Motivating Employees Without Money: The Carrot and the Stick


I came across an interesting problem. How do you motivate employees to change their behavior after an event or project that changes their work. In my experience I’ve seen some interesting approaches. In a wire harness manufacturing company I saw the stick (punishment) being used to discipline people who were not following process. If you diverted from the new written processes during an audit then you could be written up. In a major hospital system I’ve seen financial rewards for performing the new behaviors. Patients in MICU needed to be turned to prevent pressure ulcers. The nurses who would turn the patients the most got a monetary reward.

So what works, the carrot, the stick, or both. The approach at the Lean Way Consulting is that it depends on the organization.
Here are the questions that are asked to know how to approach the changes:
1) Is there a process defined for the change well enough for anyone from outside your department to come in and audit the person doing the work on accuracy?
3) How much does the staff want to make the change (level of desire)?
4) What is the level of competency of the team to execute to the idea (able or unable to do the task)?
If you answered No to the first question then don’t bother going further until you can answer yes. Without clear expectations it’s very hard to change behaviors. If you need to know how to do that for a process please leave a comment or send me an email for more information.
Once you have the first element now gauge your team’s desire to change and their ability. For simplicity we’ll use the following values:
High desire
Low desire
High ability
Low ability
If your team has low ability and low desire to change then the carrot methods for motivation will not work. You will have to dictate how the work needs to be done and use more of the stick approach. For example you may want to discipline people not following new processes. Once your organization starts adopting the new changes then you can consider rewarding good behavior.
If your team has low ability but high desire then you need a mix of motivational tools. You need to praise the good behavior but at the same time you need to correct the bad behavior but maybe not in a harsh way.
If your team has high ability and low desire I’ve seen all methods work depending on the environment. If you use a carrot method then having a friendly competition to see who can do the new process best can work. A mix of process discipline maybe needed as well. One of the main differences in this scenario is that you can have your team help come up with their own ways of solving the problem of sticking to the new process. What I’ve found that works well is to get the team into a meeting and ask how can we accomplish “xyz” goal in the new process.
If your team has high ability and high desire then you will need minimal effort to have the change take root. In this scenario be careful not to do anything that will hinder the change.
If you are thinking about giving a monetary reward as your carrot I would caution you. Sometimes giving monetary rewards will lead to behavior changes as long as you keep paying. Once you stop paying then the behavior goes away. That is exactly what happened to the MICU once they stopped giving a financial reward. If you punish too much with out some reward or recognition then in the long run you can get demoralized employees; this is what happened at the wire harness company. The key is to find the right balance.