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Time to throw out the carrot and stick

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Many leaders struggle with how to effectively motivate their team. Why can’t they be more like me? Where can I find motivated people?

Has it occurred to you that perhaps it isn’t the people in your employ-but the environment in which they work? The carrot and stick (reward and punishment) approach to motivation is a long entrenched behavior in business, school, parenting — really anytime we want to motivate people. But guess what — it doesn’t work!

Science has shown us over and over (and over) again that reward and punishment based motivations work only in specific situations-tasks that require very little cognitive input or creativity (like the days of the assembly line or data input). But what most of us need from our team is creative problem-solving, which is not a low cognitive task.

I must admit I struggled with this, despite the many different places I have come across this revelation. We are brainwashed into believing that offering incentives and doling out punishments motivates employees. This was very successful in our pre and early industrial society when assembly lines were broken down into mundane tasks requiring little cognitive output. Whatever the reason, we can’t shake it.

What does truly motivate people from Baby Boomers to Millenials? Autonomy, purpose and mastery. As leaders this can be a struggle. We are often hard-wired to be “in control” of everything. if you want engaged, motivated employees (i.e. MORE PRODUCTIVE) you will need to create an environment that fosters these very things. This is especially true of our younger workforce-aka “Millennials”. Let’s take a look at each of them.


Why do volunteers work so hard and tirelessly for animal shelters or soup kitchens? The big bonus check waiting for them when it’s done? NO! Because they believe in the cause.

If you have the Right People in the Right Seat (in other words, they fit your culture and are well-suited for their roles and responsibilities in your organization) and communicate well your company’s vision and goals, employees will find purpose. The best companies benefit from team members who find passion in what they do. Listen (more than you speak) to your team regarding their ideas and aspirations about projects and tasks. Celebrate successes with your team and shoulder failures for your team. This will cultivate a fiercely loyal and dedicated team.


Don’t you just love it when your boss reviews every aspect of your work, questions many of your choices, and offers her “opinion” as to what your next steps should be? No? Guess what? Neither does anyone else! Your job as a leader is to present a clear vision and goal, provide all the necessary resources and establish a transparent accountability structure in your organization-then get out of the way and give your team the space to succeed and thrive.

Make yourself available to remove obstacles or help resolve unforeseen issues, but don’t be too quick to throw out answers and solutions. Instead, guide your people to troubleshoot and problem solve. This will not only allow them to gain valuable skills and insights, but bolster their confidence.


For me, this was the easiest to incorporate into our company culture. One way to promote an environment of mastery is to lead by example. This includes discussing the books you are reading or the classes and lectures you attend, and encourage your team members to do the same. We provide an Audible account for any team member willing to advance their knowledge and skill set, and provide opportunities for workshops and classes. Allow your people the time, resources and encouragement to truly master their roles. Your job is to make them better equipped not only for their current position, but future jobs both in and out of your company.

It isn’t easy to throw out long-standing traditions. It just seems so rational to think that people are motivated by rewards and punishments. They are motivated alright, to give you just enough to keep their jobs, biding their time until a better offer comes along.

True motivation comes from loyalty fueled by shared goals and trust. Take care of your people and your people will take care of you. I experience it first hand every day with our own fiercely loyal and motivated team of rock stars (Millennial Rock Stars!).


Cheri Dudek is a leadership enthusiast and CEO at Orchard Corset. Read her leadership blogs at www.cheridudek.com//category/latest-news/