Stick It

Posted on Jan 4, 2013 | 6 Comments

Maybe work is just a little too pleasant.

This week’s Wall Street Journal featured recommendations from several management experts on how to be a better boss in the New Year, and one of the suggestions was to wield a little more stick, a little less carrot. Specifically, Ray Fisman of Columbia Business School and Tim Sullivan of Harvard Business Review Press tout “the value of annoyance as a management tool.”

“Employees often wish managers were a little more understanding, but people tend to associate the idea of ‘understanding’ with ‘nice,’” Fisman and Sullivan write. “A little well-directed pain can be a good thing in getting workers to focus on the tasks they might otherwise choose to forget, and to increase overall productivity.”

The authors cite the restaurant chain Au Bon Pain, which promises customers a free meal “if the cashier fails to provide a receipt. It’s a way of making customers ensure the cashier records the transaction rather than pocketing the cash. In many cases, the cashier pays for the free meal, not the company—an annoying, but effective, reason to self-monitor.”

The question of how to motivate workers into better performance isn’t new, and Peter Drucker observed in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices that the topic had spawned a “proliferation of books, papers, and studies.”

Drucker noted that management professor Douglas McGregor (1906-1964) had been especially influential in the debate by formulating what McGregor called “Theory X” and “Theory Y.”  Theory X “assumes that people are lazy, dislike and shun work, have to be driven and need both carrot and stick . . . and have to be looked after.” Theory Y, on the other hand, “assumes that people have a psychological need to work and want achievement and responsibility.”

Image source: Linda Frost

Image source: Linda Frost

It was clear, Drucker said, that McGregor preferred Theory Y. “Yet things are far less simple than McGregor’s followers would make us—and themselves—believe,” he wrote. For one thing, most of us prefer the “security of order and direction,” at least to some extent, and that cannot come purely from internal drive. For another, Drucker pointed out, “ordinary, everyday experience teaches us that the same people react quite differently to different circumstances.” He added, “Or at the very least, there are different human natures which behave differently under different conditions.”

Ultimately, the factors influencing human motivation were so complex, Drucker felt, that no single formula could cover every situation. The “stick” of old wasn’t what it used to be—nor should it be—but Drucker didn’t dismiss it, either.

“Carrot and stick have worked for an amazingly long time,” he wrote. “One does not lightly toss out the tradition of the ages.”

Would today’s workplace benefit from a little more “stick” being applied? Why or why not?

6 Comments

  1. Richard B. Mann, PhD
    January 4, 2013

    Management is a “people” business! Managers only get things done by working with and through people. The manager must understand how each person responds to each situation in each “environment” and culture. There is no one system that works best in every situation, and it the job of the manager to figure out what works best in each situation with each worker, etc.

    I remember what Drucker told us in one of the seminars I had with him at USC. He said that during WWII that if an employee got injured on the job, the foreman (manager) would be fired! IOW, it was up to the manager to see that all safety situations were covered, that all employees were well trained, and all machinery was properly well maintained.

    The professors who come up with various theories, that have not been fully researched, and, in which they have never actually worked in a real situation, cannot go around giving advice to the people who actually do the work, IMNSHO. I have worked in factories, offices, in the field, and in sales, as well as researched many of the important situations for my dissertation, so I cannot agree with the two theories put forth in the article above.

    Reply
  2. Manny Cervantes
    January 5, 2013

    As unusual as this may sound I work in a very large local government agency where I have actually seen both the older self-supervised type employees that do not require much supervision and the younger employees that don’t think it’s a big deal to take long lunch breaks, long naps, and extended walks for the sake of “staying healthy” (the latter which is partially true to some extent) . The problem is that public agencies never having been good at managing employees or training managers you can only imagine the situation the carrot approach would bring. For the carrot approach to be applied where it has not been before and with a unionized workforce you can only imagine what would happen.

    Unfortunately the taxpayers end up with a very expensive and bloated system in the above scenario. The carrot approach may work where consequences are real and expected as such by both management and staff but not in the public sector.

    Reply
  3. Manny Cervantes
    January 5, 2013

    As unusual as this may sound I work in a very large local government agency where I have actually seen both the older self-supervised type employees that do not require much supervision and the younger employees that don’t think it’s a big deal to take long lunch breaks, long naps, and extended walks for the sake of “staying healthy” (the latter which is partially true to some extent) . The problem is that public agencies never having been good at managing employees or training managers you can only imagine the situation the carrot approach would bring. For the carrot approach to be applied where it has not been before and with a unionized workforce you can only imagine what would happen. Moreover, to add to the complexity, we now have a larger percentage of the workforce that may be well educated but come to us with pre-established work habits nevertheless.

    Unfortunately the taxpayers end up with a very expensive and bloated system in the above scenario. The carrot approach may work where consequences are real and expected as such by both management and staff but not in the public sector.

    Reply
  4. Mike Grayson
    January 6, 2013

    I agree with Richard Mann, you must treat people as individuals. You must spend time with them, challenge them in their jobs and listen to the problems they encounter. Then, you need to inspire them to become the best they can be.

    Reply
  5. Alba Patricia Valencia
    January 6, 2013

    The emergence of a kind of global society productivity in which global inequalities between countries, states and regions are regions are allocated according to principles of productivity economically quantifiable, in where each country forge its own happiness or unhappiness, I not found plausible. Because is important to recognize indifference to cultural diversity, and economic invasion pacifist as elements that invite everyone to go peacefully in its kingdom.

    Therefore, the “stick” of old should be faced with risks and risks are not things. Risks are social constructions in which the expert knowledge, but also the values and cultural symbols, play a key role.

    The message: the game is open. Neither the old game cannot continue risking nor have stipulated rules again.

    El surgimiento de la especie de sociedad mundial de productividad en la que las desigualdades globales entre países, estados y regiones se asignan según principios de productividad cuantificables económicamente, en donde cada país forja su propia felicidad o infelicidad, no lo encuentro plausible. Porque es importante reconocer la indiferencia frente a las diversidades culturales y a la invasión económica pacifista, como elementos que invitan a todos a entrar pacíficamente en su reino.

    Por lo tanto, el ‘palo’ de la antigüedad está enfrentando riesgos y los riesgos no son cosas. Son construcciones sociales en los que el saber experto, pero también los valores y símbolos culturales, desempeñan un papel clave.

    El mensaje: el juego está abierto. Ni el antiguo juego puede continuar jugándose ni se han estipulado las reglas de nuevo.

    Reply
  6. What Peter Drucker Would Be Reading | The Drucker Exchange | Daily Blog by The Drucker Institute
    February 6, 2013

    [...] Comment of the Week: Last week, we posed the question of whether some workplaces would benefit from putting a little more stick into the [...]

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