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Chester Elton is a master management trainer serving as a recognition consultant to Fortune 100 firms such as DHL, KPMG, Wal-Mart and Avis Budget Group. He has been called the “apostle of appreciation.” Elton and co-author Adrian Gostick have written The Carrot Principle; The 24-Carrot Manager; and The Invisible Employee. His books have been translated into over 20 languages and have sold over a half-million copies worldwide. Elton has been featured in numerous national media outlets including CNN, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and NPR. Elton shares his secrets to achieving success in management.
What is the carrot principle?
“Carrots” are positive reinforcement, as opposed to “sticks,” which are negative reinforcement. Reward people and you accentuate the positive in the work. People will be more loyal, more engaged, more productive and more profitable to your organization. It’s pretty simple actually.
Do you find that a lot of companies out there have a “carrot culture?”
There are companies that have great strategies, but the execution of those strategies really comes down to relationships. There are a lot of managers out there that still don’t understand the basic principles of building [relationships with] people and using recognition [and rewards] properly. It’s not a company-wide thing so much as being a good manager, and there are a lot of managers out there that need help.
Do you think that recognition is the number-one thing that employees want?
Managers will say the number-one thing employees want is better pay and job security. But when you ask employees what they need, they want encouragement. Pay gets them in the door, but the recognition and the encouragement really win over their hearts and minds.
What can a manager do to set an appreciative tone and culture with the employees that they manage?
One quality we talk about is being frequent, specific and timely. You need to be frequent in your praise. You want to build a relationship that is a daily kind of thing. A lot research has been done that says top employees need some kind of encouragement once every seven days. But not general praise; general praise has no impact on people. You’ve heard somebody say, “Hey great job, you’re doing a great job or you rock!” It doesn’t mean anything to anybody. But if you’re very specific: “Thanks for staying late and making sure it was done in a timely way, thanks for taking care of that customer…”—being very specific in your praise means a lot to people. Don’t wait until the end of the week, or end of the quarter, or end of the year but do it right now. Recognition is a great communicator, and if you do things right away, it communicates value.
What does the first 30 days of being a manager look like, trying to set up this foundation of recognition, encouragement and praise?
I would meet with the employees right away. I’ll tell you a great practice that we’ve implemented in a lot of our training that we got from a wonderful manager in Massachusetts. She put together a recognition survey. I thought this was really brilliant. What she did is she put together a survey asking the employees how they wanted to be rewarded. What kinds of things would you like to be rewarded with—is it time off? Is it food? Is it merchandise? And the last question was: if you had a day that you could do anything you wanted to do, what would you do? And she passed this out on the first day she came in. What she communicated to the employees was: “Hey listen, we want to be high achievers, we are going to have fun while we do it, and when you perform, you are going to be rewarded, and when you are going to rewarded, it will be in a meaningful and very personal way.”
What’s one easy way to recognize employees that makes a big difference?
I would be remiss if I didn’t come back to an old standard. Everyone is looking for new [rewards] and the latest and greatest. But I will tell you that the most significant thing you can do is very inexpensive. Go and buy a stack of cards and get in the habit of mailing handwritten thank-you notes to your employees at their homes. The reason you mail it to their homes is to get the family involved. There’s something really nice about a very specific—not just “Great job” with a big exclamation point—note that goes to a home that really makes it worthwhile.
Other than recognition, what would your top tips be for an effective manager?
In The Carrot Principle, we found that managers, the ones who were rated as high recognizers, had four leadership characteristics that stood out. They were great communicators, they were better goal setters, they had high levels of trust and they held people accountable way above the norm.
So, learn to be a good communicator, be a good storyteller, give recognition, set clear and concise goals and when you reach those goals, celebrate. Hold people accountable, but do it in as positive a way as you can. Often particularly new managers, to show they know what’s going on, are quick to point out what you did wrong. By pointing out what you did wrong, and showing you they know what’s right, the manager is elevating himself. But he’s elevating himself on the shoulders of negative experience. When you’re a manager, you should hold people accountable but in a very positive way.
If you can master those four basic areas and overlay recognition in each one of those, your odds of succeeding will go way up.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
I am a very devout Mormon and Christian and I go to my family and my faith.
The best thing about change is…
What is the best change you have ever made?
The best change I ever made was when I asked my wife to marry me. And I didn’t have to ask her twice. I’ve been happily married to Heidi Olson for 24 years.
For more information on Chester Elton, visit www.carrots.com.
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