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Have the Carrot and Stick Been Replaced with Apathy, Complacency, and Unwillingness to Confront?

Have the Carrot and Stick been replaced with Apathy, Complacency, and Unwillingness to Confront (Anything)?

Working with several companies in last few months, and in many conversations with all levels of the organization, I’ve reminded myself that I’m saying things my Dad used to say – which is fine – I like and respect my Dad.  One of those was “praise in public, correct in private”.  And when he did correct me, and sometimes I didn’t like it (especially my teenage years), he’d say, “If I didn’t care about you, I wouldn’t say anything.”


But that wasn’t occurring in those companies and conversations – it felt like the old-style motivational concept of “carrot and stick” has been replaced with apathy, complacency and unwillingness to confront (anything).


I choose these three words purposely:


Apathy stems from “it doesn’t matter anyway.”

Complacency is the willingness to accept sub-standard quality.

Unwillingness to confront works both ways – not confronting non-compliance but also not thanking alignment to those standards.


In the last 10 years, especially in the United States, we have taken away most of the consequences that decrease bad behavior in the workplace. I am not saying that it’s mandatory to reintroduce penalty and punishment into the mix, but the carrot and stick approach was around for a long time because it worked when applied appropriately.


“When you take away the stick, even if you never want to or have to use it, then you allow a number of people to get away with behaviors that are not in alignment with the behaviors the organization wants.” Brad Malone


Managers in many organizations also condone poor behavior by not addressing it appropriately using the correct structure.


The moment managers are silent about a specific non-aligned behavior, they have condoned it. They also often do not grow their people’s competence in a supportive and productive manner that aligns with the desired processes.


This kind of deficit has a lot to do with an organization’s culture and how its managers either take or abdicate responsibility for their role in determining strategy, portfolio, projects, and processes. It also has to do with whether they give their people the opportunity to experiment when improving processes or make them afraid to make a mistake and shut down both creativity and forthrightness.


Leaders in mature companies need to make sure that everything aligns with the vision and mission of the organization, as well as the values and ethics of that organization. There is a predictable and understood model for growing, developing, and rewarding competence, and a motivation structure that rewards positive behavior and reduces/eliminates negative behavior.


Through a concerted, collaborative effort, many companies and organizations have enjoyed the fruits of this structured and transparent alignment.



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