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Motivate with A Carrot Rather than Punish with a Stick

career leadership motivation pmo leadership project management Jun 28, 2023
Motivate with A Carrot Rather than Punish with a Stick

Motivating people with the carrot-and-stick approach is to offer employees something positive (the carrot) if they do what you want, OR,β€―to inflict negative consequences (the stick) if they don’t do what you want. I’ve always been a believer in offering carrots, as the following story shows.β€― 

I was an up-and-coming project manager in my mid-twenties working at Textron Financial. Jerry Britton, our group President, saw potential in me (or perhaps they were desperate πŸ™‚), and assigned me to manage a large, enterprise-wide project that was expected to take 15+ months to complete. Even though I was early in my project management career, I was excited about the chance to manage a large project, and was filled with optimism and excitement. 

My Requests 

Jerry asked what I needed in order for the project to be successful.β€― 

“I need somebody to partner with me from the business side,” I said. Although being new in my career, I knew the importance of having a tight bond with the business owner to understand why the project was being done and ensuring that it delivered value. 

“Done,” said Jerry.β€― 

“And,” I continued, feeling like we were negotiating a hostage situation, “I’ll need an incentive plan for every one of my team members.” 

“Tell me more,” Jerry asked. 

“Yes, an incentive plan, and not just any incentive plan,” I continued. “This plan will kick in only if we exceed project objectives.” My reasoning was that meeting project objectives was what people were paid to do. If it came in on time, within scope, and on budget, they did their job. But, if it came in early and under budget while meeting the same scope, they exceeded expectations and should be rewarded. 

“Next,” I said, “is that this recognition plan needs to be visible.” I wanted my coworkers to walk around with their heads held high and to be proud of being part of this crack team. As they exceeded expectations, they should be celebrated at company meetings and included in the monthly business update emails the company sent. 

“Also,” I continued, “it needs to be something that is done each quarter.” I wanted the team to have near instant gratification for doing a job that was going above and beyond. Annual incentives are fine, but it’s sometimes hard to keep the excitement up when the next incentive is 11 months away instead of just 2 months away. 

“And finally, it needs to be something tangible.” In this case it was money. You can’t get any more tangible than a financial reward. And, this reward was tied into money that was saved on the project while still meeting project requirements. 

The Outcome 

Well, Jerry agreed to all of my requests. To be honest, I was a little surprised, but I took the money and ran, and immediately got to work with my team. What were the results? 

  • Project was delivered early 
  • Project was under budget 
  • Everyone received quarterly bonuses for the duration of the project 
  • Project was named the company’s “project of the year” 
  • I was named “employee of the year” - thanks entirely to my team 
  • And, I even won a trip to Jamaica, mon! 

Why? Because the carrot works so much better than the stick. An incentive plan should be tied to exceeding objectives, it should be visible, consistent, and something that people really appreciate, like money. I was glad I learned the power of positive motivation early on in my career. If you are just starting out, give it a try. Who knows, you may even win a trip to your favorite island destination! 

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