A Story of a Duck

Chester Elton

Susan Baranowski of Jones Apparel Group has come to like ducks. 

Jones Apparel is a leading designer, marketer and wholesaler of branded apparel, footwear and accessories. And, although you might be questioning the significance of ducks in the fashion world, especially while your own feathers are being ruffled by pressing deadlines, employee issues and steep concerns about the economy, we could all take some tips from Baranowski and Jones Apparel Group--Orange is in fashion, at least when it comes to management style.

"We just finished up two days of Carrots training in one of my locations," says Susan. "We were in the 'Why' portion of the A Carrot A Day Recognition Training and got to the slides with a mother duck losing some of her little ones as she dim-wittedly leads them over a storm drain."

Okay, this sounds horrific. And, it is. In the slides, some of her ducklings actually fall through the gaps in the drain cover. And, while we're sure the ducklings were rescued, the slides are a grim reminder showing managers who don't pay attention to their employees what can happen. Plop. Gone. Turnover.

"We got some laughs," adds Susan. "But an amazing thing happened."

Susan continued to explain how one supervisor raised her hand after viewing the duck slides. Apparently, this supervisor rarely said anything in management meetings and typically laid low. But, this time was different. This time, the supervisor raised her hand and said, "You know something? I was that mother duck. I was so focused on what had to be done that I totally missed how I was treating my people. We had turnover and I know I really let people down. Once I learned that, I changed. It is NOT going to be that way again."

"Guess what?" asked Susan. "It was true! She really was the duck. Earlier this year that supervisor was known for her attitude towards her employees. She was a yeller. She never showed any concern for her people--only caring that they got the job done. And, her employees complained. It was a turning point for her to actually realize and acknowledge what she was doing."

"I was so floored that she stood up and shared her story so bravely that I almost cried!" exclaimed Susan.

Of course, some people think the ducks should be skipped in the presentation--it's dramatic. However, a lack of recognition can cause equally horrific scenarios. It can lead to negativity, a toxic culture and continued turnover. Consider the seriousness of consistently losing employees simply because they aren't being recognized. And when employees fall through the gaps you get one of two things--poor performance or a resignation.

"I'm going to keep the ducks in my training and use this supervisor's story," says Susan. "Everyone in the room that day got the point. In fact, this made me feel so energized about spreading the word in my company to help all the other mother ducks!"

Obviously, Susan realized that engaging managers and implementing recognition strategies are essential--especially in this bad economy. And, although it's easy to assume that rescue is on the way if your employees slip through the cracks, most likely, you've lost them forever.

So, who can save the day?  

Last week in
San Diego we held our fourth annual Carrot Culture Executive Summit, with attendees from some of the world's largest and most successful companies. Presentations were made by executives from The Nielson Company, Newell Rubbermaid, SkyWest Airlines, Quest Diagnostics and Texas Roadhouse, to name just a few. All presentations left no doubt that employee engagement is driven by frequent, strategic recognition.

Perhaps the most poignant thought may have come in an opening address from Dave Petersen, President of O.C. Tanner Recognition Company. "In tough economic times," he said, "a lot of people wait for the cavalry to arrive to save the day. But the cavalry is already here. They are your people. They have the energy and ideas to get you through anything."

Yes, we're facing a tough economy. But it's great leaders who remember that saying "Thank you" is always in style.

Chestor Elton, co-author of The Carrot Principle.
Adrian Gostick, co-author of The Carrot Pricinciple.
Copyright 2008

Print page