The Carrot or The Stick?
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Let that settle in. Vision is caught not taught. Unfortunately, many business leaders don’t get this. They’ve simply accepted the tried but not necessarily true philosophy that suggests people are best motivated by either the stick or the carrot. Ya, right. Stalin killed to get what he wanted, and Marie Antoinette gave people cake. But we all know how that ended for them.
If you feel the need to rely heavily on the carrot or the stick, you’re creating a dishonest environment, one where people hide mistakes and lie about their successes. You either need to get different people, do a better job at sharing your vision with others, or some combination of the two.
You see, your people can be your most valuable asset, and I don’t mean this in some corporate, inspirational poster found on the walls of your conference room sort of way. I mean it. Seriously. If you’re having issues in your company, look at your people and the way you’ve treated them for the last ten years. You’ve allowed or created this environment. It’s on you.
I was watching Richard Branson in an interview a while back when he was asked how he managed and started so many successful companies. His response was this, “I learned early on, that if you can run one company… you can run any company. I mean a company’s all about finding the right people and inspiring those people… Drawing out the best in people.” This is truth. The guy’s built an empire that grosses somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 billion following this philosophy.
You don’t need a shinier or tastier carrot, nor do you need a bigger and more tenacious stick. That’s because some get really good at hiding from the stick, while others experience this little thing called, diminishing marginal utility of income and wealth. Now, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. The carrot matters, but it’s not everything.
So what’s the solution? Brace yourself, because OMG… here it is:
- Know your purpose. Why do you do what you do? Why don’t you do something else? What is it you really want out of life? There’s much more at stake than simply getting a job done. You’re not just serving school lunches. You’re feeding children who may not otherwise eat. You’re not just selling insurance. You’re delivering peace of mind and financial protection to families. You’re not just building a boat. You’re teaching people to long for the endless immensity of the sea. It’s not about the job. It’s why you do the job.
- Awaken your team to your purpose. Connect the dots for them. When they understand scooping mashed potatoes isn’t just scooping mashed potatoes, you’ve succeeded. You’ve helped them see this whole thing is bigger than they are. They’re now active participants in the purpose. Humanity’s been looking for purpose, well, at least since the dawn of time. It’s kind of a big deal.
- Make your workplace fun. In fact, make it so fun employees don’t spend all of their time dreaming about being somewhere else, but rather spend all of their time somewhere else dreaming about all of the awesome stuff they’re doing at their job.
- Be transparent. If your team has all of the info, and has caught your vision, they’ll make decisions in line with the decisions you would make. You’ll be happier with them, and they’ll be happier working for you.
- Remove stupid. Ridiculous rules are a pain for all. So get rid of them or the people who need them.
- Set the example you want your team to live by.
- Be thankful. These are human beings, after all.