Carrots & Sticks – The Art & Science of Motivation

Continuing on from my prior blog Are you a Type X or Type Y Manager and why it matters? I return to the art and science of motivation.

In this blog, I explore the use of Carrots & Sticks as motivational tools.

Motivating individuals as a Manager is ‘part art and part science’.

The art part are the psychological factors around relationships and buy-in from a team member. Motivation here is more freestyling in empowering individuals through autonomy, mastery and purpose discussed previously in my blog Are you a Type X or Type Y Manager and why it matters? 

The science part is the framework within the team member and Manager work throughout the project. This is more structured and includes objectives, scope, timelines and deliverables. Motivation here is influenced by concise outcomes, not on how to achieve but on what and when we do it.

Recapping on desire, remember that extrinsic desires are based on security and fear of punishment while intrinsic desires are fueled by curiosity and reward.

When assessing motivation as a driver to performance, it can be helpful to look at a problem.

A great way to demonstrate this is through a case study.

An after-work childcare centre had strict rules around the time for pick up being 6pm. Childcare teachers were often required to stay back and mind children when one or more parents attended late for pick up.

This problem grew and the childcare centre had to make a decision on how to solve the problem of their childcare teachers having to stay back when their shift had finished.

What did they do to resolve this problem?

In their wisdom, the childcare centre posted large notices on all entrances and windows stating that “Late fees will be charged immediately effective next Monday of $10 per day should your child be collected after 6.10pm. Sincerely Management.”

What happened is fascinating.

Upon the introduction of the late fee, the incidence of lateness started steadily rising and settled at double the original rate.

The stick of the fine had not motivated any change in behaviour. In fact, it had made it twice as bad.

Before the fine, most parents had turned up on time because they had a relationship with the childcare teachers who they recognized were looking after their most precious asset – their children. Parents had an intrinsic desire to be on time and most were scrupulous about punctuality. When they were late it was for genuine reasons, often out of their control, and they were remorseful and apologetic.

But when the fine was introduced, the motivation switched from an intrinsic desire to be on time to an extrinsic desire – I don’t want to get fined.

The extrinsic fine reset their motivation to ‘I am being punished’ and subconsciously ‘I am now paying for being late’ which led to a shift in the overall incidence of lateness doubling.

Think about other ways the childcare centre could have solved the problem.

They could have extended the working day of one childcare teacher (on a roster) to be paid for 15 minutes extra to accommodate flexibility to cater for the inevitable few latecomers.

They could slightly put up fees to cover an additional childcare teacher staying back on a nightly basis.

They could change pick up time to 15 minutes prior to childcare teachers finishing their shift.

Or they could have a meeting with the parent group, explain the problem and ask for them to help eliminate the problem so they don’t have to make punitive changes of fines and fee rises.

The late fee case study highlights how policies, rules and behaviours can attempt to fix a problem, and in doing so, create an entirely new one.

I encourage you as a Manager to balance the art and science of motivation through Carrots and Sticks to appeal to intrinsic desires rather than extrinsic desires of your team members.

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