The Carrot and Stick Approach No Longer Applies

Most of the time, business is at the forefront of change in our society. Sometimes, on the cutting and bleeding edge of change.

But from time to time, business is sadly behind what we know to be fact.

This is especially true when it comes to what motivates employees within a company.

Traditionally, a ‘Carrot and Stick’ approach to rewarding employees has worked very well.

A goal is set and if you achieve it, you get the carrot. If you fail to achieve it, you get the stick.

According to Dan Pink, author of Drive, the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, the carrot and stick still work, but in narrowly defined areas.

These areas are in simple problem situations – ‘in the box’ creativity versus ‘out of the box’ creativity.

Using Duncker’s famous ‘Candle Problem’, intrinsic versus extrinsic motivators were tested by Princeton professor Sam Glucksberg.

In one experiment, two groups were asked to solve the problem of how to affix a candle to a wall, given a simple wax candle and a box of tacks.

One group he told he was just timing them for norms. The other group he told if they finished in the top 25% of times they would get $5 and if they finished fastest overall they would get $20.

The key to solving the problem is to use the box of tacks as a holder for the candle, a rather creative and ingenious solution to the task.

So what happened? The group that was promised rewards for the fastest times actually took longer to complete the task.

In fact, they took and average of three and half minutes longer than the group that was not promised incentives.

How does this happen?

It’s simple.

External rewards to increase motivation can serve as blinders for our creatiivty.

A lot of the solutions to our problems are out on the periphery. But the external reward cause us to narrow our focus and our potential solutions.

But what if you take the tacks out of the box to begin with?

The solution becomes obvious and the external motivators WORK! The groups that were incented by money do, in fact, perform more quickly.

What does this tell us?

Pink does a fantastic job of highlighting this in his TED presentation.

External, carrot and stick, reward systems worked in the 20th century because most of our problems were more simplistic.

Dont’ get me wrong, even with the tacks out of the box, it is still a creative solution to tack the box onto the wall!

But in the 21st century, we will have more and more need for solutions that require us to take the tacks ‘out of the box’ and create a solution.

For that to occur, we need to intrinsically motivate people.

What does that mean? Well, many things. Google famously created the 20%. 20% of the time, Google employees spend on whatever they want. Most of the new products that come from Google come from the 20% time.

Pink also mentions ROWE environments, Results Only Work Environments, in which employees set their own time, come in when they want and are not required to attend any meetings. These have shown to be highly effective in white-collar work situations.

Bottom Line

Moving forward, organizations need to intrinsically motivate employees if we care about achieving greater results and creating positive workplaces. It will take extra time and energy up front, but the dividends will pay off huge if done correctly.

If you are unsure where to start, you might want to look at our activities. They are set up to help individuals be introspective and truly understands themselves.

We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”

Marshal McLuhan


About the Author

James Carter is Founder and CEO of Repario. Repario helps companies connect the hearts, hands and minds to their organization through Emotional Experiences and sustaining the individual motivation through unique technology applications. Additionally, James recently authored Discovering Your Inner Strengths with Ken Blanchard, Brian Tracy and Steven Covey.

About Repario

We are a commited group of individuals focused upon helping you improve individuals, teams and leaders through experiential opportunties that connect the heart and mind.

April 6, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Beliefs, Better Business, Team Building | 2 comments

2 Responses to “The Carrot and Stick Approach No Longer Applies”

  1. pacifica quartet says:

    Its like you learn my thoughts! You appear to know a lot approximately this, such as you wrote the e-book in it or something. I feel that you could do with some p.c. to drive the message home a little bit, however other than that, that is magnificent blog. A fantastic read. I’ll certainly be back.

  2. goma eva says:

    Gοod post. I’m facing some of these issues as well..

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