autonomy employee-engagement employee-retention human-resource-management motivational

Dangling a Carrot & Wielding

Dangling a Carrot & Wielding a Stick

The idiom of carrot and stick is based upon the fable of a cart driver who seeks to both induce his mule to move forward by dangling a carrot in front of it as well as force it into moving forward by wielding the stick from behind.

Issue of motivation based on the carrots-and-sticks approach, which is so deeply rooted in corporate, education and everyday life seems to be much more intriguing and serious. In our offices , how often have we heard this :”If you promise me a higher salary and longer vacation I will work more. If you threaten me that I will lose my job, if I come to work late, I will be on time every single day.” Probably very often and more often that we would like to hear. And needless to say, we are all guilty of encouraging this behavior at some point of time in our careers.

Before we comprehend and appreciate how the carrot-and-stick approach does not work in the long run and undermines on intrinsic motivation and discourages creative thinking, let me talk of very interesting example from Alfie Kohn’s book “Punished by Rewards”.

Its a practical joke of how rewards can transform a child’s play to work. The book provides insight to a problem of an elderly man being harassed by young notorious boys. After a couple of times of taking the insults, he finally devises a scheme. He offers a dollar to each one of them if they will come the next day and yell their insults again. They return zealously, insult the old man and receive their money. He tells them, that he can pay them only 25 cents the next day. They return a little bit of less enthusiastically and do what they are told to in order to receive the 25 cents. Finally the old man tells them, the next day’s rate would be just a penny. “Forget it,” they say and never harass him again. This principle illustrates, that rewards can lead to intriguing kinds of changes in human behavior !! Proves that the study of employee motivation and more importantly human motivation is interesting and frustrating — both to say the least!

Common situation we all trip on very often is when someone hands down their resignation but the boss really doesn’t want to lose them and/or needed them for just one more project, they would come up with the creative solution called “retention bonus”, throwing extra money to persuade them to stay just a little longer. Problem solved, happy days. Engagement must go up, right? It probably happens but does it sustain.Rarely!

Scientists have come up with a ‘new’ approach as the desire to do things because they matter; something people like because it’s interesting and part of something important. In order to increase employee productivity, engagement and motivation, the approach should focus on autonomy, mastery and purpose (Daniel Pinks book “Drive — the surprising truth about what motivates us”) Autonomy, meaning the ability to direct our own life; mastery being the desire to become better and better at something that matters; and finally purpose, the urge to do something for a greater good.

Its undoubtedly tough to develop an incentive program based on intrinsic motivation than motivation based on carrots and sticks. It requires an extra effort in promoting the contact between the employer and employee on more diverse and personal level. With changing workplace environments, its imperative we work on such models. The models can and will vary from company to company, but the point of the principle would always stay the same.

So, does it mean we bid goodbye to the carrot and stick approach ? Does it also mean money doesn’t have a role to play and is not significant motivator?The carrots and sticks are not all wrong. There are situations in which they do their job well, but they need to be utilized carefully. Everyone needs to get paid for the work they do. In order to even consider the motivation system, first the basics must be achieved. Without a healthy, adequate and fair salary the motivation of any kind is hard to achieve and often impossible to create.

Dangling a Carrot & Wielding was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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