The perils of carrot and stick based management

This is a list of what Dan Pink, author of Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us, calls the ‘seven deadly flaws of carrot and stick based motivation:

  • They can extinguish intrinsic motivation.
  • They can diminish performance.
  • They can crush creativity.
  • They can crowd out good behavior.
  • They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior.
  • They can become addictive.
  • They can foster short-term thinking.

A couple of these are obvious, but many of them are counter-intuitive. A few years ago I would have rejected the notion that rewarding explicit behaviour (carrots) can diminish performance but in the case of creative work I have come to see that it is true, and I think similarly about the other ‘flaws’ listed. Most of the work we do in startups is of a creative nature one way or another so this is a very important point.

The takeaway is that the best performing teams will come to the managers who reject carrots and sticks and embrace the more complicated and tricky notion of motivating by giving their people autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If you are a manager, and this post resonates with you in any way I strongly suggest reading the book.