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Sean Pillot de Chenecey chats with Chester Elton, organisational culture, employee engagement and teamwork expert and a best-selling author.
Included in the chat:
- How to engage your workforce
- How culture can help us to feel like we’re making a difference
- The impact leaders have on culture
- Two leadership and culture case studies: WD40 and Tesco’s
- The benefits of evangelising your product for a noble cause
Buy Chester’s latest book, Leading with Gratitude
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (00:04): Hello, this podcast is care of Speakers Associates, the global speaker bureau representing a select group of the world’s finest thinkers and thought leaders founded in 1999. Today Speakers Associates operate out of nine offices across seven countries covering the UK, Europe and Middle East. I’m Sean Pillot De Chenecey author of The Post-Truth Business and Influencers & Revolutionaries. In this series, I interview a range of fascinating individuals, proudly represented by the bureau. These change agents and industry experts give an update on their specialist, areas of knowledge, and also on their motivations and viewpoints regarding the future of business. Today, I’m really pleased to be joined by Chester Elton, a best selling author, speaker, and one of today’s most influential voices in workplace trends, organizational culture and employee engagement. Chester spent two decades helping clients engage their employees to execute on strategy, vision, and values. He provides real solutions to leaders looking to manage change, drive innovation and lead a multi-generational workforce.
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (01:16): He has been called the “apostle of appreciation” by Canada’s Globe and Mail, “creative and refreshing‚” by the New York Times, and a “must read for modern managers” by CNN. Elton is the co-author of the multiple award-winning New York Times and #1 USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling leadership book, All In, The Carrot Principle, and The Best Team Wins. His books have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold more than 1.5 million copies worldwide. He has appeared on NBC’s Today, CNN, ABC, MSNBC, National Public Radio and CBS’s 60 Minutes. In 2018 Global Gurus research organization ranked him as #13 in the world’s top leadership experts and #5 in the world’s top organizational culture experts, and he is a member of Marshall Goldsmith’s 100 Coaches pay it forward project. Elton is also the co-founder of The Culture Works, a global training company and a board member of Camp Corral, a non-profit for the children of wounded and fallen military heroes. So Chester. Hello.
Chester Elton (02:26): Hello. Thank you for that wonderful introduction. That was brilliant. In fact, I want to give you a quick update because the global guru rankings came out for 2020, and I’m actually number four in leadership and number two in organizational behavior. So with help from wonderful podcasts like yours, we’re, we’re moving on up as they say. So thank you for that wonderful introduction.
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (02:48): Fantastic. Sounds absolutely amazing but before we started. And you were just saying the term, obviously you’re over there now in New Jersey I’m in London. Just tell me, so you mentioned it by the way, your Farley so used to run radio stations and he said
Chester Elton (03:04): And, and you know, absolutely. No, my father was my, my greatest hero. My, my first manager, my biggest cheerleader, and he had a wonderful sense of humor. I’m I’m the fifth of five boys in my family. So you can imagine what was going on. He started in radio as an announcer and then moved into management. He worked at radio stations in Lethbridge, Alberta, a little town in Southern Alberta and then Edmonton, Alberta, where I was born. And then we moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where he continued to run radio stations there. So I have great affinity for radio and you’re right. He said, just you’re gonna be great because you’ve got the perfect face for radio
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (03:41): It’s absolutely classic. So, so just tell me, so here we are, and I know you mentioned just, you know, the the, the, the, say the onward March, the moving on up thing through the, through the ranks of leadership experts and organizational behavior experts, etcetera. So, you know, here we are in 2020 looking forward, what sort of, you know, key things are impacting your clients at the moment?
Chester Elton (04:01): You know, it’s, it’s something that’s been impacting our clients for for quite some time. And it’s, how do you really engage, enable and energize your workforce? You know, the trends in workplace engagement are, are on the steady down trend, and it’s really disconcerting. And particularly with, with the war for talent, you know, there are fewer and fewer areas to really attract great talent. And when you get that great talent, how do you keep it? And so we talk a lot about the, the differentiators left in the workplace. And, and I, I really believe Sean, there are only two left. One is great leadership. You can never have too many good leaders. You’re seeing more and more companies invest in leadership coaches in, in mentoring and really developing that bench strength, you know, to, to come in and take the places of a lot of the retiring executives as they get older.
