Hit Over the Head with the Carrot

During a big celebration at our family cabin over the Fourth of July, we all loaded into the pontoon for a ride. Soon after, a sheriff approached our boat, which typically isn’t viewed as fun. But this was a little bit different.

Gau Family-PontoonInstead of him calling out any potential issues on board, the sheriff quickly commended all of the kids (10 of them) for wearing their life jackets – and gave a nod to all the adults for making sure the kids were safe.

He then passed out stickers to everyone on the boat and gave the kids a coupon for free ice cream at Dairy Queen to enjoy with an adult.

It reminded me of the infamous “carrot and the stick” methodology for compliance. Some people lead with the stick. Some people lead with the carrot. They both modify behavior. We often talk about it here at Marco, and I’d like to think that we use far more carrots than sticks. What’s the difference? Here’s a look:



If you do X, you get Y

If you do X, you won’t get Y

Focuses on what’s working

Focuses on what’s broken

Looks at what’s possible

Looks at what happened

Provides incentive

Issues consequence

Encourages behaviors

Forces behavior

In a sales-driven organization like Marco, the carrot is often the go-to system with incentives driving certain behaviors. A majority of our employees are on some sort of incentive compensation plan.

We recognize that not everyone, including every sales professional, is motivated by an incentive. To be most effective, they need to be clear cut and lofty, but attainable. When people feel it’s out of reach, they aren’t motivated by it.

We provide a variety of carrots to motivate employees beyond money, including trips, time off, fun workplace activities and awards. We call this our Gold Standard culture.

Sticks are always louder than carrots. They are what people remember. Decades ago, the stick was the go-to management style. Personally, I think the stick mentality by itself has become old school.

There are times when the stick still makes sense, but overall it tends to be a less effective way to get results. Leaders should use sticks when employees are underachieving or need to be reprimanded. Sticks can help immediately change behavior.

We’ve also found value in “hitting people over the head with the carrot.” It’s a hybrid approach of the two. With the carrot, you establish an incentive. But when it’s not reached, you don’t take something away; you only get the incentive for achievement. With the stick mentality, something is taken away. If you don’t achieve a specific goal, then there are consequences.

Our annual sales quota trip is a good example of the hybrid approach. Our sales professionals don’t just need to obtain a sales revenue goal to earn the trip, we also added quotas around strategic parts of our business. All components of their quotas need to be met in order to qualify. It’s our way to ensure we’re working together to achieve our company-wide recurring revenue and cross-selling goals.

Another example would be from the service-side of our business. Our technicians have incentives tied to non-sales activities such as first-call effectiveness, up-time for the equipment they support and parts usage. That’s the carrot. The consequence, or stick, is if they don’t achieve a six-hour response time or less, they lose their bonuses.

All three of them have a purpose and can help you achieve results in an organization. I really like the carrot approach in our sales-driven culture. However, there are times when the stick comes into play. Knowing when and how to use them is an important part of achieving the desired results.

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Topics: Leadership, Teamwork, Professional Development