Between the Carrot and the Stick


You’ve heard the analogy, the combination of reward and punishment to motivate and drive employees forward. In one hand you hold the carrot in front of your employee – just a little bit further, push just a little bit harder, and he can have this tasty reward. In the other hand you hold the stick, ready to give him a whack when he veers off course – just a little one, a gentle nudge to course correct.

I wonder where  this carrot and stick behaviour has gotten us? This push pull. I can’t help but picture poor Sisyphus, pushing that darn rock up the hill only for it to roll back down again. Because, let’s be honest, as soon as the employee hits carrot level performance you are inevitably going to move the carrot. And eventually the employee gets tired, and so you have to use the stick. But they have options unlike Sisyphus.

That’s not good or bad, or anything, it’s just reality. But what if instead of looking at it as carrot and stick, what if we looked at what sits in the middle.

Between the carrot and the stick is a person. An individual with abilities, thoughts, ideas, and so much to give.

I’m of the belief that no one sets out in life to fail. Failure happens, and we learn from that. But the people who work for you have found themselves with you for a reason. If you want employees who are productive and engaged you need to understand what motivates them to do their best work.

For some it might be the chance to work on a special product, or the autonomy and time to be creative about a new way for the business to grow. For others it might be the opportunity to do something that has deeper meaning for them, and supporting them in driving toward that purpose. And others may crave the chance to develop new skills and talents.

When you pull these pieces apart you get individuals who are doing work they are passionate about, that they understand the drive behind it, and that are contributing in ways that you never thought possible. But it’s not as simple as removing the carrot and the stick. These are still tools that we need to hold in our toolbox to ensure accountability and appropriate reward. What I’m suggesting is that you take it a step further and get to know what drives the individuals on your team to do great work.

“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand-new ending.” – Carl Bard

There are a few things that you can start to create an environment where everyone wants to do great work:

  1. Connect and get to know your team – do they have kids? What teams do they cheer for? What do they like to do when they aren’t working for you? This may seem obvious, however, it isn’t, and so for those of you who are going to work to work and get a job done and not to make friends I say two things:
    • You don’t have to be friends outside the office, but wouldn’t being friendly with the people that you spend the majority of your time with make life a bit more – dare I say – FUN!
    • Get over yourself
  2. Ask your team what would turn their internal dial to move from good to great work. If by chance they start to go to the negative, for example “I would love to do great work but I can’t because Jimmy is hard to work with.” Try asking them what they want instead, and keep doing that until they can articulate in a positive manner what it is they want from the time they spend at work.
  3. Create opportunities for team members to do special projects, or give them a couple hours a week or a month to work on new and exciting ways for the company to move forward. I know this feels counter-intuitive to a productive workplace, but you have no idea the brain trust in your office, start using that power to catapult your growth.

Go ahead, give it a try. I dare you.

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