Are the Carrot and Stick Dead?
Recently I delivered a Winning Well program to an audience in Saudi Arabia.
In the Q & A following the program, one audience member asked an important question: “David, what you say about Winning Well makes sense and it is a different way to think. I have a question about motivating people: are the ‘carrot and stick’ dead?”
If you’re not familiar with the carrot and stick, they are images that represent two ways people have traditionally tried to motivate others.
The carrot represents incentives. Give people something to pursue…a bonus, a piece of candy, a corner office, and they will perform.
The stick represents pain. When people don’t perform, punish them until they do.
I loved this question because it is both honest and insightful. These styles of ‘motivation’ come naturally to most people. And they do get results…
The Problem With the Carrot and Stick
I discovered the problem with ‘carrot and stick’ motivation early in my career as a high school teacher. You may have seen movies where teachers try to incentivize students to learn by giving them candy for correct answers.
The problem of course, is that when the candy disappears, so does the student’s motivation to try.
And if you ever had a punishment-oriented teacher, you know the problem there: fear, power, and control don’t help you learn. You just do the least amount needed to avoid being punished and you can’t wait to get out of there.
You can get results from carrot and stick motivation, but it’s pretty limited. People do the least amount to get the incentive or avoid the punishment…and that’s about all they do.
I work with thousands of leaders in all different industries and I’ve never met anyone who said, “If I could just get the least amount of effort from my team, we’d be a success!”
That’s the first problem with carrot and stick techniques – they only get you the minimum effort, and that’s not what you need.
The second problem with both of these strategies is that they require constant energy to sustain. You have to keep rewarding people with treats that aren’t directly related to the work or you have to keep punishing or replacing people. Either option is exhausting and isolates you from your people.
The carrot and stick aren’t dead – they’re just not as effective.
Remember, you don’t actually motivate people. Their motivations are internal. Build an environment that releases people’s internal motivations, talents, and strengths toward the work.
When you lead from a place of confidence and humility while staying focused on both results and relationships, you create a foundation where you can begin to cultivate people’s internal motivations.
You don’t have to push and you don’t have to plead. You’ll achieve excellent results time and again – and that’s Winning Well!
Be the leader you want your boss to be,
Creative Commons Alan O’Rourke
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