Carrots and sticks

Carrots and Sticks - not for mavericks!

Regardless of whether you are a parent, teacher, manager, or president, we know that carrots and sticks do not work as a method for motivation. Well, I guess that’s not strictly true; it will motivate most (conformist) people for a short period of time. Eventually though, even the most compliant or conformist person will start to rebel and stop doing what you want.

Why is it then, that most managers, parents etc still persist in using this outdated system of motivation? Perhaps it is because on the surface it looks like it is working. After all, the vast majority of workplaces consists of conformists who would not consider risking their job by refusing to be manipulated. They would prefer to sabotage the process by working slow, or using other micro-aggressions. Parents and teachers have a great deal of intimidating authority on the young, so those with poor leadership skills, tend to impose their will on them as a matter of course. They will often find that this tactic will come back and ‘bite them’ when the youth is older and more powerful. After all, fear breeds resentment.

My belief is that the use of carrots and sticks as a method of motivation (consistently applied, as opposed to a one off), is a demonstration of poor leadership. One that any self-respecting maverick will just ignore. This has its own consequences of course, as a disillusioned maverick tends to be significantly disruptive!

Mavericks want challenge and work that is meaningful that also allows them to influence others. Any hint of a threat (stick) will result in resentment and if the individual is an Extreme Maverick then an overreaction that will likely result in the destruction of the manager’s authority and influence.

Whilst extrinsic rewards (external to the work and controlled by others) are not in themselves a bad thing, it is foolish to rely on them as an only motivator. For example, only financially rewarding someone if they conduct specific tasks in the workplace, can often lead to employees exclaiming, ‘that’s not in my job spec’, and refusing to do the tasks that are required to be completed for the organisation to move forward. Unfortunately, this is a common refrain, heard up and down the country.

The threat of punishment (stick) breeds resentment, and the extrinsic reward (carrot) breeds a childlike attitude. For me it conjures up the image of a baby bird, with its beak open waiting for the mummy bird to put a worm in its beak. It doesn’t make the bird, or the individual, think for itself or become motivated to change the status quo. Therefore, the continued practice of refusing to invest in better methods of leadership is idiotic at best and financially damaging to the organisation at its worst. A disengaged, resentful workforce, does not perform well.

A carrots and sticks culture will always have trouble with the mavericks in its organisation. They are motivated by their own internal drivers that are not dependent on a financial carrot waved in front of them. Don’t misunderstand me, a maverick likes to be well paid, they are just unlikely to jump through hoops for that payment.

Mavericks value challenge, freedom, and independence. A financial carrot or a coercive stick will not curtail them, from doing what they believe is the right thing to do in that moment. One of the reasons for this, is that they are intrinsically motivated (psychological rewards received from doing the work that they want to do, for the reasons that only they, prescribe to it).

Whilst conformists may just moan about their managers, or the good ones leave, mavericks will eventually take the matter into their own hands. Socialised Mavericks will attempt to work with the manager by influencing the manager’s outcomes and motivating the employees directly. Extreme mavericks are likely to manipulate the manager and the employees so that their own purposes are fulfilled. This often leads to a splintered workforce who are forced to choose between the Extreme Maverick and the manager.

The problem with some organisations is that they have poor leaders that are unsure on what to do when the carrot and stick approach doesn’t work. The only real way to make a difference to leadership is to lead like a Socialised Maverick.

But that’s a blog for another day.

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