Carrot or Stick?

How do we get people to fall in line?  Is it best to use a carrot (incentive plan, appreciation or chocolate cake) or a stick (“you’re grounded”, late payment fees or speeding tickets).  As Daniel Pink outlined in his book “Drive”, it can be a puzzling question.  There is a study outlined in a book done by Dan Ariely where three different groups in India were given tasks to do in a same period of time but they were compensated at three different rates.  The equivalent of $.50 (a day’s pay), $5 (two weeks pay), or $50 (five months pay).  The group at $.50 and $5 were comparable in results but the $50 group underperformed! More compensation had the opposite affect.  Those who receive the larger amount of incentive actually perform slower.  This really doesn’t seem to make sense.  Wouldn’t more money mean more output? Wouldn’t 5 months pay drive performance in an underdeveloped  country?  It didn’t. Carrot or Stick

I was in training at a “Telling Ain’t Training” workshop taught by Harold Stolovich.  In one of the sections of the training, we all did a Boggle challenge with 16 letters to use to make as many 3 letter+ words as possible.  On my page, it stated that “You have 3 minutes to make at least 20 words of 3 letters or more.  People at your level usually obtain this result.” Half the group had this instruction, the other half did not have it.  I was in the group that had the expectation that I would be able to make at least 20 words.  My brain locked up!  The expectation for performance shut my brain down.  The group that didn’t have the expectation of 20 words out-performed my group. So how do we go about motivating people?  How do we get them to perform in a maximum way?

Here are some tips to drive performance:

1. Simple.  If the job is simple, the carrot will work.  If it doesn’t take creativity, imagination or analysis, then use the carrot.  I have a very weak stomach.  If someone says their kid is throwing up at home, I immediately feel queasy.  I inform you of this because once my beloved dog got sick in the middle of our living room.  I went to my purse and took out a twenty dollar bill, gave it to my son and said “Take care of it.”  Simple and straight forward.  Telling him to clean it or be grounded, would not have worked. There are times when a carrot will work.

2. Pain.  There are some things that require pain to drive performance.  Pain generally will work if the result is immediate and is obvious.  If there is going to be a painful result, such as a late fee, or loss of use of a cell phone (oh no!) and the person knows that will be the result of paying the bill late or staying out past midnight; it will drive performance.  I implemented a wellness program some 4 years ago in which the penalty was up to $200 more per month additional for health insurance premiums.  We had 100% participation.  Most other wellness programs with a reward attached were considered successful with 30% participation.  Pain works in the right situations.

3. Autonomy.  Most of us want to decide for ourselves what we are going to do today.  Micro managers who dictate every “dot of an i and cross of a t”, in the long run actually diminish performance.  I can assure you that if I come in the house and tell my son to clean his room “right this instant”, I am not likely to have a great outcome.  But, if I say, “I’d like your room cleaned.  Can you get it done by 6PM when your grandparents arrive?” the outcome will likely be better.  Now my son understands the rationale and is given the latitude to decide when and how he will get it done.  Autonomy sparks performance.

4. Time Warp.  I get my best work done early in the morning after I have mediated, eaten and exercised.  My daughter gets her best work done in the afternoon and rarely is well rested.  My son is a night owl.  His peak performance could be from 8PM until 2 AM.  Here is the problem.  Many bosses, teachers and organizations want you to work a certain set of hours….or else! So what are we giving up in creativity and performance by shoe horning folks into certain hours.  Find your (or your employee’s) best time warp.

There is a time and place for all carrots, sticks and autonomy.  They all don’t work for all situations.   If you want to drive the best performance, you might want to try out a few of these ideas to see if you can move the needle on performance.

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