Friday, May 04, 2007

Booknote: The Carrot Principle

Gostick, Adrian and Chester Elton. The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their People, Retain Talent, and Accelerate Performance. New York: Free Press, 2007.
ISBN: 0-7432-9009-7

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Management, workplace motivation

I finished reading this, and I must say that it was a pretty easy read. I actually found myself reading through at a good pace. The authors basically argue that recognition is the accelerant for the basics of good leadership: clear goal setting, open communication, trust, and accountability. If a good manager has all those four, and he adds recognition, it can only get better from there. However, adding recognition just to add it will only make things worse. I think a lot of this is common sense, so as non-business person, it amazes me at times that people can get paid to dispense this kind of common sense advice to corporations who seem to lack a clue. Of course you should always say thank you. Of course you should give credit where credit is due. Of course people are motivated by more than money (but you still do have to pay an equitable wage).

Having said that, if I have to tell managers to read a book, this may be a good one. I hate to say this, but I work in a culture where recognition is pretty rare. And I am not just talking my library, but the campus at large. In their case, they have to work on the elements of leadership before even thinking about working towards a carrot culture. What I liked about this book is that the advice was simple and direct. It was straightforward. You get a sense that this is something that can be accomplished. The authors even provide a list of 125 ways to give recognition. I have to admit some of the options are clearly corporate types of things, but there are a few items that certainly could be applied to a library setting. There are simple things such as recognition from the first day and advice for managers to go out and get to know the employees. Here is a hint to managers: ask us what makes us tick. Very often we will be happy to tell you. Don't assume. And you can never give enough recognition.

By the way, recognition also helps with helping the employees to be both engaged and satisfied. No, they are not the same thing. You can be very satisfied at your job without being engaged, and viceversa. However, if the very engaged employee who is not very satisfied is the one who is probably looking for a new job, while the very satisfied one who is not engaged is more than happy to stay put, he just won't be producing anything above and beyond. Things to think about.
Finally, this is something I want to remember. The authors cite four good engagement questions. These are the kinds of things managers should be asking their workers. Paraphrasing then, from pages 118-119:

  • At the 3 month mark, ask "have we lived up to our promises to you?" and "are we what we told you we would be?" From here, the manager should listen closely to the replies. The manager may ask any further probing questions, but no rebuttals allowed. It is time to listen.
  • Ask next, "what do you think we do here best?"
  • Ask also: "Is there anything you've seen elsewhere that we might be able to use here to make our company better?" I think you could insert "library" for company in this and other questions.
  • Finally, ask, "have we done anything in the past ninety days that might cause you to leave us?" In other words, ask if the person is staying.
Anyways, it is an interesting little book worth reading. I think it has a couple of insights that some libraries could learn from.

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