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Manage people? The Big Cheese? Read this.

I’ve been reading a lot about motivation lately. If you’re in need of an interesting read, I suggest Drive by Daniel Pink. It’s well-written, well-researched, and engaging.

For quite some time (a seriously long time), employers and managers have utilized the stick and carrot method to get people to do things. Do something right, you get the reward…perhaps a carrot (likely only if you’re a horse). Do something wrong, you get punished…a wee bit of stick.  It’s the way to go, right? Wrong.

The three most important things when it comes to motivating people, according to Pink, are autonomy, mastery and purpose. As an employee, I am fortunate to have a boss who allows me to work and make decisions independently, develop my skills and work towards mastering a number of business functions. In addition, I feel a great sense of purpose and direction from the work I do. Most of us understand the importance of these factors within our own lives. So why, when we move into the management role, do we so often forget these three factors? Why do we typically revert back to the stick and carrot method? Here are some examples of an old school management style:

  • Establishing and maintaining strict work hours for employees
  • Watching the punch clock – Who’s late? Who’s on time? Who’s taking a longer break?
  • Generating motivation through external reward, usually money
  • Placing time pressure on creative tasks

For those who are managers you may be squirming in your seats and saying “but if I don’t do this, people will take advantage of me, Morgan!” Maybe. Likely not. I’ve had the pleasure of working in three environments that did not rule the old school way – the employee engagement was unbelievable. Staff were willing to work longer hours or on the weekend to finish projects. They wanted to go the extra mile. And the retention level – unprecedented.

Research has shown time and time again that the stick and carrot method doesn’t work. In fact, it tends to do the opposite of what you want. Employees start to resent the control that you’ve placed on them. They only do exactly what is asked and nothing else. Their willingness to help on projects outside their daily tasks is non-existent.

There’s no doubt that some individuals, a fairly small group, are completely governed and motivated by external reward. I’m talking very few. And yes, you may have 1-2 employees who will take advantage of flexible hours and other perks, but the benefits will largely outweigh the costs.

Employers who have implemented “results-only-work-environments” or ROWEs, the brainchild of Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, can speak to the positive returns. Gmail, Google Talk, Google Sky and Google Translate are all products derived from a ROWE environment where engineers are given the opportunity to spend 20% of their time on unique projects – projects that have nothing to do with their regular work. ROWEs, as the name clearly suggests, focus solely on the results. Such environments do not care when or how the work is done, but the end product. Employees working in these environments experience lower stress levels relative to those in non-ROWE environments and a greater work/life balance. And, as the majority of us know, a reduced stress level can have significant and positive impacts in all facets of work and life.

So why are stuck on the stick and carrot? It can be attributed to a number of reasons:

  • Fear of change
  • Why change something that, from an outside view, seems to work
  • It won’t work in all environments (true, but it will work in a large number of them)
  • Fear of being taken advantage of
  • Fear of change
  • Fear of change
  • Fear of change

I think the greatest barrier to implementing a ROWE is, you guessed it, fear of change. We humans don’t like change all that much and prefer the confines of routine. While routine is often beneficial, it can also lead to stagnation – something that all businesses want to avoid.

If you’re the big cheese, how do you motivate staff? Do you develop intrinsic motivation (the best kind) within your staff by fostering an environment that encourages autonomy, mastery and purpose? Or are you still reliant on the old stick and carrot? Be honest with yourself. Regardless of your answer, find a way to become a stronger leader (even if you’re already pretty awesome). I’d encourage you to take a chance and have some faith in the work ethic and loyalty of your employees. They deserve it.

M

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