The Carrot or the Stick in Management

A few years ago as a young manager, I was concerned with the behaviours from some of the members of my team. These behaviours were new manifestations from some while for others it was just part of their personality/character.

Some of the behaviours observed poor work ethic, lack of initiative, low drive, negative on everything, etc. However, other team members displayed behaviours such as highly driven, focused, results-oriented, always with a positive outlook on negative situations, etc...

With psychology not being my area of expertise, I decided to take the opportunity to use social psychologist Douglas McGregor's theories on employee behaviour within an organisation to see if it would help with my little self-study.

I compiled McGregor's two theories which I'm calling in this article "The Carrot" and "The Stick" and sent it out to the team and asked them to indicate which points in the theory they agreed with most as it relates to how they work and their preferred style of management.

For those of us unfamiliar with McGregor's theories, they are as follows:

The STICK: Theory X

Assumption: Management's role is to coerce and control employees.

  • People have an inherent dislike for work and will avoid it whenever possible.

  • People must be coerced, controlled, directed, or threatened with punishment in order to get them to achieve the organizational objectives.

  • People prefer to be directed, do not want responsibility, and have little or no ambition.

  • People seek security above all else.

The CARROT: Theory Y

Assumption: Management's role is to develop the potential in employees and help them to release that potential towards common goals.

  • Work is as natural as play and rest.

  • People will exercise self-direction if they are committed to the objectives (they are NOT lazy).

  • Commitment to objectives is a function of the rewards associated with their achievement.

  • People learn to accept and seek responsibility.

  • Creativity, ingenuity, and imagination are widely distributed among the population. People are capable of using these abilities to solve an organizational problem.

  • People have potential.

The Results

The results from the questionnaire were no surprise as 95% chose The CARROT, what was interesting was that the other 5% saw it as some sort of conspiracy or trick and decided to not answer at all.

Notwithstanding the five percenters, it was clear to me that the employees/team members prefer development "the carrot" even though their behaviours in some or most instances, depending on the culture of the organisation, were an oxymoron to their preferences.

So my next question was, "Why isn't this happening?" which I have deduced comes down to three reasons.

1) Leadership: "THE CARROT"

People are energised by The CARROT and that carrot can be your mission, vision, incentive, goals, etc. Furthermore, team members build a connection to their role/function they play in the whole scheme of things.

Have you ever been involved in a project that was successful? If yes, then you know that in telling the story the one part that never gets left out is the role you played towards that success.

As a leader, it is important to make sure your a clear in getting your team connected to the BIG PICTURE and communicating exactly what their role and the importance of it will be. While there will be those who would not connect with what is trying to be achieved it is important that you be consistent in getting that message out to everyone.

2) Management: "THE STICK"

Let me start by saying that management and leadership are not the same things. While carrying the title of manager defaults you to assume a leadership position, not all managers are good leaders and vice versa.

The role of the manager is to ensure the successful execution of the tasks, goals, objectives he and his team are entrusted with. This is where The STICK approach comes into play but it does not have to be a draconian or autocratic approach. As the manager, you are the driver of the process and activities towards achieving the common goal.

Great managers know how to balance both leadership and management with their team and you tend to find that their success rates.

3) The Employee

As much as Theory Y puts the responsibility on management, the employee must hold themselves accountable as well. Each employee must have their own carrot and stick approach to themselves. What are his/her own personal goals, how are they going to achieve them and how are they going to hold themselves accountable.

It's natural for employees to sometimes fall out of love with their organisation from time to time. If this happens then it's wise to reevaluate if the company's purpose, goals and values are in alignment with yours. If not, then it might be a good idea to request a change in role, position, department or organisation on the whole.

The CARROT in the instance of an employee should be their own WILL and DRIVE to GROW in his/her profession. Far to often I have seen colleagues make moves from one organisation to the next with no upward movement.

Sales representative today - sales representative tomorrow, CSR today - CSR tomorrow, Technician today - Technician tomorrow, etc. It's wise to align your growth to that of the organisation and even if you may not aspire to move up the corporate ladder your performance and value to the organisation over time should improve.

The Conclusion

Both The Carrot and The Stick are needed, but should not be applied with a broad brush as different employees are at different stages.

It would also be wise to note, that with poor leadership and management an employee that falls into Theory Y today, can become despondent and show characteristics of Theory X tomorrow and vice versa.

OPAAT-SWY Consulting Ltd.

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Diego Martin 

Trinidad, West Indies


Contact: 1-868-325-3745


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