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Carrot and stick

Recently, I spent my lunch listening to a good friend describe the hell his boss has created at work. I’ve heard countless stories like his—and I’ve told a few myself. Why do some managers still think they can manage through intimidation and fear? Ignorance is the only answer because correct management practices have been documented since, at least, the 1940’s.

Just before your grandparents were born, maybe your great grandparents, most people lived on the margin. Today we think about the hungry and the homeless. But, not long ago most people were in agriculture and their very survival depended on the annual harvest. One missed crop and entire families, sometimes for generations, were fated to abject poverty. When people started migrating to cities to work in factories and organizations, hunger and fear was a potent motivator—and a few more cents per hour was life altering.

But, for some time now the carrot and stick hasn’t worked—in fact it is counterproductive. On the stick side: if you lose your job nowadays you will be mildly, perhaps greatly, upset. It won’t be comfortable and the consequences may be significant. However, you will not starve. So, intimidation just makes workers mad. On the carrot side: we know that it takes a huge amount of money (or %) in modern society to be more than a temporary motivator. The number is so large it isn’t economically feasible to entice workers to better long-term performance using money.

Effective managers understand the great majority of workers want one thing more than anything else: achievement. And, they understand their job is to create the right environment. I’ve explored that environment especially here and here.

Additionally, it is the manager’s job to put process controls in place, create opportunities for continuous learning, involve workers in evolving their own jobs, ensure the organization actively supports their achievement, and makes sure their performance against high standards has consequences. These are the practices that are part of a healthy and high achieving culture. The carrot and stick are dead—it’s time they were buried.


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