Does the Carrot and Stick approach still work?
I deliver many Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) courses every year, mainly for my global corporate clients. These companies have a strong desire to train their leadership in how to get the best from their teams and employees.
One of the sessions I find most interesting is what I refer to as the 'carrot and stick session'. I thought it might be nice to reflect on this concept in this week's post.
To improve performance and productivity and to encourage people to perform at their best, we tend to reward good behaviour and punish bad. If this approach works for donkeys, surely it must work for humans too?
Give them a bonus
It is quite interesting to hear business leaders talking about 'retention bonuses' and 'performance payouts'. Without fail, whenever I start talking about the carrot and stick approach to management, most people on the course prick up their ears and nod encouragingly at the idea of rewarding good workplace behaviour with money.
If a good employee threatens to leave the company, why not give him a bit of extra cash to remain? If a great employee is a team-player and consistency hits her performance targets, why not reward her with a cash payout? Happy days all round? Actually, no. It has been proven that the 'financial reward for extra work' approach doesn't always work in today's modern workplace.
Frederick Winslow Taylor, an American engineer and efficiency guru, once said: "Work consists of simple, not particularly interesting, tasks. The only way to get people to do them is to incentivize them properly and monitor them carefully." Taylor's view of the world back in the early 20th century was possibly correct. But those days have long gone.
Money is still, of course, a big factor. We all want to earn enough to see us through, with a little extra for holidays and other luxury items. But does throwing money at employees really produce better output? There have been many social experiments and studies that show money alone is not enough to keep us motivated at work. We need much more than money.
What replaces the carrot?
The carrot, and stick, can be hidden away, providing we have three key elements in our jobs: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Far more powerful than money is autonomy. Human beings need, and strive, for control in all aspects of their lives. The need to control elements of our job is a major factor with most people. If a manager takes away our control, they take away our motivation.
I often ask managers a simple question: "When do you allow your employees to leave at the end of the day?" The response is mostly the same, such as "after they have done their eight hours" or "not before 5pm is the company policy". Sure, the donkey will move when you beat it, but it will move grudgingly!
Another factor with the modern human psyche is 'mastery'. It is a human condition that we want to be better and better at something. Our psychological programming is such that we are happier when we feel our skills are advancing. Take sport as an example. Dedicated sports people strive to be better and better. Their whole existence revolves around taking a second off their time, or consistently hitting a backhand to the baseline.
Of course, not every employee will be driven to success in the same way as top sports people. However, allowing a person to achieve mastery in something will go a long way to keeping them motivated and high-performing.
'Purpose' is the final ingredient. Doing something that makes a difference can be incredibly rewarding. Doing something that is perceived as having no value whatsoever can be incredibly de-motivating.
Kids teach us all we need to know
I am a firm believer in the idea that we instinctively know what we want. We are born with a sense of personal motivation, but it is sucked out of us by work and by working relationships.
A classic study in behavioural science was carried out by two psychologists, Greene and Lepper. They watched a classroom of children for several days and identified some of the kids who liked to draw during their free time. The researchers divided the kids into three groups. They told the kids in the first group that they would be rewarded with a nice certificate if they drew nice pictures. The second group was not told about the reward but the best pictures received a surprise gift. The third group didn't receive any reward and were not told about the certificates. The reward structure continued for two weeks.
Two weeks later, the researchers returned to the classroom and observed the children. An amazing discovery was made. The kids who had been rewarded for their drawings now showed less enthusiasm for drawing. However, the kids from groups two and three continued to draw with the same excitement as before.
The conclusion from the above experiment was: "Knowing that you will get a reward can turn enjoyment into work." Rewarding a person requires them to give up some of their autonomy, with the result that motivation reduces. It becomes a chore.
A nice working environment
A motivated team is one where: people are allowed to do things their own way, with some degree of flexibility and some self-discovery (autonomy); where people are given the opportunity to become the expert at something (mastery); and where team members can clearly see how their efforts will make a difference (purpose). Get these things right, and you will have a motivated and high-performing team.
Of course, a few extra pounds in the bank each month does help too!
I would love to hear your thoughts on what motivates you at work, or how you motivate your team. Perhaps you still use a big stick?
NLP is a wonderful course.