Chester Elton (04:50): And secondly is culture. How do you create that culture where it really will attract great people. You, you see, it’s easy to replicate products and services and pricing. And so on barrier to entry, fairly low culture is hard to replicate. It. It’s a huge differentiator. How, how do you feel at work? Do you, do you feel trusted? Do you feel like your voice is heard that your opinions matter, that what you do makes a difference. And, and this is where the great leaders and great companies really are making a difference where employees believe what they do matters, right? That they make a difference. They can connect those dots. And when they make a difference, somebody noticed it and celebrated it. I, I know that’s a long answer to your simple question. I really do believe though, that that is where great companies and great leaders are focusing, engaging, enabling, and energizing their people and creating these really noble cause cultures. Does that make sense?
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (05:48): Oh, a hundred percent. And I think what’s really fascinating about all of this is talking about someone like yourself. Who’s who renowned as being an absolute expert in this area, sort of building on that point when you are giving your talks. So indeed when you are writing your articles, your books, et cetera are there any particular organizations or businesses that you point to as having taken these points on board and are now if you like leading from the front. So are there only people that you would point to and say, now there’s an organization that is doing this the way it should be done.
Chester Elton (06:24): You, you bet. And such a great question and we get it often, right? We’ve we’ve just written our new book leading with gratitude, and we had the opportunity to interviews these amazing leaders that either took organizations and completely turned them around or took good organizations and took them to, to extraordinary. And, and one of my favorites is WD 40. Now I’m pretty sure you probably have a can of WD 40 somewhere in your house. Am I right?
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (06:48): As a guess, an an owner of an old campervan
Chester Elton (06:54): Yes. You know, that, that iconic, you know, blue and yellow can, well, yeah. Their CEO is a delightful Aussie named Gary Rich and Gary when he took over his CEO of WD 40, they were about a 280 million dollar company. And now they’re 2.8 billion. Whoa. You know, nice growth. I know WD 40 Huda funker right. Yeah. Anyway, he he’s built this amazing culture out what he calls a tribal culture and he takes people and he says, look in a tribe. We look out for each other. We protect each other. We cheer for each other. He’s got a wonderful philosophy. He says at WD 40, we don’t make mistakes. We have learning opportunities. Mm. He creates this really safe environment for innovation, you know, during he took over during the recession and people were worried about their jobs and worried about what was next. And, and he came in and this is what I love about Gary and great leaders. He said, listen, we’re gonna make it through this. We’re not gonna have any layoffs. In fact, we’re gonna double down, we’re gonna invest in research and we’re going to invest in you as leaders so that when this turns around, we’re ready. And in fact, when the recession ended, they had like a 35% increase in sales and have never looked back,
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (08:07): Wow,
Chester Elton (08:07): Took this. He, he had a great expression. He says, I’m looking at this crisis. And he said, well, no sense, no sense, wasting a good crisis.
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (08:15):
Chester Elton (08:17): What can we do? And and in fact that that whole spirit of we don’t make mistakes, we’ve learning opportunities. It’s actually baked into their name. Do you know what WD 40 stands for
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (08:28): No idea.
Chester Elton (08:30): Most people don’t it’s water, displacement, 40th formula. So in other words, the, the, the, the, the, you know, the scientists, the engineers, they were actually mixing this in a bathtub and it took them 40 tries. So they said, well, we’re the 39 tries before that mistakes. Absolutely not. They were learning opportunities. So Gary has really been able to take the brand, the people, the culture. And, you know, when you go from 280 million to 2.8 billion, you say, did it work well? Yeah. It worked really, really well.
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (09:01): Yeah. Yeah, sure. Wow. That’s absolute extraordinary, brilliant case history. I love it. I love that sort of thing. A, a, a really, really sort of powerful, memorable anecdote that actually properly stacks up very, very nice
Chester Elton (09:12): And, and a product that we all own. I mean, all of us w four, right. Would never think twice
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (09:18): Completely. And so tell me, so, so Chester, so where did it all start for you then? When do you get into this world of consulting and writing and, and talking,
Chester Elton (09:28): You know, wonderful question. I’m gonna try to make this story as short as possible, because it’s actually quite a long experience. I grew up in sales and I loved sales. I, I loved the idea about solving people’s problems with your products and services and so on. And I was working for a recognition company. It was, it was a wonderful job. You know, people would have a, a work anniversary or they’d, they’d Excel at sales, or they’d come up with a patent and their company would reward and recognize them. And I was working for a wonderful CEO at the time named Kent Murdoch. And I remember doing a project and I said to Kent, you know, I did this, this, this project with this consulting firm. And they published their philosophy in a, in a bestselling book. And they are now the thought leaders. I go, we should do that because if we’re the thought leaders, it would make my job easier, right.
