It’s time to update the carrot and stick approach. A cartoon of a donkey hitched to a wagon with a stick in front of it with a carrot enticing the donkey highlights the problem of trying to influence action without thinking about ramifications.
For centuries, dangling the carrot in front of the hardworking donkey or threatening the animal with the stick were two types of motivational power leaders used. Just as technology has advanced, we must expand this narrow view. Encouraging our leaders to rise to the challenges of new workforce expectations, requirements, and levels of competition requires more than a carrot or a stick.
Employee motivation, be it positive or negative, is a direct result of the appropriate use of power by a leader. Power is a bit of a dirty word that inspires a love-hate relationship. On one hand, it is connected to strength, forward motion and inspiration. On the other, it is often connected to despots, tyrants and evil bosses. The love, or carrot, of power reflects the ability to motivate others to achieve goals. The negative, or stick, stems from the forceful use of power over others that yields distorted behavior, corrupted decision making, or reduced initiative. Bearing both of these associations in mind, the use of power accomplishes goals and stirs engagement among employees.
While it is convenient to only have to evaluate two options: punish or reward, motivating both people and animals is much more complicated. The assumption is that we are just a “dumb” means to accomplish a goal diminishes us to the single task of cart hauling.
The fast reaction to the carrot or stick overshadows more sustainable options. Everyone may welcome a bonus but after a month, what is the power of the monetary incentive? Feeling like your contributions led to successful goal achievement, a sense that people trust and respect your experience, or the recognition that your insights made a critical difference in gaining support offers long lasting benefits.
How have you reacted when a “stick” strategy is evident? What motivates you? What type of motivational power have you used to bring out the best in others?