Book Review and Innovation Summary – “The Carrot Principle”

A couple of weeks ago I received “The Carrot Principle” by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton in the mail. Now you might be thinking – What does a book for managers about recognition have to do with innovation?

Well, as I like to say:

“Innovation is a gift. What are you doing to encourage employees to give it?”

Innovation comes from employees that value belonging to the organization, and that are satisfied and engaged in their roles with the organization. One of the main ways that you can create a workforce willing to gift both sustaining innovations and breakthrough innovations to the organization is by adequately recognizing employees for what they contribute to the organization. Innovation is so difficult for most organizations because most managers neglect to provide sufficient recognition to their employees.

“The Carrot Principle” is a well-written book about how the best managers use recognition to engage employees, boost retention, and accelerate performance. The thinking in the book is backed by two extensive research projects that serve not only to substantiate the authors’ points, but also to illustrate them.

The book focuses on showing how a manager that improves their recognition skills can actually increase their perceived performance on the basic four areas of leadership:

  • Goal Setting
  • Communication
  • Trust
  • Accountability

When managers focus on improving their recognition skills and focus on improving their skills in these four areas, they can move employees higher up in this Maslow-esque pyramid towards creating a self-actualized workforce. The top of the pyramid is where the gift of innovation occurs.


Managers move employees there by focusing on mastery of the building blocks of recognition:

  • Day-to-day recognition
    • Frequent, specific, timely

  • Above-and-beyond recognition
    • Value, impact, personal

  • Career recognition
  • Celebration events

Recognition done well helps to build employee satisfaction and engagement. The top three predictors of employee engagement are:

  1. Opportunity and well-being
  2. Trust
  3. Pride in the organizational symbol

Recognition done well helps to increase your performance with employees on these three predictors and thus your chances for employee engagement.

To help managers prime their recognition pump, the book provides a chapter with 125 recognition ideas.

But of course, managers have to sustain their recognition efforts for their effects to hold. The reward?

Managers will be seen as:

  • Better goal setters
  • Better communicators
  • More trustworthy
  • Able to hold people accountable

… and of course if managers can increase employee engagement, then the organization will better be able to innovate.

And after all, isn’t creating a more innovative organization what it is really all about anyways?

My interview with “The Carrot Principle” co-author Adrian Gostick can be found here.

Braden Kelley (@innovate on Twitter)

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