Chester Elton (10:13): People would call us for advice. I wouldn’t have to cold call and thought leaders publish and said, we’ve got all this great data on employee recognition and how it engages people. We should write the definitive book on employee engagement, through recognition. He goes, I love that idea. Write the book. And I said, well, can’t, I think he misinterpreted what I said, I, what I meant is you should write the book and I should benefit from that book.
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (10:47): Nice. Very nice.
Chester Elton (10:49): And yeah. And so I did, you know, I, I started to write different ideas and stuff, and over the next year, you know, what should the title be? What should the chapters be? And then this is great leadership. He called me back and he said, Chester, I’ve been thinking about your book idea. I just hired a guy named Adrian Gostick, he’s a writer, take your ideas, his writing skill, and write the book. And a year later we dropped on his desk, our first book called managing with carrots
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (11:34): Fantastic. That’s absolutely super. But, and, and so, in terms of, of all those people that you’re working with that point, can I have to ask you still in touch with these people that
Chester Elton (11:46): Yes. Well, Kent has since retired and we do stay in touch. He’s he’s been a wonderful mentor and a wonderful friend. And, and of course, you know, we, I worked at that company for 19 years and developed some really deep relationships. So a lot of the sales guys that I work with have since retired and from time to time, we do grab a coffee or so, you know, when you spend that much time at a company, you develop deep relationships and you hope that those will endure in many half. Mm.
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (12:11): And so tell me, so when you look back, I mean, was that the catalytic moment that really acted as a sort of springboard for everything else? Or, or was there something else that happened in addition to that, that really, if like enabled you to basically sort of get to where you are now?
Chester Elton (12:27): Well, I think that really was the catalytic moment. And then everything built on that, because what would happen is we, we wrote the book and we were so thrilled and the sales people were delighted, right. They had an excuse to go in and talk to clients, and it was case studies of our best clients and their best successes. And, and then it was very interesting. People said, oh, we, we bought your book and we lived, of course, you, you speak on your book.
Chester Elton (13:07): How do you replicate WD 40, right.
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (14:04): Fantastic. And then again, I mean, of all those various things, and there’s a bit of a sort, you know, put it mildly a multitude of them, if you, you know, were basically sort of really put on the spot and said, right, okay. Of all the things that you’ve done you’ve achieved or whatever, what’s the one thing that you point to and think that’s what I’m super proud about. What, what would you say to that?
Chester Elton (14:25): You know, that is such an insightful question. And I, I, I think the thing that I’m most proud of in the work that Adrian and I do is when we get emails and we have conversations at book signings and so on where people say, you know, I read your book and it changed the way I led people. I, I became more interested in my people. I cared about my people more. And then the ultimate compliment is, and I took it home and it changed the way I interacted with my spouse, my partner, my children, because, you know, the more we do this work, Sean, the more we realize that, you know, some people leave their best selves at work. Mm-Hmm,
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (15:51): And then what about, so yeah, totally take on board, these issue, you’re talking about, about, you know, key differentiators, nowadays being all about one of those two things, great leadership and, and culture, as opposed to you, the issues that one might almost say are simple inverted coms in terms of, you know, such a low barrier to entry for, for new products. So when clients say to you, okay. Standing back from, from those issues, and we’re looking at instead the big external issues that are also really impacting major brands, major organizations, what sort of thing are you talking about there? When they’re saying, you know, when we’re looking down the track, when we’re looking out to sort of 20, 21, plus what should we be worried about? What’s coming down the what’s coming down the track towards us. What sort of things are interesting? You there,
Chester Elton (16:40): Well, in building a brand, you know, it’s so much more inclusive now because your logo, what, what does it represent? You know, what is the emotional connection to your brand, to your logo, not only by your consumers, also your employees, right? And I think that brands now need to stand for more than just good value or high quality. They have to stand for a noble cause that they’re making a difference in the world. Right. You know, I, I, I love when companies talk about, we take 10% of our earnings and we give them to the following charities, you know, for every pair of shoes you buy, we donate a pair of shoes to someone who needs it in a, in, you know, in a, in a poor country or a poor circumstances. People, particularly consumers, more and more, they wanna do business with organizations that are active in their communities that are kind, that are making a difference.
Chester Elton (17:40): It’s, it’s no longer enough to create a great product. It’s gotta be a great product that has an emotional connection. And that emotional connection is we give back, we make sure that the money you spend doesn’t just go to our product. It goes to making the world a better place. And you look at the great brands and how they do that. And that’s where you get people that won’t just buy your product, they’ll evangelize your product. Right. They’ll recommend it to friends. They’re proud to wear it, you know it’s environmentally green. It’s, it’s, it’s creating clean water in countries, in Africa and south America. And so on. Did, do you find that to be true as well?
