What to do when the carrot and stick stop working

Many businesses have created motivational and performance structures around the carrot and the stick approach, but what do you do when the carrot and the stick stop working. The truth is they probably never really worked in the first place.

If you look through most HR policies and procedures you will find a capability or disciplinary process with guidance and FAQ’s. In most cases it is written into the employment contract so the stick is real yet rarely applied. The carrot might look like pay rises, incentives, bonuses or promotion, but after a while the allure becomes dulled.

Perks and employee benefits aren’t a  carrot either as many people expect decent working conditions and additional extras as a matter of fact now. It is our human desire to thrive. We are already hardwired to thrive and no one wants to be bored, unstimulated, disconnected or under-appreciated. In fact connection and being appreciated is our survival driver and therefore leaders need to understand that no one comes to work to do a bad job, they want the opportunity to thrive.

If leaders want to create a high performance culture they need to create an environment where people can do their best work. It is time to start leading people by tapping into peoples innate motivations and their core psychological needs.

 1. Autonomy

When people are empowered to make decisions and have freedom of choice over their work, they thrive. By imposing goals, deadlines, targets and decisions on your people you are taking away their freedom and autonomy and in return you achieve head nodders and plodders. Sure you need to set the direction (What, when and why), but give your people the autonomy to decide  how and where.  If you really want to create personal responsibility, ownership and empowerment then you need to step back and reduce your control.

To create autonomy you can set the parameters and boundaries in which you expect your people to operate in, but then you allow them to operate within them. You can check in and monitor progress, but coach and inquire rather than tell and criticise.  Does it matter how they achieve the outcome as long as it was achieved within the boundaries?

2. Competence

When people feel skilled and effective in their work, they feel like they are flourishing and growing. We all need to feel competent and accomplished in an area and we are motivated to grow. As a leader you can encourage competence by encouraging growth. When it is time to stop teaching, you can allow your people to take the reigns and to deepen their learning and put it into action. You may need to invest in learning and development, or simply invest your time as a coach and mentor, but then allow your people to gain confidence in their abilities. Believing in someone is a great motivator and then celebrating their successes takes it to the next level.

Try making personal goals as important as business goals in your discussions. Ask people what they have learned and reflect on how they can improve in the future. Create a no blame culture where mistakes are allowed within the boundaries without fear.

3. Relatedness

I love to talk about tribes as it describes relatedness perfectly. A tribe is a community, a belonging, a shared goal, purpose and cause where people adopt the values and causes of the tribe. When people are connected and trust one anothers intention they lean into their tribe and become part of something greater than themselves. At the centre of relatedness is caring for one another and when we feel cared for and a sense of belonging we are motivated to maintain our “tribe” and we are invested.

Help your people to understand how they fit into the organisation and how their work matters. Each person matters and is trying to do their best, so help others to celebrate successes and recognise how they have helped to contribute towards the greater good.

To create a highly motivated workforce Leaders need to create the environment where people can grow, develop, be empowered and belong. It is the intersection of I and We where high performance flourishes.