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A carrot a day – keeps employee churn at bay


Charlie Duff interviews Chester Elton live at the HR Director’s Business Summit in Birmingham to find out why HR’s favourite colour should be orange.

If you haven’t seen Chester Elton speak, perhaps you should. His motivation speeches are always funny and inspiring: his continual message is appreciate your people. Known for throwing things into/at his audiences (toy carrots, books, frisbees) and a serious addication to all things orange, from his socks to his glasses (he views the world through orange-tinted lenses). Essentially, he’s a Canadian bundle of energy with a passion for saying thank you. Here Chester explains why you should get the carrot culture bug too, as well as how it benefits an organisation, plus tips on how best to go about delivering true appreciation.

What’s with the carrots?
The reason we like the carrot metaphor is it works in every country we’ve presented it. The idea of the carrot as a reward is a universal symbol. Normally you talk about the carrot and stick but we talk about ‘carrot culture’. Carrot culture is appreciation. It’s a great metaphor and we have a great mascot in Garrett the carrot.

What difference does saying ‘thanks’ make in an organisation?
Appreciation changes everything is what we say. And I think it’s true – it changes the mood. When you know you are appreciated and important it changes everything. You’re no longer invisible – you’re important.

Why should you thank people for doing the job they are already paid to do?
Because you want them to continue to do it and you want them to improve it. What we’ve found is that rewarded behaviour gets repeated. You want them to continue to do their job and not just do a good job but a great job. Appreciation continues good performance and inspires great performance. And it costs nothing.

Many organisations only say thank you after a big win of some kind. Would you advocate thanking employees more often?
I know sports analogies are overused but do you cheer the final score or do you cheer every point? Why? Because you want to encourage them. It’s the home-field advantage which increases your odds of winning. Cheer your employees all along the way – they’re your favourite team.

When exactly should you thank them?
As close to the behaviour as possible – the closer the recognition to the behaviour the more likely it is to be repeated. That’s basic psychology. Do it now.

Is there a wrong way to thank your people?

Yes. General praise has no impact on people. If you show up every day and say ‘great job’ it has no impact. Great recognition has three basic rules: It’s frequent, it’s specific and it’s timely. If you’re not specific to what you’re praising it has no effect, no matter how frequent or timely it is. Specificity is the key.

Do you still think the Lamborghini is a great way to thank someone, or is this perhaps a less good idea now, in the context of big bonuses and the financial crash?
You can never go wrong with a Lamborghini. Especially an orange one. It’s not cost-effective but it’s emotionally effective! The key is not only paying for the Lambo but the gas, and the insurance.

What results have businesses had when consciously thanking and appreciating their staff? Has it had an effect on the ROI?
Organisations which recognised excellence had a 3:1 advantage over organisations that didn’t on the return on equity on assets and almost a 7:1 advantage on operating margins. The results are dramatic. Where most organisations see the best results are on turnover and engagement. If you can reduce staff turnover by 2%, it can make a huge difference.

In the UK we tend to be a bit less keen to get down and really appreciate our staff. We even get a bit embarrassed about it. What would you recommend we do to help us ‘get over ourselves’?
Just start doing it. What I’ve found across every culture is that everybody wants to be appreciated. Perhaps start small, with a hand-written note. Everyone what to be appreciated – find the right way to do it – small gatherings, hand-written notes – but you do need to get over yourselves, and the sooner the better!

What would you say to HR practitioners worried about the challenge of trying to change their workplace culture to be more appreciative?
Get buy-in from the top management – that’s key. Then get it started and stay with it. Here’s an idea – – we own it but it’s fun and it has really cute email ‘thank yous’ which you can personalise.

In closing – this is a great business practice but it’s also a great personal practice. I always say to people say thank you to your kids, say thank you to your spouse. Write your wife a love note – there’s a guy who thanks his kids with a note every week. Put a note in your kid’s lunchbox. Thank your minister, thank your kid’s teachers and you’d be surprised how much they appreciate it. No one writes hand-written notes anymore so when you do it it’s unexpected and most appreciated. I say write a card and send it to their home.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget – buy the book


Chester Elton is a motivational speaker, author and vice President of Performance recognition at OC Tanner.

2 Responses

  1. Much appreciated

    Appreciation and personal relationships are important for developing and sustaining a wellness culture. People are much more responsive and much less stressed if they feel valued. I absolutely agree about the handwritten personal and specific notes to say thank you – the key is handwritten – it shows you have taken the time to think about the person or team, chosen the paper or card (cards are best) and the right words in the right context –  rather than just dash off an email with a smiley face.


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