you and give you their best effort, but in terms of your own mental health. Expressing gratitude regularly is one of the easiest paths to happiness according to numerous studies.

As we celebrate Labor Day, here are a few very simple (and low cost!) ways you can attract more opportunity and make your workplace more innovative and productive:

  1. Make it a habit to handwrite at least one sincere thank you to someone who helped you over the past week. Or at least start by sending a few e-mails.
  2. Identify the Radars that you work with. Send them a thank you (or bring them a latte).
  3. At least once a month, go out of your way to praise someone to their boss and their colleagues. Try not to make this a perfunctory email with a few people on the "cc" line—do something that shows you are sincere.

Try these steps with a three-month trial. If you don't see more opportunities, more effort, more productivity, and more happiness, let me know. I may even buy you a latte to say thank you for giving my ideas a shot.

Adrian Ott has been called, "One of Silicon Valley's most respected, (if not the most respected) strategists" by Consulting Magazine. She is the author of The 24-Hour Customer: New Rules for Winning in a Time-Starved, Always-Connected Economy (HarperCollins, August 2010) and CEO of Exponential Edge®Inc. consulting. Follow Adrian on Twitter at @ExponentialEdge

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