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (18:24): Oh yeah. Very much so. And certainly, I think it’s interesting when you’re looking at, I know, let’s say the, the leading magazines in the industry, certainly over here, I mean, contagious are renowned as being probably the best marketing creative sort of strategy magazine there is. And they talk a lot about, or they, they, they term this as being sort of a, a weaponizing consumers from the point of view, getting your consumers your customers to do your marketing for you. And one of the key areas they point to is giving people these great stories. So you’re talking about, you know, the one from one model famously ESPED by Tom’s. So they’ll be saying, right. Okay. So what you are then able to do apart from all the, the good things in the community is to say, right, here’s what we’re about. You go and tell our story for us. And so that angle of exactly, yeah. That angle of, again, people believe other people say farm warden, they believe advertising, et cetera, et cetera, certainly that lands over here in a big way. And
Chester Elton (19:22): That’s, you know, it’s interesting along that same line with, with Toms and whatnot, we, we’ve got a really fun promotion. I think you’ll get a kick outta this for, for our new book leading with gratitude. We, we buy a lot of space at airports, you know, business people still travel and flights get delayed and they’ll go to the bookstore and so on. And so we’ve, we we’ve, we’ve gonna have front of store, this starts next month. Right. And we’ve got this wonderful poster that says, buy this book, it’ll knock your socks off. Right. Mm-hmm
Chester Elton (20:02): And they said the number one re requested piece of clothing at homeless shelters is socks. Mm-Hmm
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (20:55): Very good. Fantastic. By the way, moving on from that. And again, we’d be very happy to talk about that one for hours, but in terms of the, the rest of the content of of, of this interview what about in the world of speaking the world of events and congresses conferences, et cetera. Are there any ones that, and I know you’ve spoken, you know, many, many of these events are in various places around the world. Are there any events that you can point to and say, you know what, whoever organized that really got it right. You know, it’s a real standout event. The lineup was superb or the location was superb, but whatever it is, anything that, that you have as, as a as a memory you think, you know, that’s how to do it, as opposed to the, you say that the more standard approach.
Chester Elton (21:42): Yeah. Well, you know, there, there, there are many, and, and I think the, the construct of a lot of conferences is again, where it focuses on, on, on takeaways. Mm. You know, what can I take away? I love it when you’re in a turnaround situation. I, I remember speaking to the managers at Tesco, which you’d be very familiar with. Yeah. You know, who went through a, a, a real brand, you know, I mean, they were decimated, they, they had all kinds of scandals and had to bring in new leadership and we had this massive rally up in oh, shoot. I’ll forget the place. Anyway. It was, they brought in 10,000 managers, whoa. In Birmingham, it was the Birmingham, you know, at the, at the arena there. Yep. And the leadership came out and was very, very candid and very, you know, open about all that had happened and what they were doing to turn it around.
Chester Elton (22:33): And then what I loved is they asked very specifically of each manager and, and each store to buy in and to help turn around, to get involved in the community, to care about each other, to care about the customers and, and what they were gonna do about that. And then to go back into the communities and make a difference. Mm. You know, I, that empowerment, I, I love great leaders. And I think this is, is in one of those truths that just is eternal. That the way your leaders act and conduct themselves gives everyone else permission to do the same. Mm. So if, if you’re secretive and you’re behind closed doors and you hold information, you know, that’s on a need to know basis, and you’ll never need to know, that’s the message that if you wanna be a leader in this organization, that’s the way you act.
Chester Elton (23:19): And so when Tesco came out and said, look, we’re gonna open the kimono. Here’s the good, the bad, the ugly here’s the road forward. And here’s the role that we need you to play. And we are gonna support you with resources and education and whatever you need to make this happen because our brand is iconic and it needs to be respected again. And I think Tesco was just brilliant in the way that they did that. Now that was some years ago, I live in the states, you live in the UK. You can, you can tell me if they’ve, they’ve continued on that trend. I love leaders that are just saying, look, here’s what happened. Here’s where we are now. Here’s where we’re going forward. Are you in, will you be with this? And, and, and I love that rallying cry. Mm. Does that resonate with
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (24:05): You? Oh, completely. I mean, personally, just a very brief one on, on Tesco. There’s a fantastic anecdote from years ago when Tesco first entered the American market and did very, very badly. And they, one of the key reasons they looked at that in terms of misunderstanding, what was going on at the ground level of, you know American women who are the main bulk of their consumers was at the center of a bunch of UK researchers to research the American market and, and lots of ethnographic in homework. And what they forgot to do was to look in the respondents garages and look at their freezers in the garages, because in the UK, no one has a freezer in the garage and they didn’t realize in America lots and lots of families as the majority have a big freezer in the garage full of stuff. They buy from a supermarket or a hyper store. And one of the great failures was just not looking in the garage. So one of
Chester Elton (24:57): Those, those cultural misstep
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (24:59): Precisely, precisely, what
Chester Elton (25:01): Do you mean? You have a freezer in your garage? Yeah.
