Is it Time to Rethink the Carrot and the Stick When Motivating Your Employees?

Growing up I learned early that if I performed well with my chores, in school, or on the athletic field that I would be rewarded.  On the opposite side of the coin, if I performed poorly then I would be disciplined accordingly.  Because I was conditioned to this approach from an early age and having some “old school” bosses, I carried this performance mindset into my adult work life.  Unfortunately, this influenced my management style for a while as well.  This performance tactic is commonly referred to as the “carrot and the stick”.  The carrot and the stick might be good for horses who are bound and tasked for one thing, performance, but is it right for employees?  For me, this approach is based upon fear and control regardless of succeeding or failing.  Sure it can lead to some (with the emphasis on some) high end performance, but at what price and cost?  

There are certain things that I have learned when applying the Carrot and Stick regarding employees. This is a partial and very general list:


  1. Employees who fail usually do so because they are frozen with fear of making a mistake
  2. Employees who fail are miserable
  3. Employees who fail feel devalued
  4. Employees who succeed are in it for themselves
  5. Employees who succeed learn to work the system
  6. Employees who succeed are frustrated by the limitations


So, if the Carrot and the Stick are not the right approach with employees, what is?  It’s been my experience that Trust and Respect maximize an employees impact and well-being.  Trust and respect are nurtured through a climate of community in which team members are:


  1. Constantly being affirmed of their value to the team. Employees not only need to feel needed, but also need to feel wanted.  They should understand and feel that they are more than just a commodity to the company, but a valued member.
  2. Encouraged to be creative and problem solve. Allow an environment of open and free flowing dialogue.  Nothing is more frustrating to be given a task and then told exactly how to accomplish the task without allowing feedback, brainstorming, or critique.  When you facilitate openness with your team, you will be surprised by the ideas that pop up to enhance the project or company.  One of my favorite quotes is Michelangelo’s, “I am still learning.”  He said this when he was 87!  The Bible hits the nail on the head in Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
  3. Communicate an aspirational vision. Every Corporate vision should communicate purpose and provide the path for organizational direction.  However, it should also inspire buy-in and stimulate enthusiasm and commitment.  Does your employee feel like an interchangeable cog in the Company’s wheel, or do they feel that they are on mission with a valued community of team members to accomplish something greater than themselves?


Some success might come from using a carrot or a stick, but significance is achieved through trust and respect.