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Two Flawed Recognition Tools And How To Get Acknowledgment Right

Your fitness coach won’t like this blog because my latest Off the Rak guest, Chester Elton, doesn’t want you to eat your carrots; he wants you to offer them to your colleagues, employees, friends, and even strangers.

Decades of research, years of training, and twelve books later, Chester and his coauthor Adrian Gostick have brought to life the science behind recognition and, more recently, recognition in the form of gratitude.

Many of you are familiar with sayings like “You get more bees with honey than with vinegar.” Chester loves these phrases because they’re rooted in wisdom. In our chat, he reminded listeners of Aesop’s Fable about the man on the road with a donkey. The man beats the donkey with a stick, and he can’t get the donkey to move. Aesop says, “Have you tried a carrot?” So the man puts a carrot out in front of the donkey, and, of course, the donkey engages and moves forward.

In their books (particularly in The Carrot Principle), Chester and Adrian talk about the importance of creating a culture of gratitude, meaning “more carrots and fewer sticks,” more listening, more coaching, more teaching, and more rewards. “More carrots [translates into] more positivity, more gratitude, less anger, less blaming, less scapegoating,” said Chester.

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As a former CEO of a public company and an executive throughout my career, I had to admit to Chester that I’ve suffered many times from what he calls “carrot phobia,” which is based on excuses for why we don’t recognize our employees or associates more. Chester and Adrian list twenty-three (!) common excuses, so I decided to ask him about two that I found personally plausible.

Here’s how Chester set me and my listeners straight:

Flawed Recognition Strategy #1: Isn’t money the ultimate recognition tool, Chester? We can easily “catch up” with our recognition using raises, right?

Chester: Money is a great satisfier, but it’s not a great motivator. When we ask people what they did with their last cash bonus, do you know what the number one answer is? Paid a bill!

What is memorable about paying your phone bill? The average raise is 2 to 3 percent. After FICA, taxes, and everything else, it’s nominal each month. So while it sounds good and it’s easy to do, it doesn’t work unless it’s significant. For example, Adrian and I have a wonderful client, Texas Roadhouse. They bring in their employees from all over the country for an annual get-away. They have all sorts of contests, and one of them is for their meat cutters. The number one meat cutter gets $10,000. That’s significant!

Flawed Recognition Strategy #2: If I recognize people too much, it will lose its meaning.

Chester: This is where I get the most pushback. Walt, do you remember when you were at one of my speaking engagements and I asked the audience “Who here, right now, is madly in love and still happily married?” Then I brought one of the people on stage who raised their hand and asked him, “How often do you tell your spouse that you love them?” When he answered, “Multiple times a day,” I said, “Well, that’s ridiculous. Clearly, it’s going to lose its meaning. Wouldn’t it be better if you just had a year-end banquet and once a year said to your spouse, ‘Love you, love you, love you.’ Wouldn’t that be better? Can you hear it too much? The answer is always ‘no.’”

If you loved these “rules of the road” for recognition and how to get it right, check out my latest episode of Off the Rak with the “Apostle of Appreciation,” Chester Elton. We’ll cover these topics and many more that resonate with smart leaders who cultivate a culture of recognition and appreciate the impact on employee engagement, retention, and performance. Make this year a memorable one. Don’t eat your carrots; instead, share them with everyone you know. Just like the vegetable, gratitude is good for you.

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