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More carrot than stick: Biz guru Chester Elton speaks in Cairo

In another attempt to upgrade business practices and human resources in Egypt, business guru Chester Elton was flown in for a lecture at the Four Season Nile Plaza on Wednesday. For a group of around 90–predominantly made up of human resource consultants and managers from sponsoring companies–Elton traipsed about with giveaways like stuffed carrots, Frisbees and books, lecturing on and leading participants through employee appreciation exercises.

One had to chuckle a little to see people in suits and heels, perfectly coiffed, leaping about the room trying to catch flying orange objects. But the point, for most, came across strong: make people feel good about themselves. While managers could chat with the rest of their tables about how very much their employees loved them, their ears must have perked up when Elton pointed out that one company in the US had tallied up a US$1.2-million profit increase in a single year by setting up an online suggestion box and listening to a couple of the recommendations deposited therein.

The companies that employees loved most–those with the most carrot culture–were also the most profitable companies in the world. And one of Elton's most valuable giveaways was his latest book–along with co-writer Adrian Gostick–'The Orange Revolution,' which is already a New York Times best seller.

The jargon may verge on orange cheese, but the message is a realistic one. Above and beyond good salaries (which, in Egypt, are few), managers must get into the habit of appreciating and recognizing their employees. Elton’s mantra–“employees don’t leave companies, they leave supervisors”–rings true when you stop to think about why you left your last job. Recognition allows employees to feel needed and respected by an institution–two emotions that are much more likely to keep them on board.

Some of Elton’s best suggestions:

1. Try to suss out how your employees would be best recognized. If you don’t know, ask the employee beforehand.

2. Recognize your employees frequently: a "thank you" can go a long way. But when big recognition is due, make sure it’s timely. Don’t recognize the team that saved your company from the Y2K scare back in 2000.

3. Make recognition personal. Try to hand-write a note or bring up a specific (positive) anecdote during the presentation of a recognition award.

4. Don’t give cash unless it is some percentage of profit this employee has directly earned for the company. You will not be able to quantify the value of their efforts and will always fall short of their monetary expectations. Instead, buy them something they will enjoy and that they may not have spent the money on for themselves.

Recognition gift ideas:

1. Tickets to a show or sports event

2. Spa day

3. A day off for the family along with tickets to a theme park or a night at a nearby resort

4. Flowers for employees' spouses for sacrificing time with an employee who has been spending extra time at work. (Elton provided a personal example in which his wife received a dozen orange–i.e., carrot-colored–roses for dealing with a trip away for work.)

But did any of it really get through? While participants at the carrot conference sat down with carrot thank-you cards to write a letter of appreciation to a particularly committed employee, one had to smile a little as long-closed minds began to open. But the actual managers who came voluntarily to the conference–doling out LE2500 to learn how to better respect their employees–were few.

So it is left to the human resource consultants–listening closely and taking notes while reaching out to catch flying carrots, to knock on corporate doors, selling an orange brand of positivity that promises that your company will soon find itself closer to the Fortune 500.

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