Getting the best from your team

Getting the best from your team

Carrot or stick? That’s often the starting point for team leaders looking for the best way to motivate their team. Do you offer incentives for high performance? Juicy bonus-shaped carrots for example? Or do you drill down with the stick, making sure your people know they need to perform or there will be a negative outcome; a contract lost or a dressing down in front of the team, for example.

Perhaps the bigger question is, do either of these types of approach work? Are you really getting the best performance out of your people if you use either fear or selfish desires to move forward? Is there another way?

An alternative approach

In his book, Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work, clinical psychologist Dr Paul Marciano distinguishes between motivation and engagement. Motivation, he says, is a short term buzz of energy usually created by an external force that dissipates quickly. True engagement is when employees feel valued, have ownership and are intrinsically motivated toward success. Engaged employees are high performing employees.

Marciano says scrap reward programmes and focus on respect.

“Most [reward] programs intended to motivate employees actually end up creating an overall deficit in employee motivation,” says Marciano.


“While a handful of employees may be reinforced, many are left feeling punished. Programs that do elicit short-term benefits typically end up creating significant morale problems down the road.”

Writing in the HBR, Lisa Lai says that if a leader’s sole task is to compel others to comply, the only people who will be motivated are the leaders themselves. She says the key to success in this area is to take the focus off doing great work, and reframe the focus around feeling great about your job. Employees who enjoy their job and feel they are doing well, perform better.

Engagement – the third way

So how do you engage employees in this way? Here are three key ideas to get you started:

Provide context and clear expectations
Marciano says employees who know what is expected of them, and why, will always outperform those motivated by rewards or consequences.

Make sure your team fully understand their job and where they fit in the system. Help them see the outcomes, especially the indirect outcomes, of their work so they can take ownership and experience a sense of belonging.

Make sure your team know they are important
Employees who understand the importance of their role and are recognised for their contribution will also outperform those rewarded for reaching an arbitrary line.

Scrap reward programmes in favour of honest and public approval. Let your team know when they’ve done great, and pick a stand out performer for an extra hoo-ra! What if things don’t go well? Don’t look to lay blame. Focus on what your team can learn to improve their performance next time.

Model motivation
You can’t be a motivational leader if you aren’t motivated yourself. Check in with your own engagement. Are you still loving this job for all the right reasons? Then show it. If not, then address it. Your people won’t enjoy their work unless you do.


Want to know more about being a motivational leader? IMNZ’s Leadership Essentials training can support your leadership development. Contact us to find out more.

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