The Carrot & the Stick

The following is an excerpt from my latest book, “The Individual Team: How Fairness Wrecked the Workplace” available now at Amazon.

PAIN VERSUS PLEASURE

Not everyone is motivated in the same way. Perhaps the most basic motivator is how individuals deal with potential consequences. Some respond more to the avoidance of pain rather than the pursuit of pleasure. Unfortunately, the majority of humans fit into the former category. People tend to be more reactionary than proactive. This is perhaps because humans feel comfortable at a certain level and take solace in being there. Why toil for “better” when you can relax and have “good enough”? Only a disruption in that comfort will force a change to be made. Does this mean the majority need to be threatened? No. Threaten one and you may be able to get more productivity out of him, at least in the short term. Threaten another, she may publicly push back or simply slash your tires in the parking lot. However, most people are smart and understand what natural consequences lay ahead for poor performance. We all know those who have been fired for not achieving minimum production, but I have never heard of someone being let go for not breaking the company sales record. Most tend to find a comfortable spot and stay here.

Painting a rosy picture of pay raises and promotions doesn’t work on everyone either. Not everyone else wants to be a manager someday. In fact, most do not. Talk to someone of going beyond mediocrity or “grabbing the brass ring” and they will stare at you in stone silence. Many workers just want to put their time in and leave at the end of the day. It’s as if to say; “The carousel doesn’t move any faster or slower if I grab the damn ring, so why try?” This type of worker is just fine being fine. They do not see the benefit of doing more than is required. Of course, there is nothing wrong with showing up to work and doing exactly that for which one is paid. But at the end of the day, it is the end of the day.

That’s not to say there are not other motivators outside of work, however. Some see work as just a way to pay the bills until their photography business gets off the ground. Or working to spend quality time with grandchildren on weekends may be all they think about. For these employees, security from the notion of a job well done motivates them to work toward their own external goals. A good manager will have an understanding of what those goals are.

So, how does a manager motivate someone who is simply there to pick up a paycheck? First, understand if they are doing what the job requires and not being detrimental to the rest of the shop, then they are doing their job. One should appreciate them for showing up on time and putting in a full day’s work. I have seen managers want

You are not going to change someone else’s priorities. Instead, play to them. At the company picnic, be sure to praise an employee for a recent accomplishment in front of the family. If someone is a budding photographer, ask if they can take the official company photos. These are ways of investing in your team while building a bridge between the two worlds. In turn, they will feel more invested and understand how important that bridge is to them.

Others are specifically looking for a company with advancement opportunities. A secure nine to five would be a complete dead end for these people. Keep in mind they will jump ship for a better opportunity in a heartbeat. If there are opportunities within, they can be instrumental to the company down the road but will have to be engaged with meaningful work in the meantime.

We all want stars on our team, but that comes with a price. If a star is brought onboard with the prospects of moving up the company ladder, she will need to be given a certain amount of responsibility and authority. People like to feel their own forward momentum. Long gone are the days where someone is willing to incubate for two or three years waiting for their predecessor to retire. We have all seen where promises did not pan out and the heir-apparent looks like a schmuck. I have never been a fan of making someone an heir-apparent to a future position anyway. Give them the “assistant” title and make them an heir-obvious.

If you have a beast on your sales force, just remember, you are going to have to feed that beast. Arbitrary caps because the company thinks a salesperson will “make too much money” will see them become someone else’s representative or worse, start their own company and be a competitor. Long team meetings, a toxic office and changing compensation plans are just a few of the things that will see those stars fizzle out.

All of this goes to that old metaphor of the carrot and the stick. How do you get a stubborn mule to move? For some, whacking them with a rod will get the mule up and pulling the cart. While another may only shift from the sitting position to lying in the road in protest of being beat. Whereas, a carrot waved in front of a mules nose will move the animal to the ends of the earth. No, people are not mules to be whacked or bribed, but the analogy does hold true; not everyone is motivated the same way. It is up to the manager to understand the individuals of his team and how to motivate them.

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