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (25:03):
Chester Elton (25:19): Yes. you know, we’ve got a new book launching, leading with gratitude and it really is the culmination of 20 years worth of research and, and interviews, Adrian Gostick. And I have been working together for two decades now, and it really is so fascinating that when we had the chance to interview great leaders, like, you know, Gary Ridge and, and Ken Chanel, the retired CEO of American Express and lubers really who turned around the big retailer here in the States, you know, best buy and, and on and on, and wonderful leaders from nonprofits as well. You know Becky Douglas, who, who runs these campuses to support people that have been infected with the the the, the virus, the oh, on leprosy with leprosy. Yep. And, and the way they lead and the way they’ve made a difference to their people, their, their customers, the people they serve this idea of that gratitude.
Chester Elton (26:16): When you put it at the center of the way you lead and, and the way you, you lead your life, the impact it has is phenomenal. And I think the timing for this book is really, really good in that, you know, never have we been more connected digitally, and yet never have we been more alone. You know, this idea of, we can put out these horrible messages on Twitter and then drop the mic and walk away. Yeah. And think there are no consequences there are. And whether it’s in with our children, in our communities, our students, the political discourse, our conversations at work, it’s amazing to me, the power of gratitude, that when we are appreciative for all the little things that go right every day to keep our lives on track, to keep our businesses on track, as opposed to showing up as leaders and making sure we point out every little thing that went wrong, right.
Chester Elton (27:11): How that creates such great cultures, it, it, it really is, is needed. I’m, I’m so proud of this work. And Adrian and I have worked really diligently. And I will tell you, Sean, that mm-hmm
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (27:43): That is absolutely super. But I love that again, that angle of authenticity that goes right through that, you know, which links back back to sort of the Aristotle angle of, you know, the virtuous mans, virtuous things for virtuous reasons. Absolutely amazing. First look, it’s just so interesting. Chester so as we begin to finish off then, is there anything else that you’d like to say to the, to the listeners, no matter where they are, be it either in Asia or Europe or the US, or Middle East, any, anything they should be taking on board about your absolutely dynamic talks?
Chester Elton (28:13): Absolutely. You know, we’ve got a wonderful website it’s called leading with gratitude book.com and there’s all kinds of fun. Videos of the interviews we did, you can download the forward of the book was written by our wonderful friend, Marshall Goldsmith about the power of gratitude and more than anything, but I’d like to leave with our listeners is lessons that my father taught me and my father, again, coming back to having a great face for radio and his great sense of humor. You know, he taught us and, and my brothers, he said, you know, you be good to everybody. Everybody’s having a tough day. The thing I loved about the way my dad lived his life is whether he was talking to the parking attendant or the checkout clerk at the grocery store or captains of industry. Everybody mattered. He said, you know, chess, everybody’s got a story and everybody’s got something.
Chester Elton (29:04): Remember to be kind, remember to be considerate. It costs nothing. And it goes a long way. And if there’s one message I’d love your leader or your listeners to take away from today is when you meet people, you don’t know what they’ve come from. Whether they’ve had trouble at home, they’ve gotten some bad news. What you do know is that their interaction with you, they can believe what they did mattered, that they made a difference and that you celebrated those successes. It costs nothing. It goes a long way. It’s a better way to lead, and it’s a better way to live. And that’s my story, Sean. And I’m sticking to it.
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (29:38):
Chester Elton (30:01): Thank you, Sean.
Sean Pillot De Chenecey (30:06): Thank you for listening to The Speaker Show podcast. Please leave a rating on iTunes. We’d really appreciate it. And also be great. If you could subscribe to the podcast itself, you’ll find it also on Google podcasts, SoundCloud, or your favorite podcast app. Thank you.
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Sean Pillot de Chenecey
Foresight strategist, author and podcast host Sean Pillot de Chenecey is an inspirational speaker, who’s also consulted for some of the world’s biggest brands.
Sean has a very deep level of knowledge regarding the genuine issues impacting brands from a cultural, social and business perspective.