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Carrot and Stick Approach to Motivation


Managers always need to keep in mind that their employees are individuals who will often have differing and contrasting personalities. This also means that they will respond in different ways to the attempts of the manager to boost productivity and get them to achieve certain targets and goals.

One of the many reasons for conducting business coaching with employees is to find out exactly what motivates them in order to get them to reach their optimum potential.

Obtaining Results Through Rewards or Punishment

Carrot and stick reward and motivation

One of the old adages of management and motivation techniques is the carrot or stick approach. Originally applying to animals, it describes whether to get it to move by enticing the animal with a nice juicy carrot in front of it as a reward, or beating it with a stick. Getting the animal to move is the objective or target, and the carrot and stick are a means of achieving it.

Managers who wish to get their workers to achieve a certain objective can also apply one of these techniques. Whilst many workers would not be too enthusiastic about receiving a carrot, rewards such as a bonus amount of money, more leisure time or promotion can greatly encourage them to work harder in order to achieve the objective.

Conversely, the manager can take the stick approach. Whilst beating employees with a stick is illegal in most countries, threats such as being fired, receiving a pay cut or being publicly lambasted for failing to achieve targets can all act as a metaphorical stick and encourage the employee(s) to work harder to avoid such undesired consequences.

A Spectacular Success or a Spectacular Failure

De-motivated employees can soon become fed up and unhappy at work

Both ways can be extremely successful methods for motivating workers to get the task done, but conversely both ways are fraught with danger, particularly the stick approach as this can easily have the opposite effect to its desired intention if employees rebel against their treatment.

The carrot approach may work the first time, but workers might then expect to receive rewards for every project or major task they complete, on top of their regular salary. This will be expensive for the company if they maintain this practice, and could cause de-motivation and poor performance if the employees no longer receive the rewards. They may also wonder if they have done something wrong this time.

The issuing of rewards can cause resentment and a decline in the morale of workers in other departments, for example the administration department who play a vital role in the successful accomplishment of a project may be seriously annoyed if only the sales team receive rewards.

This can not only lead to a decline in the performance of the administration department itself, but also create disunity, poor teamwork and lack of communication between the departments which can be seriously detrimental to the smooth operation and future success of the business.

Motivation vs Happiness

Managers Need to Understand the Difference Between Happiness and Motivation

A classic mistake which many managers make, particularly those new to the position such as first line managers, is to confuse motivation with employee happiness, and believe that just because employees are happy then it must mean that they are also highly motivated.

It can certainly be the case that they can be both, but managers need to be wary that they do not simply assume that happy workers are motivated workers.

Focus on Motivation Rather than Employee Happiness

A smiling employee

Happiness is an emotion and a state of mind, whereas motivation relates more to the dedication and willingness of employees to work hard, take pride in the products they make or the service they provide, meet deadlines, work overtime if necessary and generally to do things which will be beneficial to the organisation.

Whilst some workers may do all this and be happy at the same time, there will be some who are happy and do not do this, presumably because they can get away with it in the workplace without management taking action to remedy the situation.

A manager needs to concentrate on the performance and motivation of their employees to maintain high standards and efficient/timely output rather than simply making attempts to make workers happy. As an example, taking them all to a theme park for a day is likely to make them extremely happy, but will probably not have much of an impact upon their performance when they are back in the workplace.

Different Forms of Motivation

Different Incentives will Affect Individuals in Different Ways

Different forms of incentives, whether financial or non-financial, will motivate different employees in different ways. Not only this, they can often have a higher probability of success if they are connected to the way in which people have achieved the task, insofar as a team bonus will be much more appropriate if the satisfactory completion of a project was brought about through effective teamwork and collaboration between different people or departments.

Conversely a team reward may not be suitable if the success of the project relies on individuals to work separately and do different bits. In fact, these individuals who may work in various locations may not actually like or get on with each other, and so the offer of a team away day as a reward may in fact not be much of a motivator at all, and could even act as a disincentive if some members deliberately hope they do not reach the target in order to avoid feeling an obligation to go on an away day with the others!

A Good Coach and Manager Works Out what Motivates Each Individual The Most

A particular skill a manager can have, which is often acquired through experience, is in determining what will motivate and get the best out of their employees. Similarly a good business coach will know how to break down barriers and encourage the delegates to whom they are providing business coaching to motivate themselves in order to achieve more in the workplace.

Motivation and Pay Levels

Paying a Worker More Money Will Often Increase Their Motivation

Pay levels can have a significant effect upon a worker's motivation and their attitude towards their job and the overall success of the company.

Whilst there is some speculation that remuneration which is too high can actually lead to de-motivation in terms of the effort a person is willing to put in, in the vast majority of cases paying an employee more money or incentivising them with financial bonuses and rewards for achieving certain targets will serve to increase their motivation and lead to them working harder and showing more commitment to achieving the desired objectives.

The Psychological Effect of Pay Levels
A worker demanding to be paid

The level of pay a worker receives is likely to be used by them in two ways:-

One is comparing it to a figure in their own mind regarding what their time and effort is worth. If they feel that the pay level matches what they themselves think they are worth then they will be satisfied. If it is lower they will become de-motivated and much more likely to look around for a new job; if it is higher than they think they are worth they will probably feel extremely lucky and be unwilling to do anything which may put this cushy position in jeopardy.

