Want to Grow Your Business? Then Grab Your Pom Poms

August 31, 2010

Guest Post by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

Over the last few years, our series of business books has focused on “carrots,” our catch-phrase for recognition offered by leaders to appreciate the great work of their employees. And yet in a new 350,000-person study, we learned that the same practices of appreciation and recognition that create great leaders also contribute to the success of breakthrough teams.

Here’s what we found: Cheering is the secret sauce that can create a spirit of camaraderie so strong that the act of supporting each other becomes second nature, where the vast majority of pettiness and finger-pointing stops. And it was appreciation (or recognition) that was the key cheering factor that unlocked commitment, drive, and ultimately, success. As team member talents and efforts were rewarded frequently and specifically, colleagues also strove for the same treatment. They wanted a bit of cheer too.

Sounds good, right? But what if your cheering was under scrutiny from the Wall Street media?

We found that’s just what happened recently at Texas Roadhouse, a restaurant chain with 330 locations and 40,000 employees system-wide. The restaurants were built to resemble a traditional roadhouse found throughout rural Texas, serving great food amid line dancing and country music.

Company founder Kent Taylor opened the doors on his first restaurant in 1993 with a simple people-first philosophy; take care of your employees and they will take care of your guests. His focus on employee happiness was a departure from the conventional management wisdom at a time when competitors were focused solely on taking care of the guest. In this remarkable culture, awards were created for meat cutters, bartenders, and even line dancers. Other national promotions and contests combine for a line-up of employee recognition that is impressive.

It’s an approach that recently earned Texas Roadhouse careful attention from the press. Recently at the company’s annual managing partner conference, CEO G.J. Hart was invited on air by CNBC to discuss the company’s decision to continue recognition practices. While media focus at the time was critical of using company resources to celebrate in a time of rampant economic cutbacks, Hart used the opportunity to create a rallying cry for Texas Roadhouse employees.

Read the words of Service Manager Wendy Ennis of the Clarksville, Indiana, restaurant, as she described to us Hart’s appearance on the news network: “The whole interview was pretty incredible. Not only did GJ not apologize for celebrating his people’s accomplishments, he said he wasn’t sure it was enough. It’s an honor to be a part of a company that’s so committed to taking care of its people—especially now. At a time when most companies are saying, ‘Don’t love your people, don’t do anything extra, just tighten the belt as much as you can,’ it’s almost as if our leadership does just the opposite. The message we get is, ‘Take care of your people especially right now. Love your guests especially right now. Take care of your community especially right now.’ And you know what? The guests tell us they can feel it too and they love it.”

By continually engaging employees through a platform of consistent appreciation, Texas Roadhouse has inspired such employee commitment, not to mention stronger performance and customer loyalty, all of which contribute to better business results. “We have seen a double digit drop in turnover from just a year ago,” says Dave Dodson, communication and recognition program director.

Other company metrics also speak to the success of the Texas Roadhouse’s approach to culture. In 2009, again during the recession, company earnings were at record levels.

The moral of the story: Texas Roadhouse is one of many great examples that illustrate the power of cheering in this economy. Despite the doom and gloom, there is potential in every team to be extraordinary.

New York Times bestselling authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton are the authors of The Orange Revolution: How one great team can transform an entire organization coming Sept. 20 from Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Learn more at carrots.com. Subscribe to Adrian and Chester’s blogs at http://adriangostick.com and http://chesterelton.com

Thanks, Adrian and Chester! Bret

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  1. I LOVE this practice, similar to Southwest, where the employees are the number one customer. I have been teased for years with my “cheerleader” label, and this post just makes me feel great! We can all learn from this corporate practice, thanks for sharing.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I do too, Kathy. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Bret