Internationally recognized workplace experts Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton are partners in the consulting firm The Culture Works.
Adrian Gostick is the author of several best-selling books on corporate culture, including the New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestsellers The Carrot Principle and All In. His research has been called a “must read for modern-day managers” by Larry King of CNN, “fascinating,” by Fortune magazine and “admirable and startling” by the Wall Street Journal. As a leadership expert, he has appeared on numerous television programs including NBC’s Today Show and has been quoted in dozens of business publications and magazines.
Chester Elton has been called the “apostle of appreciation,” by the Globe and Mail, Canada’s largest newspaper, and “creative and refreshing” by the New York Times. The co-author of All In, The Carrot Principle and The Orange Revolution, his books have sold more than a million copies worldwide. Chester has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Fast Company magazine, and New York Times, and he appears in a weekly segment on CBS News Radio.
Here is a brief excerpt from my interview of Adrian and Chester.
To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing All In, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal and professional growth? How so?
Gostick: We’ve talked about this often. Our parents were our first bosses—they gave us our moral compass, goals, and our first recognition. My dad worked 25 years for Rolls Royce in England. He taught me the value of working someplace where you can make a difference—not chasing money but doing work that you found purposeful.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Elton: About 15 years ago now I was working as a consultant with some large organizations in the Northeast. We were working at the time on employee recognition ideas and we were doing some really innovative things. I realized no one had ever written the definitive work on recognition. There were these 101 ways books. Most managers had one on their shelf, but no one ever read them. Just then my firm hired Adrian as its head of communication. We collaborated on our first book in the Carrot line and it really took off. Finally Simon & Schuster contacted us to do a big research book on the subject and that became The Carrot Principle. That book has now been translated in 25 languages and is sold around the world.
Gostick: Over the years since that release our work has taken us to the characteristics of the world’s best teams and now on to culture—something that we are hearing more and more from our clients. They want to know how to build not only a great corporate culture, but effective cultures in each of their smaller teams.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Gostick: I was able to study 50 years of leadership theory and practicum in my master’s program at Seton Hall, and it has provided the backbone of the knowledge we use every day. My undergraduate work was in journalism, and my early work as a newspaper reporter taught me how to research, write, and rewrite.
Morris: To what extent (if any) does All In in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?
Elton: We originally handed in the manuscript for All In to Simon & Schuster in the late summer of 2011. Four months later it went to press. Those four months were some of the hardest in our lives as our editor threw out half the book and demanded entire new chapters. While we had explained our findings well, we think, she pushed us to make the takeaways relevant for real business leaders. We spent so much time on explaining what a great culture looks like, we had neglected to tell readers “how” to do it. So many business books fall into that trap, and we are so grateful to Emily Loose, our editor, for pushing us to answer that paramount question: “I do what?”
Morris: Recent research studies by highly reputable firms such as Gallup and Towers Watson indicate that in a U.S. workforce, on average, fewer than 30% of the employees are actively and positively engaged; as for the others, they are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively disengaged. How specifically can business leaders increase the percentage of actively and positively engaged employees within their organizations?
Gostick: First, managers should understand there are some simple things they can do tomorrow that will make a big difference in their culture, but so few managers do them. For instance, the great leaders in our study treated their people like partners in the organization. That meant they created for their people a sense of connection by teaching them how their jobs impact the larger organization. And they showed them growth opportunities, how they can grow and develop with the company.
Next, these leaders also created a culture of rooting for each other with much greater levels of recognition and rewards. And finally, managers learned to create a share everything culture, where they honest and openly discussed issues.
Elton: Simple things really, but powerful. It comes down to opportunity, recognition and communication. Three things you can do right way to see results.
Morris: Given your response to the previous question, to what extent will those initiatives also help to retain valued employees who might otherwise leave?
Elton: The number one and number two reasons key performers leave an organization: one—I don’t feel in on things, and two—I don’t feel appreciated. It’s not money, it’s not job growth, people most often leave for things that are absolutely in our control as managers.
Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you began your first full-time job? Please explain.
Gostick: When I first became a manager, I didn’t realize that there were people who did a good job but who were toxic to the culture. I waited much too long to get rid of those people.
Morris: Here’s a hypothetical question. If there were a monument honoring business leaders comparable with the one honoring U.S. Presidents on Mount Rushmore, sculpted by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum, which four would you select? Please explain each choice.
Elton: I’ll give you one. One of our favorite leaders is someone most people have never heard of: Scott O’Neal. He’s president of Madison Square Garden Sports, and he’s the best leader we have ever met. One thing Scott does with every new hire: He asks them where they want to be in five years, and then he commits to help them get there if they promise to give 100 percent to him every day. And people do it, and in turn he’s helped business leaders all over the sports world achieve their dreams. He lives up to his promise.
Gostick: Here’s another one: Doria Camaraza. We feature her in chapter three of All In. Doria is the general manager of American Express’ 3,000-person call center in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. She is simply amazing. She seems to know every one of her employees, and spends her days making people included and recognized and wonderful. Her call center has employee turnover that is one fifth the national average and has the best efficiency and productivity numbers in the call center industry. My favorite thing she does is called Tribute, where she gathers all her employees together once a month and the leaders come out dancing to Lady Gaga or Aerosmith and then she recognizes a dozen people for living the core values of American Express. It’s really powerful and there are a lot of tears.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Adrian and Chester cordially invite you to check out the resources at these websites:
Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Carl Bass, president and chief executive of Autodesk Inc, a maker of 3-D design, engineering and entertainment software. He believes that, as chief executive, it is important for him to be clear about the company’s direction.
