Recognise This! – We see good examples of recognition around us all the time. The trick is incorporating those lessons in how we recognise others.

What’s your top 5 favorite movie list? I won’t admit to all of mine (just yet), but one is definitely Breakfast at Tiffany’s. (I’m a huge Audrey Hepburn fan.) I share this with you because of a book I finished over the weekend, Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M., by Sam Wasson. The book is about the making of the movie, including the making of Audrey Hepburn as an actress up to that point.

What does this have to do with a blog about recognition and appreciation? A letter written by Audrey to Henry Mancini (who did the music for the movie) is a case study in how to write a good recognition message. Here’s the letter:

Dear Henry,

I have just seen our picture – BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S – this time with your score.

A movie without music is a little bit like an aeroplane without fuel. However beautifully the job is done, we are still on the ground and in a world of reality. Your music has lifted us all up and sent us soaring. Everything we cannot say with words or show with action you have expressed for us. You have done this with so much imagination, fun and beauty.

You are the hippest of cats – and the most sensitive of composers!

Thank you, dear Hank.

Lots of love,


Without a good, heartfelt, detailed message of praise, many employee recognition efforts fall flat. I often call these half-hearted efforts “drive-by recognition,” which often looks like the manager breezing past an employee’s desk, calling over his shoulder, “Great job, Louise. Thanks!”

By contrast, Audrey’s letter illustrates what a recognition message should include, specifically:

1) What the person did that is worthy of thanks.

It’s obvious in this case – Henry Mancini added music to a movie, lifting it above what it was alone. How can you apply that at work? Let’s imagine Louise helped you on a client project that required a good deal of research to be completed on a tight deadline. Your message might begin, “Louise, we couldn’t have completed the Smith project without your contributions and deep knowledge of available research in this space.”

2) How that effort went above and beyond.

Above and beyond effort is especially worthy of recognition. Audrey calls that out through a beautiful illustration of how music lifts us all up. In our example, you could continue your message to Louise with, “You dropped other high-priority work to jump into the Smith project with full commitment. You recognised the importance of the project to the overall team and did not hesitate.”

3) Call out the specific skills, talents or attributes demonstrated.

Generalised recognition does not help a person improve or know what behaviours they should repeat. Specific recognition, on the other hand, makes it very clear. Audrey expresses that by describing Henry’s work as “imagination, fun and beauty.” In our example, perhaps you would convey to Louise, “Not only did you pull research to support our position, but you carefully reviewed it for the most relevant arguments, whittling down copious amounts of supporting data to those that would matter the most in this particular and unique case. That take both attention to detail and a willingness to immerse yourself in the client’s mindset and needs.”

4) Make it real to the moment or event being recognised.

To people who are not fans of the movie, the phrase “hippest of cats” might seem merely a reference to the decade in which the note was written. It’s not. Audrey is bringing in words used by her character, Holly Golightly, tying the message of praise even more firmly to the movie and reason for recognition. For Louise, this might read like, “You are our research guru. We might as well call you ‘Google’!”

5) An expression of sincere thanks.

As obvious as it might seem, it’s important to use the words, “thank you.” They mean something at a deep, heartfelt level when not used in a tossed-off fashion. Audrey wraps her note up with those words, and so should you to Louise, “Thank you, Louise.”

(As a bonus, check out this post for other “Letters of Note” that are excellent examples of recognition.)

What’s your favorite movie or message of appreciation?