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Ana Antunes da Silva

Aim to Be

Coach - Facilitator - Consultant

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Carrot or Stick Approach?


Companies use several motivational techniques and tools to motivate their employees. These tend to be a combination of tangible and intangible benefits. Unfortunately, these attempts are not always successful and the workforce is not motivated. So what motivates employees? How do people differ in their motivational needs?

Motivation is a core factor for a successful business and there have been many studies around it, yet there is no definitive answer or a one size fits all solution to motivation and employee engagement. The several elements of motivation differ from person to person as well as circumstances.

A well known motivational concept is the “Carrot and Stick” approach. This analogy is about using rewards and penalties in order to obtain desired results. It refers to the old story that in order to get a donkey to move forward and pull the cart you would dangle a carrot in front of him or hit him with a stick from behind. The result is the same; the horse moves forward.

So the stick represents fear, which can be a good motivator when used sparingly at the right time. It may produce immediate results that derive from prompt compliance. It is only useful in the short term though, as over time increasing levels of punishment would be necessary to obtain the same results and this can backfire in the form of mutiny and sabotage.

The carrot is then an incentive, which can work very well as long as the individual finds the incentive appealing. In this case, the donkey would have to like carrots, be hungry and/or have a manageable and movable load in order for the carrot to work. This is very important as the incentive must be perceived to be attractive enough.

What is the best carrot?

The immediate and most obvious answer here is money. People need money for basic needs such as food, shelter, clothes as which is the basic assumption of Maslow’s theory. This question also commonly arises when considering Herzberg’s research and theories. It states that we have basic needs (hygiene needs) which, when not met, cause us to be dissatisfied. However, meeting these needs does not make us satisfied, it merely prevents us from becoming dissatisfied. These are also called maintenance needs. There is a separate set of needs which, when resolved, do make us satisfied. These are called motivators. This theory is called Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory.

Motivator Factors

Achievement, Recognition, Work Itself, Responsibility, Promotion, Growth

Hygiene Factors

Pay & Benefits, Company Policy & Administration, Relationships with co-workers, Supervision, Status, Job Security, Working Conditions  

The name Hygiene factors is used because, like hygiene, the presence will not make you healthier, but absence can cause health deterioration.

Herzbeg concluded that money is not a motivator in the way that the primary motivators are, such as achievement and recognition. Money is important but it does not override other factors that may act as better motivators. No factor in isolation will provide continual motivation. Reward and punishment are significant motivators as the person will only work if the reward is large enough or the punishment sufficiently severe.

Typically, organisations tend to base their motivational schemes on tangible good such as money, in the form of pay and bonuses. The problem with this, like the carrot, is that its attractiveness decreases over time. Sometimes, a simple word of praise from your boss can mean more than a small pay rise. If organisations could find the perfect balance been tangible and intangible rewards, carrots and sticks, this would be the answer to the motivation question. Managers must not overlook these motivators if they want to retain staff and more importantly, have them working to the best of their ability.

What motivates you at work? How do you motivate others?

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Ana Antunes da Silva

Coach - Facilitator - Consultant

Read more from Ana Antunes da Silva

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