Common Sense CarrotsBy E. Brown

Have you seen the book, The Carrot Principle? I was on a business trip and, as is my habit, I swung by the airport bookstore. While perusing the Business section, I saw this book. I picked it up and read the inside dust jacket.

Why does this book exist? A simple survey of employees within any organization will tell you that if you treat people well and compensate them adequately (and in some cases creatively) you will retain people longer and have a happier business culture.

It’s Common Sense
This is nothing new. Rewards and discipline are the two great motivators we learn as children. Certainly, you can phrase these concepts differently, but it’s all semantics and at the end of the day the results are the same. See what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Carrot Principle:

Gostick and Elton, consultants with the O.C. Tanner Recognition Company, have made a career out of promoting the idea of employee recognition as a corporate cure-all. (Their previous books include Managing with Carrots, The 24-Carrot Manager and A Carrot a Day). Here, they cover familiar ground, showing how many managers fail to acknowledge the special achievements of their employees and risk alienating their best workers or losing them to competing firms. They advocate creating a “carrot culture” in which successes are continually celebrated and reinforced. Dozens of recognition techniques include the obvious (“When a top performer is going on a particularly long business trip, upgrade her ticket to business class”) to the offbeat (“Hire a celebrity impersonator to leave a congratulatory voice-mail message on an employee’s phone”). But the authors pad the pages with unsurprising survey results, the umpteenth recapitulation of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and long anecdotes of questionable relevance (e.g., three pages about Charles Goodyear’s rubber-vulcanizing technique in order to introduce the notion that a transforming force—like employee recognition!—can produce surprising results). Gostick and Elton’s philosophy is appealing, but could have been explained in a long magazine article. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Something Deeper
Do I disagree with what the authors report in the book?

No, but it is common sense. To me what is more disturbing is the felt need for a book like this to exist. As the author’s rightly claim:

Just as the research illuminates recognition as the key to success, it also illustrates a universal self-deception: The vast majority of leaders believe they already are effective at recognition.

During the past ten years, we have visited more than two-dozen countries, spent thousands of hours consulting with leaders of Fortune 500 titans, and taught seminars to almost a million managers. Repeatedly, the problem has not been convincing managers that purpose-based recognition can help them to achieve their corporate goals if done right. No, the mountain we continually have to climb is getting leaders to entertain the idea that they might be doing recognition wrong.

Yet the evidence certainly suggests that is the case. In the Jackson Organization survey, the majority of employees reported feeling unrecognized, and only 40 percent of employees reported high engagement and high job satisfaction. What’s more, according to a 2006 survey of 14,000 workers conducted by, 65 percent of employees are currently looking for other work.

The problem, for most leaders, stems from approaching leadership from the old transactional approach. Within this model, recognition is a leadership tool to manipulate people to work harder and be more loyal, helping the manager achieve his or her goals.

Now, there is the issue — “recognition is a leadership tool to manipulate people”. This goes back to the Lone Ranger mentality — the boss who cares only about him/herself. This is a much more insidious issue than that of motivation.

Yes, the hard-nosed, insecure, Lone Ranger might “get the job done” but at what cost? I venture to say, and the authors of The Carrot Principle show through their research, that it is more costly doing business with these kinds of leaders. A team approach with a culture that promotes and values employees is by far more successful in the long run.

Back to my original question: Why does this book exist? Unfortunately, it is because many in leadership are unwilling, or worse yet, unable to change.

I like the quote from John Maxwell — “He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.” And, in some cases it might make the best sense for that leader to take his carrot and walk away.

Additional Reading
The Leadership Lone Ranger is Dead
Leadership Insecurity
No Jackets Required
Leadership Gardener