Collaborative teams and smart failures

Four SCNetwork members talk about Chester Elton’s presentation
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/26/2018

Paul Pittman: Well, that was entertaining. Though I set out not wanting to like what Chester Elton was going to say — the recognition business has always felt disingenuous, with images of trinket bribery.

Chester started off by suggesting that recognition has to be in context. Recognition needs to be pitched in a way that is appropriate to the sophistication, education and experience of your audience. For example, a Starbucks mug might not do it for a CFO.

But then a most interesting experience unfolded. The audience — a group of unemotional HR practitioners — were won over with plastic carrots and wristbands in the form of recognition for giving correct answers (actually any answer).

It was an interesting behavioural exercise counterintuitive to the point Chester had made.

He went on to stay that without an engaged culture, recognition counts for nothing. That I am not sure I agree with. A bad culture — no matter how bad — will start to improve by recognizing contribution.

I began to enjoy what I was hearing. Between the book and the videos, there were some genuine nuggets — mostly stuff we had heard before but it was good to have them reconfirmed (such as the multigenerational workforce, engagement leads to increased productivity, and manage to one).

The Disney story was a great display of genuine engagement that can be found elsewhere, notably in family-owned businesses where culture and engagement tend to be deeper and authentic. The WestJet example, while fun, was a TV ad and a marketing exercise. It was perhaps genuine but not an obvious display of “authenticity.”

The story of a millennial leaving the Jimmy Fallon show after three years because she had “learned all she could” was meant to alert us about being aware of the biases that cause us to form our opinions. We all need to be careful of that.

The observations on collaborative teams and rewarding smart failure were outstanding and all leaders should spend time understanding how to get the most of their team projects.

Silvia Lulka: I agree, Paul, it was entertaining. That was the highlight for me, to see how his delivery matched the content of what he shared — it was true to his research, true to the culture and brand he has created.

The examples that stayed with me were from Hard Rock Café.  Where else would a member of the team be praised for jumping on a table to dance with a customer who was doing the same?  Where else would there be an engagement survey with the one question “Tell me why your job rocks?” that employees could answer in writing, verbally or by video? 

Most poignant was the example of the dish washer who made a video about how his job rocked because, as he said, “I love that I can be me.” Now there’s culture-appropriate recognition and engagement at work.

Chester’s extensive research validates what we’ve heard before — culture matters, recognition matters, making emotional connections matters, having alignment on a larger goal matters, living up to the promise of our brand, internally as much as externally, matters. Chester’s approach role-modelled that.

Jan van der Hoop: Wow, Paul, bitter about not getting a carrot?

I’m not bitter, but I did find myself feeling a little hungry for some substance. “Miracles do happen when we all work as one?”

“Permission to fail” and “Free to be me” were the high points for me as well. “If even your dish washer is happy, the business be bumping.” So true, and so often dismissed.

Chester brought some old lessons with new illustrations, wrapped in different storylines, and delivered them in an entertaining fashion. Yes, for a carrot, even I might have blurted out an answer — but then that’s all part of the game.

I guess we all at some level hold new information up against the lessons learned in the formative stages of our career. In many ways, I hit my stride as a seasoned leader back in the mid-’90s, when Gallup’s research into the habits of “great managers” spawned all their work on uncovering the leading indicators of an engaged team.

In many respects, Chester’s research results and his advice are entirely consistent with what Gallup documented and reported back then.

It’s not a disappointment to me that there’s so much overlap — and I don’t think for an instant that Chester is simply putting a new wrapper on old stuff so he can sell books. What does disappoint me is that 20 years later, we are still talking about the same things as if they are revelatory.

To quote him, this is common sense, uncommonly practised. Why so?

Paul: In full disclosure, you should know that Chester has sent me a virtual carrot.

Sandi Channing: I was wired after watching Chester. It was a totally infectious presentation that drilled home the benefits of an engaged culture and recognition. He was engaging, enabling and energizing — delivering a serious message in a fun way.

Paul, I agree that recognition without an engaged culture is still valuable. Recognition, if done right, can be a powerful tool for setting or resetting the culture, while increasing engagement. And while this may be a case of “the chicken or the egg,” it is another tool in the toolbox that’s been proven to work.

The stats are more robust, the methodology is different but the premise is the same — organizations that engage and reward employees are more successful.

To Jan’s point, the question is why they are the exception — this should be mainstream by now. Perhaps it’s because recognition is still seen as a touchy-feely HR program and not as a lever for pushing an organization’s strategy forward. 

What better way to do that than by recognizing the positive contributions of employees who align with the company strategy? With today’s online recognition vehicles, the message can be more widespread than ever.

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