Secondly they may compare what they receive with others doing a similar job either within the same company or at another organisation. Whilst they may be the best paid employee in the building, if another company is paying its workers more for doing the same job then the employee may be tempted to try and get a position there. This is where managers can try to increase the non-financial rewards and satisfy the other needs of employees such as job satisfaction, job enrichment, chance of promotion, responsibility and recognition for example. These can compensate for a slightly lower financial reward and encourage the employee to stay with the business.

How Business Coaching Can Offset the Need for More Money

Engaging in business coaching sessions with employees can allow a manager to discover what makes these individuals motivated and what will encourage them to raise their performance levels. This will then allow managers to offer different rewards and incentives which are not financial in order to raise or at least maintain current levels of effort.

This reduces the financial obligation for the business, which is particularly useful when times are tough.

Money Can Actually Decrease Motivation

Most Workers are Motivated by Money

A large number of managers and management theorists believe that money can not only be a powerful motivator of employees, but that it is often the single most important factor when it comes to increasing the motivation of their workers. They argue that people only come to work and stay in a job because they need the money to purchase essentials such as food and to have money to pursue leisure activities, and virtually nobody would come to work if they did not get paid for doing so.

More Money, More Effort?

There is a belief that the more money an employee receives or has the potential to receive for achieving a specific target, the harder they will work and the more motivated they will be to achieve this success. This will be true for the vast majority of people as they strive to attain the reward of a higher amount of money by satisfying the criteria and achieving the goals required to get this money.

Peak Level

A football snoozing rather than training

However there is likely to come a point where an amount of money can become so great that it actually causes motivation to decrease.

A worker may begin to believe that because they are paid so much by the organisation they are of vital importance. Whilst this may be the case, if the individual believes it to such an extent that their ego swells they may begin to think that they are indispensible and can do no wrong, which may lead to arrogance, laziness and a lower overall work ethic.

This can often happen to professional sportspeople who get signed by a big team which pays them a lot of money. The individual then feels that they have "made it" and no longer need to train as hard and play with the same high intensity as they did in order to get noticed in the first place.

This mentality can sometimes set in with high-flying corporate executives or senior managers who believe they are so vital to the company or could easily get a similar position at another organisation that they can pretty much do what they like at work.

Business Coaching and Motivation

Business Coaching, Motivation & Staff Retention

A busy and overworked person in the office

One of the lasting legacies of providing business coaching to employees is (hopefully) an increase in their morale and motivation when it comes to their work.

Often the need for business coaching arises from the person not giving their all or facing obstacles and challenges which prevent them from fulfilling their maximum potential.

This nearly always results in a significant fall in their motivation as they become frustrated or feel as if their talents are going to waste. It can also drive them towards seeking alternative employment where these obstructions do not exist and they can better utilise their skills, which results in the business losing their most talented members of staff.

This is likely to have a serious detrimental effect upon the business in the long term as their best people leave, as not only will they themselves not have them, but they are likely to remain in the same industry which means going to a competitor, so the effects are a double-whammy.

Why Provide Business Coaching?

Providing an employee or employees with business coaching - either the manager themselves providing it or an external business coach who is brought in - can help to work towards overcoming the issues that are causing the problems which will result in an increase in their motivation as they finally see a resolution to them on the horizon.

As the business coach will guide and encourage the employee to come up with action plans primarily by themselves rather then telling them what to do, they will be highly motivated to make these changes a success.

Allowing Employees to Try Something New

What Motivates One Employee May Not Work for Another

We have seen in previous coaching articles that there are many different factors which can play a part in increasing, or decreasing, a particular employee's motivation at work.

Every employee is a unique individual, and whilst they may share certain characteristics and desires, it is often the case that what may motivate one might not have any effect on another. Even worse, it may have a detrimental influence on their motivation.

Giving Employees Some Authority Often Increases Motivation

As well as all of the other methods such as pay or allowing them to study and become an expert in their field, another way of motivating employees is to allow them the freedom to try new ideas and ways of doing things. This can include adopting a radically different marketing strategy to anything that the company has done before, introducing a new product or service, redefining existing processes or suggesting new reward and incentive schemes to motivate others.

Many employees lose motivation when they start to feel that they are stuck in a bit of a rut or that their ideas and suggestions are not listened to, but they can gain motivation by being given responsibility and a small amount of authority and power.

Managers Need to Play Their Part Too

All of this means that allowing a worker to try something new which they have come up with could really make a big difference to their attitude.

If this has been identified in business coaching or performance review sessions as something that may energise and motivate the employee, it is a motivational tactic which can be employed, providing that the manager keeps a close watch on the amount of freedom and flexibility the employee has and what they are doing, as it still needs to provide a benefit for the business and ensure it does not consume too many resources such as time and money.

It may be the case that these could be better allocated elsewhere, although the manager may need to be brave and go against the urge to carry things on as they are and have always been done in the company, otherwise no change for the better would ever take place.

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