Motivation: Stick? Carrot? Or is there a third option?
Updated: Jan 22
As a former Finance Director I bring an unusual insight into motivation. In my quest to build a strong and highly profitable business, I loved direction, clarity, structure and processes. We’d become ISO accredited in Quality, Environmental and Health & Safety, and had excellent Business Operating Systems. But even I eventually realised that authority, financial controls, stick and carrot only get you so far. I found ourselves creating more processes to catch out the people who weren’t complying – before realising I just need to understand why.
Wasn’t it Einstein who said the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect different results?
‘Why?’ is intangible and open ended. It might open up questions and thoughts that we don’t want to explore. It’s not as simple and clear cut as a nice process. BUT, if you are committed to significantly improve business performance, we need to move beyond authority, processes and control. And by ‘we’, I also mean ‘you’. This is not a challenge we can leave at HR’s door.
In a world that’s focused on productivity, it feels crazy to leave untapped ability on the table. The UK is 20% behind the rest of the G7 countries in terms of productivity, which simply means it costs more to do business in the UK. It means there less money in the UK economy for wages, innovation and the NHS. And yet, 64% of people say they have more to offer in their skills and talent than they’re currently being asked to use or demonstrate. That’s 20 million workers. (According to Engage for Success.)
And whilst motivation is not as definitive as a nice process – but it’s a far better way to do business, especially with today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment and complex demographics.
So how do we motivate people?
Stick and carrot are OLD and outdated thinking! It was a model that thrived during the Industrial Revolution when we became machine-centric and people were interchangeable resources. Back then, people were struggling to survive, let alone thrive. But now we’re in the Knowledge Revolution when brains are more valuable than brawn. It’s easy to measure the time someone contributes – but difficult to measure the effort they contribute, and what proportion lies untapped.
Innovation requires taking a risk, and why would they if the consequences are likely to be painful and their extra effort not valued?
Stick and carrot is an inappropriate methodology for today’s work, when people are focused on quality of life not survival. Today we can choose how much we chase the carrot or avoid the stick. Do we chase the carrot until we have enough, or because it truly motivates and energises us (in which case we’ll keep chasing it)? The stick has always been demotivating and disengaging. But today people have more choices. So if they choose to stay, they’ll do enough to avoid being hit. They’ll switch off and they won’t innovate. Why? Because innovation requires taking a risk, and why would they if the consequences are likely to be painful and their extra effort not valued?
So what’s our third option? Our third option is to understand motivation, and how we can tailor our ‘carrots’ to suit each individual, as well as our team and organisation. And we can tailor this based on data and on increased self-awareness and ownership. There’s a widespread belief that money is a carrot that motivates everyone and yet, as Dan Pink demonstrates in his book ‘The surprising truth about what motivates people’, money only motivates people to a point. I love Dan Pink’s book (and the accompanying RSA video) – but I caution against believing only these 3 motivators are important.
Improvements start bottom up with how the individuals can create improvements versus the Carrot and Stick ‘top down’ authoritarian method.
Motivational Maps® are my tool of choice – and there are 9 motivators including the three Dan Pink highlighted. I’ve been using Motivational Maps for over 7 years now and operate at the highest level in this organisation. For me, and the 90 plus Practitioners in our team, they provide the perfect blend of head and heart; of quantitative and qualitative data. This blend resonates deeply with users and enables them to create significant improvements in their performance and relationships. Note that these improvements start bottom up with how the individuals can create improvements versus the Carrot and Stick ‘top down’ authoritarian method.
Motivation is only one part of the equation if you’re looking for significantly improved performance. If you’re looking for behavioural change, D x V x P is a great model to start with; a sophisticated version of Carrot and Stick if you like. We need:
a clear and compelling Vision (V) of a much better future, and
a Plan (P) that we believe will get us there.
We then need our Dissatisfaction (D) with the status quo to be at least 80%.
We can build motivation into all of this – depending on what motivates each individual. For example, in the 37,500 Motivational Maps that have been completed around 80% of users said purpose and being able to make a difference are highly important in their motivation (the Searcher motivator). This goes someway to explaining why Simon Sinek’s Golden Circles and ‘Why’ resonate so deeply and widely.
Employee engagement is different again, and that’s why I also specialise in this. Engagement is the emotional commitment to the organisation, department or team. For full performance we need to be both motivated by our role and engaged with our team or organisation. Otherwise people who are motivated by their role, but disengaged with their organisation, will leave and do that role elsewhere.
Does all of this add complexity to the already busy lives of leaders and managers? Possibly. But it also adds a breakthrough solution. After all, wasn’t it Einstein who said the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect different results?
Susannah Brade-Waring is Managing Director of Aspirin Business and Motivated Performance, and a Senior Practitioner of Motivational Maps®. Their clients are ambitious and big-hearted and include Waitrose, Merlin Entertainments as well as coaching and training organisations and HR Managers in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Hungary.