To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
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Never Swerve When Driving the Bus
Q. Do you remember the first time you were somebody’s boss?
A. The first real place where I was in charge was at a start-up. We all knew what we needed to accomplish, but I would say early on I was not a comfortable manager. It was certainly nothing I ever wanted to do in life. I was much more interested in getting stuff done. I think of myself as the reluctant C.E.O., or somewhere between reluctant and accidental.
Q. Tell me more about the reluctant part.
A. I’m a mathematician by training. That’s what got me excited back in the day. I wasn’t interested in managing, but as I started to do it, I got more comfortable. I think it’s that first leap that everybody takes. For me, it was the transition from being someone who was a little bit the student who liked to throw spitballs. So you make that transition to being the teacher, and you have to be in charge, as opposed to being the person who can cause trouble, instigate and provoke, which I always found a much more comfortable place to be. At some point, you go even further, and you become the administrator, and you’re setting policies.
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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his new book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.
Everybody probably has a bad boss horror story or two. And there are some genuine horror stories out there.
But, there are good bad tough bosses and bad tough bosses. What is the difference? One difference may be this: is the boss tough because the end result is worth all the coaching, coaxing, demonstrating, demanding, until the people get it right?
I think Steve Jobs and Twyla Tharp are two great exemplars of this kind of tough boss.
I recently ran across this wonderful 2006 article about the Kennedy Center Honoree Twyla Tharp, To Dance Beneath the Diamond Skies by Alex Witchel. Here are some key excerpts:
But it is probably time to say this: There was not a person in that theater, including the 19 performers, musicians and production staff, who did not admire Tharp. Those new to her are scared of her, those used to her are over her, because they know that behind the barking lies a devotion to them, to the work — always, always the work — that is religious in its fervor. Yes, she is a control freak, a perfectionist, a zealot in forming a vision and stopping at nothing to see it realized. But when it is realized, when her dances are good-better-best, flying off the stage like some biblical fire on a mountaintop, there is nothing in the world like them. Twenty-three years ago, Robert Joffrey said that Tharp’s work “didn’t look like anyone else’s.” It still doesn’t.
“There is nothing in the world like them.” The end result may just be worth the cost it took to get there. She simply made the best better. And she also made the “average” much better than ever before. In her book, The Collaborative Habit, Tharp wrote:
As a choreographer, my task is to make the best possible work with the dancers I find in the room on any given day.
This is simply the greatest description of the day-to-day work of being the boss I have ever read. It is the job of the boss (manager, supervisor) to make the best possible work with the people in the room, on the team, at any given time.
By the way, there is a wonderful story in the article about the time Twyla Tharp had to show Baryshnikov how it needed to be done:
Huot sat at one of the computers and played footage of Baryshnikov in rehearsal. “What’s that?” Tharp asked shortly. “This is the one where he can’t do what you do,” Huot said, his tone gently teasing. “It’s your favorite thing in the world, which is why I kept it for you.” On the tape, Baryshnikov held a cigarette, shirtless, as Tharp demonstrated the steps. Hers were vivid, crisp. His were blurry, indistinct. Impatiently, she showed him again. He turned away.
“That’s right, go pout,” Tharp said mockingly to the screen. The next shots were of him in performance, his steps breathtaking. “Yeah, he got it,” Tharp said.
She knew how to do the steps; she demonstrated the steps, and she pushed Baryshnikov until he “got it.”
…To be a Tharp dancer is to master complex, intricate movements and steps that can defy gravity — in 1975 Baryshnikov told The Times: “It is very difficult to learn her steps.. . .One variation alone took me three weeks to learn, working a few hours every day.”
Regarding Jobs, the stories are endless, and somewhat legendary. He certainly could be something of a world-class pain to work with. But, he too could bring out the very best in people – more than they knew they had in them. Consider these revealing excerpts from the Walter Isaacson book, Steve Jobs:
For all of his obnoxious behavior, Jobs also had the ability to instill in his team an esprit de corps. After tearing people down, he would find ways to lift them up and make them feel that being part of the Macintosh project was an amazing mission. Every six months he would take most of his team on a two-day retreat at a nearby resort.
Jobs had latched onto what he believed was a key management lesson from his Macintosh experience: You have to be ruthless if you want to build a team of A players. “It’s too easy, as a team grows, to put up with a few B players, and they then attract a few more B players, and soon you will even have some C players,” he recalled. “The Macintosh experience taught me that A players like to work only with other A players, which means you can’t indulge B players.”
“What I’m best at doing is finding a group of talented people and making things with them,” he told the magazine.
Business Week asked him why he treated employees so harshly, Jobs said it made the company better.
…and his great talent, Jobs said, was to “get A performances out of B players.” At Apple, Jobs told him, he would get to work with A players.
The literature about leadership is pretty unanimous about this key role a leader plays. In Liz Wiseman’s book, Multipliers, she writes that the leader has to “multiply” the good effects of the workers, and never diminish them. A good leader “multiplies’ the results of the workers he/she leads. In Kouzes and Pozner’s Encouraging the Heart, they argue that for people to be their best, they must be encouraged, in their hearts, by the one who leads them. And when they are so encouraged, they become more productive, actually better at their jobs.
Whatever Twyla Tharp and Steve Jobs had, or did, it worked. They both developed quite a track record of bringing out the very best in the people who worked for them. (Of course, Twyla Tharp is still at it…).
If you are a leader, this is the test, isn’t it? Are you making your people better? Are you pushing them to do more than they even knew they could do? Are you making the average much better, and the best even better still?
If not, you’ve got some leadership skills to develop.