Neither Carrot Nor Stick

Often when we talk about motivating people, the idiom of having the choice of using a Carrot or a Stick is used. I believe this originates from the conventional wisdom about the best ways to get a mule (as in the four legged horse-like animal) to move. You could try using a carrot, which might be enough of a treat for the mule to move in order to reach it. Or you could try a stick, which might be enough of a threat to get the mule to move in order to avoid being hit.

The idiom works because the carrot is analogous to offering someone an incentive (such as pay rises or bonuses) to get them to do something. The stick is analogous to offering them the threat of punishment (such as being fired or demoted). It’s curious how threat and treat differ by just one letter…

This all makes sense for a horse but not really for people.

The idiom has a major flaw because humans are significantly more complex than animals (all of us!).

Instead if we want to influence someone effectively and sustain-ably, we need to think about how to help them to have an emotional attachment to the thing your are looking to achieve.

I think this comes down to the following:

  • Being open exploring both their and your personal motivations with a view to maximising the achievement of both – in particular the overlap.
  • Starting from an open mind and only looking to agree the desired outcome. This is not the same as agreeing the approach. The approach is key to the satisfaction and motivation of the implementer and key to their attachment to achieving a great solution.
  • Supporting them in their chosen approach taking care not to challenge unnecessarily or do anything that risks eroding their sense of your trust.
  • Being transparent about the consequences of not delivering the desired outcome and clarifying your own role in shielding them from blame and creating a safe environment to operate.

Of course these ideas are not my own.  I would encourage you to explore some of these great materials that I have taken inspiration from:

And I’d love to hear your own ideas and recommended reading.

 

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