The “carrot” as a theory takes its lead from horse-riding and dates back to the middle of the 20th century.
The idea is that a cart driver would tie a carrot to a long stick and dangle it in front of the horse or donkey which was pulling his cart. As the donkey moved forward towards the carrot, he would pull the cart and driver forward, ensuring that the carrot always remained beyond his reach until such time as the driver slowed down and stopped, at which point – should he so desire – the driver could give the carrot to the horse as a reward for doing what it has been encouraged to do.
For an employer, this can perhaps be read in a number of ways. Looking at how the “carrot” theory works, it is quite easy to assume that the “carrots” offered to employees should be continually moved beyond their reach, and this assumes that the employee is as stubborn and witless as a donkey.
This would be a rash assumption to make, and continually moving the point of reward away from the employee could be seen as a disincentive. Not delivering on a promise is always likely to annoy workers rather than stiffen their resolve to meet the new goals.
It could, however, also be argued that the carrot on the stick is something which should not just hang there within easy reach. The employee will need to keep testing themselves, but as long as they meet their challenges they will be rewarded at the end of their efforts.
The important element of the theory is that if someone has the promise of a reward at the end of their work, they are likely to keep striving for it. If that reward is continually denied them even at the end of their work, however, do not be surprised if it ceases to work.
In different cultures it is known by different names, but the second part of the “Carrot” theory is the Whip.
There is a long history of terms and sayings attached to the idea of having an element of threat involved in motivating a group of employees, or anyone for that matter. “Spare the rod and spoil the child”, for example, is an old proverb meaning that if you never punish someone for transgressing, they will come to believe that they can transgress as and when they wish.
In the old “Carrot” theory, the way it works is that if the employee tired of chasing after a carrot that never seems to get any closer, simply slows down, a quick smack with the whip will make it speed up again.
The theory of motivation by threat of punishment is one which needs to be handled very carefully indeed. Not only is it absolutely illegal in many places to physically discipline workers, but other forms of threat can have a detrimental effect on the workforce. An employer, team leader, or manager with a reputation for flying off the handle when things are not to their satisfaction may get results from some people, but this method can lead to a culture of fear within a company or department, and stifle performance in order to simply get the work done.
It is left up to the person providing the motivation to decide to what extent and in what way they will use the “whip”. There can be initiatives which combine the carrot and the whip – for example, in a one-off situation over the course of a day or so, the person or people who have performed worst in the team can be required to buy coffees or any other small reward for those who have performed best.
A “forfeit” system can also be applied, but it is dangerous to apply anything too humiliating in this situation. The limits of the system need to be clearly defined. If it is something so meaningless that it won’t be taken seriously, the whip ceases to be a motivation. If it is too stringent it becomes the whole focus and can infringe upon performance.
An element of objected-oriented motivation which, is essentially separate from the above, but not incompatible with them, is known as “Plant” theory. Take as your example a simple house plant. In order to ensure that a plant flourishes it is important to give it the best combination possible of different nourishing elements. Most plants will require sunlight, warmth, water, and food in order to grow in the way you would wish. By the same token, employees will be motivated by a combination of factors.
The average employee will require motivation in many forms and because humans are not all the same it will be a matter of judgment to ensure that each employee gets the right amount of each factor.
This can be something as simple as getting the balance of “carrot and whip” motivation right. It is important, in many managers’ eyes, to get the balance right between the arm around the shoulders and the boot up the backside. Making an employee feel valued and supported without letting them become coddled is important, as is ensuring that they know they have to perform without making them feel like they have a gun against their head.
Taking three of Herzberg’s essential elements of motivation as an example, some employees work best with the prospect of challenge in their work, while some will work better with the goal of recognition. Others, equally, will want simply to get through as much work as they can while doing the work to a high level of quality. It is important to take into account the differing “buttons” that need to be pressed in each staff member to ensure that they do their job as well as possible.
It is many people’s view that the team which will work best is the one that has a combination of people who work well under different motivations. This way, tasks within the team can be assigned in a balanced way and ensure the best performance from every individual, and consequently the best performance from the team.
The “Plant” theory, as applied here, is about knowing which plant requires which type of nourishment in which measure. By getting the balance right you can ensure the best “greenhouse” arrangement.