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Guest Post- The Remedy For An Ailing Carrot Crop

September 30, 2009

While I am in Washington, D.C and Chicago this week, Adrian Gostick was kind enough to provide a guest post for us.  Adrian is the co-author of   ‘The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their People, Retain Talent, and Accelerate Performance’.  Thank you to Adrian for stepping up to the plate for me.

Recently a manager folded his arms in front of us and proclaimed, “We tried a recognition program years ago; it died.”

At a loss for a snappy comeback, one of us began packing up his Carrot-colored flight bag, but the other wasn’t intimidated. With a comforting hand on his partner’s shoulder, he politely told the cantankerous manager that there had been one or two advances in recognition medicine in the last few decades that he might want to try.

Now sure, we admit it can happen: A company launches a recognition system in grand style and everyone is excited to begin appreciating each other. The first month is promising, with ecards, awards and presentations bouncing around like beach balls at a Miley Cyrus concert. The second month keeps pace with the first. But after the first quarter, manager excitement begins to wane and some employees wonder how long it will take for recognition to be buried in the program-of-the-month graveyard.

Indeed, it takes continued effort to create a healthy carrot culture. And it all begins with training.

You can’t just roll out a recognition solution and expect everyone to buy in. Simply put: Most managers are too busy to know how important this is; and even if they are believers most don’t know how to do it right. Spend the time in a classroom setting to help managers overcome their objections to recognition and let them know how it can further the core values and goals of the organization. The good news is this: Our research shows training managers on the right way increases recognition usage by more than 30 percent–which will have a direct impact on employee retention and engagement.

Of course, if you are an individual manager reading this, you can’t exactly beam yourself into a Carrots training session (yet). So do your homework at home. Pick up a copy of The Carrot Principle or The Invisible Employee and take a quick refresher course on the proper way to engage through recognition. You might even spend a few minutes on carrots.com/managers_tools which contains tips and suggestions on how to do this stuff.

Second, another vital combatant to apathy is a consistent communications strategy. An automotive group in Michigan recently launched a tiered performance recognition program to great acclaim. However, even with fun awards and an easy-to-use system, leadership began to see a dip in usage and buzz after about a year. That’s when they implemented a communication plan. Within two months they were seeing a third more award nominations, and simple thank-yous delivered by peers to other peers more than tripled.

Their communication strategy included cool email reminders as well as creative posters and cards plastered throughout their facilities. Leadership also bought in, promoting the program in presentations to employee groups and mentioning the stories of recent winners. Now, whether you run an entire recognition program or you worry only about engaging your small team, story-telling is one of the keys to recognition longevity. Employees need to see that the organization intends to make appreciating great work a principle, not a fleeting concept. Recognition stories help build and create culture change by providing lasting legends of what it means to go above and beyond around here.

Recognition communication strategist Erika Crocker of the O.C. Tanner Company has created internal marketing strategies for some of the world’s most successful organizations. She told us, “Sharing a great story is powerful, but linking the story to the value of the organization is the key. A story really communicates what a certain value looks like and how others can adopt that value.”

Her colleague Lisa Elias suggests, “A great way to find powerful stories is by searching through the award nominations in an online program. These stories make wonderful messages that can be put on posters, in company newsletters and posted on the Intranet.”

Measurement is the third key to keeping a Carrot program fresh. Measurement provides the necessary feedback to help show senior leaders how your organization or team is moving the needle with its recognition strategy.

If you’re a manager, you can measure the effectiveness of your efforts by looking at unwanted employee turnover and by asking qualitative questions such as: “Do you feel  recognized for your contributions?” or “Do you have any achievements that I’ve failed to recognize that you feel particularly proud of?”

If you are in charge of recognition for an organization, a simple measure is the number of nominations and awards being given each month. A more complex assessment may include a baseline survey and then a re-measurement every six months into employee engagement factors, turnover and satisfaction levels.

Overall, you’ll find it’s not rocket science. Recognition is common sense that is, unfortunately, uncommonly practiced. Training, communication and measurement are three simple strategies that can help appreciation become a part of your leadership DNA, helping you to build an engaging, robust Carrot Culture.

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