Carrot and Stick

Ditching The Carrot And The Stick

Traditional incentives work well for mechanical or functional tasks.

Want someone to pump out more widgets; give them more carrots.

Want them to stop; get out the stick.

When the process is simple then reward, for the most part, works as a motivator.

However, the moment you want creativity, the instant you require divergent thinking, an entrepreneurial mindset and someone to take responsibility for both the process and the outcome, then traditional incentives fail to produce better results.

And although in business and in sales we’re usually measured on output or performance, the achievement of it is a factor of creative, divergent and entrepreneurial thinking, rather than mechanical or functional application.

But we still hold on to our traditional incentives to ‘drive’ behaviour.

It’s what I did.

It’s what we did.

It’s what we always did.

But the fact is – and here’s the paradox – that those people who obtain the traditional incentives – the commissions, the cash prizes, the holidays and the bonuses – probably would have done so anyway.

They end up achieving in spite of the incentives – not because of them.

The reason that they achieved them wasn’t because of the commissions, the cash prizes, the holidays and the bonuses – sure, those things are great – but they achieved them because they cared enough to take ownership, create, develop and implement the plan.

They achieved them because they were happy and fulfilled in their role; because they felt part of a larger whole and had a sense of control and progression over their future.

The fact they ended up getting the ‘stuff’ was just a bonus. A byproduct of what went before.

So in considering how to motivate, to increase performance and create sustainable change, we need to ditch the carrot and the stick and consider instead ways in which we can:

  1. Increase perceived progression
  2. Increase perceived control
  3. Increase the chances of connectedness
  4. Increase the perception of being part of a bigger whole

There’s nothing wrong with extrinsic rewards. Quite the opposite in fact – they’re great, in that they allow us to do fantastic things with the people that we love.

But let’s be clear that the carrot and the stick are not sustainable motivators and drivers of behavioural change.


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