Carrots And Sticks: The Proven 7 Deadly Flaws

Do you use Carrots and Sticks to motivate your team? You reward good behaviour with a carrot. You punish bad behaviour with a stick.

Your desired outcome of this approach is to encourage the desired behaviour you want from your team members. However, using carrots and sticks can do more harm than good in achieving this goal.

Creative vs Routine Tasks

What type of tasks do your team carry out? Are their tasks routine and repetitive? Or are their tasks varied, requiring creative thinking to solve?

Tasks requiring creative thinking are often completed by self motivation. The challenge of completing the task may be all the motivation your team member needs.

Forcing motivation upon your team member is not likely to work when the task is a creative one. This is because it will conflict with their own internal motivation to complete it. Using carrots and sticks will at best get the minimum out of your team. They are not likely to go above and beyond in their tasks. Why should they? There is no reward for going further.

By offering them a carrot to complete their task, you take away motivation, rather than adding more.

Likewise punishing your team member for the wrong behaviour wont always make them change that behaviour. They might accept the punishment as an acceptable cost to continue behaving the way they are.

This is not the case for the repetitive tasks that your team do. These routine tasks don’t evoke any kind of internal motivation in your team members, and so adding a little reward may help to motivate them.

The 7 Deadly Flaws of using Carrots and Sticks:

Daniel Pink has listed the following seven deadly flaws of using carrots and sticks as a tool to motivate your team:

  1. They can extinguish intrinsic motivation
  2. They can diminish performance
  3. They can crush creativity
  4. They can crowd out good behaviour
  5. They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behaviour
  6. They can become addictive
  7. They can foster short-term thinking

To avoid these flaws, you should be careful as to when you make use of carrots and sticks. You should limit their use, especially if the tasks your team are completing require a more creative approach.

Articles written by and for SkyHR for our blog and other sections of our main website,, by the central SkyHR team

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