Carrots, Sticks, Management and Motivation

By Barry Maher

Every boss, every manager and every organization pays lip service to leading by empowerment and positive reinforcement. “They swear they believe in the carrot not the stick,” one ex-manager told me of his former employer. “But a lot of people seem to be getting brutalized by that carrot.” (“Brutalized” is actually my word. The phrase he used was considerably more graphic—and more painful to imagine.)

He showed me several post cards from his former co-workers. One read, “The flogging will continue until morale improves.” Another quoted Steven Wright, “For every action there is an equal and opposite criticism.”

I was reminded of a Fortune 500 vice president who brought me to a corporate management conference a few years back to deliver a presentation on the benefits of empowerment. It was very well received; the vice president himself was so inspired that he immediately leaped up and told all his minions that they’d better be empowered from that moment on, “Or believe me heads are going to roll.” He added, in all seriousness, “Just make sure you clear everything with me first.”

“He just empowered them to do nothing but claim to be empowered,” one of the other speakers whispered to me.

“Not quite,” I said. “He ordered them to claim to be empowered.”

If you’re managing people, try treating those you manage as partners not peons. As Booker T. Washington observed, “Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know you trust him.”

“Management is simple,” one award-winning manager claims. “I create incentives, small rewards and recognitions. I believe in my people, and I show them how much I believe in them. I get them to want to live up to my high opinion, and then I give them the freedom to do just that.”

We all need to be appreciated. There’s a joke about a guy who’s stranded on a tiny desert island. One day he’s walking on the beach and he stumbles across a woman, washed up just above the surf line. She’s in bad shape and as he reaches her, she stops breathing. Quickly he administers mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  After a few frightening seconds, she starts breathing again and opens her eyes.

“You saved my life,” she insists gratefully.

She brushes the hair back from her face. That’s when he realizes that he’s stranded on a desert island with the biggest box office star and the most gorgeous and most famous beauty of the day. To avoid litigation, we’ll call her Tasmalia Thistlemore.

Time passes. The island is lush and warm, with plenty of fruit. They build a comfortable hut. It’s like Eden. Tasmalia falls deeply in love with him, and making love becomes their major form of entertainment. Then one day, she notices he looks depressed. She asks him what could possibly be wrong in such an idyllic existence.

“Is there anything I can do?” she asks.

“Well, actually,” he replies, “there is something.”

“Anything, darling.”

“Would you mind putting on my shirt?”

That puzzles her, but she says, “Of course not,” and puts on the shirt.

“Now could you put on my pants?”

“Sure, if you think it will make you feel better.”

“Good. Now put on my coat and draw a mustache on your face.” She goes along with that too. Then he says, “Now, would you please start walking down the beach and head around the island?”

She starts out, and he sets off in the opposite direction.  Fifteen minutes later they meet on the far side of the island.

He rushes up to her, grabs her by the shoulders and says, “Man, you will never believe who I’m living with!”

We all need appreciation and recognition. Appreciate your people. Help them discover both their worth and their potential.

When Emery Air Freight started encouraging supervisors to use positive feedback—telling workers when they were doing a good job rather than stressing the negative—customer service improved and sales increased. After three years, the company estimated the new system had made them $3 million.

That’s a lot of carrots.

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