Let's face it: If CHESTER ELTON and Adrian Gostick named their fifth book “The Stick Principle,” it wouldn't be nearly as tasty and appealing. Instead, The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their People, Retain Talent, and Accelerate Performance, continues the co-authors' success in the art of corporate incentives and recognition. We caught up with Elton, senior vice president at the O.C. Tanner Recognition Co., before he headed to Chicago to take the podium at The Motivation Show's keynote luncheon.

Corporate Meetings & Incentives: Tell us about The Carrot Principle and how it differs from your other books.

Chester Elton: The biggest difference is that we went from writing about case studies — good clients that had made progress — to a study of over 200,000 employees' reactions to recognition in the workplace. What the data told us is that happy employees are more productive employees and that happy employees make for happy customers. It was now proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that managers who are high users of recognition have more productive teams, more profitable teams, and higher engagement scores. And not only did the data show that recognition improved business results, but also that it brought faster results.

CMI: Has what you've learned from the study contradicted anything that you learned writing previous books?

Elton: No, if anything, it reinforced it. For example, one of the big “aha's” we had in the data was around managers. We found that managers who were high users of recognition excelled in four leadership areas. They were goal-setters, great communicators, and had high indices of trust. They also knew how to hold employees accountable. While managers who use a lot of recognition strategies can sometimes be seen as soft managers — they're the nice ones who hold parties at Thanksgiving and Halloween — the data showed that they do, at the same time, hold staff accountable and hit their goals.

CMI: Did you come up with some general recognition tips that you can boil down?

Elton: Absolutely. Good recognition has to be frequent, specific, and timely. In other words, what is your message? You need to reinforce that frequently, but not with general praise, which has no impact on people. You can't say, “Great job, great job, great job.” You have to say, “I saw the way you handled that customer. You followed procedure, you solved his problem, and he left with a smile on his face. That's what we mean by customer service.” Specificity has great power. Frequency reinforces core values, specificity reinforces behaviors, and you also need to recognize people in a timely way.

CMI: With the economy slumping, are there recognition strategies that are more appropriate in times like these?

Elton: One of the big mistakes that companies make in turbulent times is to take away or cut back on recognition. When you think about the percent of budget that's spent on something like a hand-written thank-you note or lunch with the team, it's pretty insignificant. But companies cut it because they think those things are the softer side of business: “Let's get down to brass tacks.” When you do a few of these things, you're going to keep more people, and you're going to keep their heads in the game. Nothing communicates better than positive reinforcement. In tough times, what you have to do is increase frequency. You may not have the big budgets to take everybody to the Bahamas, but don't eliminate recognition. Adjust it, but don't eliminate it, and if anything, increase the frequency.

CMI: What's the best way you've ever been recognized by an employer?

Elton: It was probably my 15-year anniversary with O.C. Tanner. We have a jewelry store, and I was able to pick out a really nice fountain pen. It was presented to me by our chairman and president. My good friends were there, and they did a really nice job recapping some of the high points in my career. I think service awards are a great way to catch up for all those thankyous that you miss along the way. I collect fountain pens, and this wasn't one that I would necessarily buy for myself. Every time I look at that pen, I think of that wonderful presentation and all the good people I've worked with over 15 years, and all the opportunities we've had. So I think that's probably one of the best ones ever.


  • A new Meeting Professionals International awards program, the MPI RISE (Recognizing Industry Success and Excellence) Awards, will be launched in phases, with the first award to be presented at MPI-WEC 2009.

  • MPI has announced that it plans to revamp its Global Certification in Meeting Management program, an advanced-level designation for meeting professionals, originally launched in 1995.

  • The new head of the National Business Travel Association's Groups and Meetings Committee is Lee Ann Adams Mikeman, assistant VP of conference planning and special events, Science Applications International Corp., McLean, Va.

  • Worktopia Inc., an online booking engine that offers planners the ability to search, compare, and book simple meetings and group accommodations online in real time, announced its Universal Meeting Solution.

  • A new Transportation Security Agency regulation allows airline passengers to leave their laptops in “checkpoint friendly” cases when going through security lines.

  • Delta Air Lines will begin offering Wi-Fi on some flights this fall and will expand the service to all domestic flights by next summer. The cost will be $9.95 on flights of three hours or less, and $12.95 on longer flights.

Drill Down


No 6%
Somewhat Likely 41%
Very Likely 26%
Yes 27%
Source: A July 2008 MeetingsNet survey of 121 meeting professionals attending a webinar on managing e-meetings.