Creating a spirit where staff become engaged with the company will work better than the ‘carrot or stick’ approach, Mark Topley says.

I’ve had a varied (some might say chequered) career to date!

Since qualifying as a teacher way back in the early 1990s, I’ve been a primary teacher, community project manager, tour manager, production manager, general manager, director and a CEO.

Carrot or stick?

I’ve been very fortunate in that almost everyone I’ve worked for has used a ‘carrot’ style when it came to management and motivation.

Thankfully I’ve not come across much in the ‘stick’ department.

By carrot, I’m talking about the use of incentives as a way to get people to be more productive, do a better job, and care about their work.

The most obvious of these is financial, whether that’s a bonus or a permanent rise.

The more creative have used other benefits – memberships, discounts and other perks to build engagement.

Although I’ve never been particularly motivated by money, I do see how this kind of incentive has a place and produces some results.

Far more common in the workplace, unfortunately, is the ‘stick’.

Everything from charging employees for breakages or mistakes resulting in financial penalties, the ‘do this or else’ style has no place for me in the modern workplace.

I don’t think it actually works either.

I see it used particularly with lower paid positions, and in businesses that seem to have a revolving door when it comes to recruitment.

We all know how costly recruitment is, both financially and in terms of productivity and reputation, and yet this style seems to continue.

Motivated staff

May I suggest a third way?

All the evidence points to intrinsic motivation being the best way to create engagement, and that happens in part by creating a sense of purpose for people who work for you.

Now, before you shoot me down as a ‘lily-livered liberal’, soft on staff, here are the caveats:

  • Yes, you absolutely must pay fairly, and reward good performance financially and in other ways
  • Yes you absolutely must have clear expectations of behaviour and performance, and there must be a proactive process in place to manage a lack of either.

The greater results in all areas – efficiency, standards, culture, cooperation, come from your people having an internal drive to do well.

They need to be ‘we’ people, not ‘me’ people, and there are four factors that you have control over that influence this:

  • Vision – how much do you share your plans for where you want the business to go, grow and achieve?
  • Purpose – do you talk about what you see your team achieving and becoming whilst you are on the journey to achieving your vision? Do you connect them to their part in helping others through the business?
  • Encouragement – it takes a second, but the impact is lasting. Whether it’s a private kind word, a public thank you, a bunch of flowers or a card, are you regularly and systematically encouraging your team?
  • Self belief – great leaders help people to achieve more than they thought they were capable of. People will live up or down to your expectation of what you believe they are capable of. Often, before they can believe they are capable, they need you to create that picture for them.

These factors foster a spirit within your organisation that will lead to more of your people becoming engaged, and therefore connecting their own success with that of your business.

And developing your level of CSR – how much you care about your people, your community and the environment – is a straightforward vehicle to push all of these forward.


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