First, a disclaimer. I subscribe to the leadership philosophy that says leaders create conditions for people to succeed. Leaders need to show support for their people. Recognition for a job well done is a leadership mandate. Sounds okay, but do people really pay attention? Based on my experience, pain sells; positivism sits on the shelf.
So it was a delight and surprise to read "Ask Annie" by Fortune’s advice columnist Anne Fisher stating that recognition pays. Citing a study done by the The O.C. Tanner Company, Ms Fisher notes that "People will work harder and more enthusiastically for an appreciative boss, and companies that praise topnotch performance are more profitable than those who don’t." This study, conducted by the Jackson Organization over a ten-year time frame involving more than 200,000 managers, concludes that companies that value recognition averaged a return on equity of 8.7 percent versus 2.4 percent for those which did not. Research like this supports the ideas behind The Carrot Principle, the newest book from Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton.
Many managers "don’t believe in [positive recognition]," says Gostick who with Elton is a consultant for O.C. Tanner. "They’re always the ones in the back of the room at our seminars with their arms folded…" As Gostick told Fortune’s Anne Fisher, this resistance stems from lack of time, need to be "tough," and simple lack of know-how.
So if you want to encourage your management team to get behind the recognition express, what can you do? Buy them a copy of The Carrot Principle, sure, but demonstrate the power of recognition yourself. Here’s how:
Find positives in other people’s work. At your next staff meeting, before you criticize, say something nice. Thank people for doing the research and doing the grunt work. Show some appreciation of effort.
Talk up the work of your team to the higher-ups. When you interact with senior executives, talk up the contributions of your team. Make specific mention of key contributions and contributors.
Compliment your boss on a task well-done. Find an opportunity to give your boss a pat on the back. Pick out something that she’s done well, such as overcome an obstacle, shown restraint in a crisis, or developed a key insight that benefits the entire time. Do this in private.
Be honest. Do not compliment for the sake of being nice, do it with meaning and conviction. When you criticize, be constructive. Being tough does not imply meanness. Sincerity counts because it adds depth to what you say when you are critiquing as well as when you are stroking.
"Give the person responsibility, a measurable task they can handle, and praise when they accomplish it, and they feel good," says Carrot Principle co-author, Chester Elton. He told Fuel e-newsletter, "When you have an office full of people who generally feel good, you create a [positive] environment. Recognition, when it’s applied well, can absolutely transform people and the organizations they work for. I see it happen every day."
By doing these things, could you be perceived as a brown-nosing, suck-up angling for the next promotion? Sure, but this knuckle-dragging behavior will be drowned out by the smiles and thank you’s you receive from your peers.
Will your corporate ROI triple? Maybe not, but you will make your work environment a more pleasant place. You may even encourage some higher-ups to follow your example. Most of all, you will have learned that carrots are better than sticks. But again even an ass could teach us that!
"Why saying ‘Thank you’ is more than good manners" Anne Fisher Fortune 4.12.07; "Recognition Pays" O.C. Tanner with Research Data from The Jackson Organization May 25, 2005 www.octanner.com; Todd Wilkinson "One on One with Adrian Gostick & Chester Elton" Fuel May 2007