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Carrots and Sticks or How to Motivate Your Team

It was one Wednesday afternoon. People were working in the office, focused on answering the hundreds of e-mails filling their inboxes.

That silence was broken by a door slamming and their manager entering the office with a dark expression.

The employees have hidden behind their laptops, trying to avoid being a target of their manager's anger, who started shouting:

"Where is John?"

One of John's colleagues answered with a soft voice:

"He must be somewhere in the kitchen or the bathroom...."

"I'm tired of this stuff!" yelled the manager, "Whenever I needed him or any of you, nobody was around! I have to do everything on my own, don't I?"

John entered the room defensively as he was protecting himself from some bullets fired from unknown places.

"Here you are! How many times have I told all of you to cc me in every single e-mail you send? But no, you think high of yourself, like you are some big shots know-it-all! And you try to make decisions on yourself behind my back! Well, listen here and don't you dare to disobey! This applies to all of you as long as you work for me!

1.      from now on, don't forget to cc me; I don't care what the e-mail subject is about. Even if you buy yourself shoes, I want to see every e-mail this organisation sends!

2.      You will no longer work remotely. I want to see you here and to be available whenever I need you.

3.      The working hours are strict. You are no longer leaving early and coming in late. I don't care about your sick child or pet or that you have to commute for three hours. That's your problem, not mine.

4.      If you want any annual reward, you must work hard and stop being a 9-5 employee. I need you here dedicated to the company, not rushing to get out the door when the clock hits 5.


The employees couldn’t raise their heads from the ground, frozen by the manager’s yelling. Nobody dared to say a word and then continued working and crying inside.

Although it might seem unrealistic and from another era, this scene happens frequently in our modern-day companies. We still have:

-          managers that don’t have other means to get work done than to punish and yell;

-          managers that don’t allow employees to make any decision on their own;

-          managers who need to keep a close eye on their employees and refuse to accept their working remotely out of fear that they will not do the work;

-          managers that want to be copied in every e-mail, not trusting their colleagues;

-          managers who yell, gossip, punish and make unpredictable decisions

and the list could go on.

These managers are convinced that people are motivated by the punishment and the reward, unwilling to understand that people’s brains don’t work this way. They treat their team like kindergarten children and expect outstanding results.

As Dr. David Rock stated in his work,[1] people have five buttons that, pushed in the right direction, can do wonders in workplace motivations - autonomy, status, certainty, fairness and relatedness. We need to feel that we can make decisions concerning our work, that our opinions matter, that things go predictably, that we are treated fairly and that we are understood and accepted.

Some of us need more autonomy; some are sensible to status, and some need more fairness to feel motivated. Suppose an employee who values his independence is micromanaged and needs to ask permission for every decision. In that case, his spirit breaks, and he either works without passion or involvement or quits for a better environment.

This is why people need clear rules that don’t change overnight due to other people’s moods, the power to adjust their work to their needs and fairness – that doesn’t mean being treated equally, but according to their needs and situation. Because we know that one size doesn’t fit all, managers should find ways to include and empower all their employees. An introverted caregiver will have different needs than an extroverted employee, and the companies should find ways to include and motivate them.

Unfortunately, it seems that the “profit first” approach comes in the way of creating a nurturing and creative workplace. Still, profit is made with and by people, and finding the right tools to motivate people to do a well-done job should come first. And that’s not possible in the long term with carrots and sticks.






[1] Handbook of NeuroLeadership By Dr. David Rock & Dr. Al H Ringleb


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