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Rethinking Rewards and Consequences: Carrots and Sticks

Recently, I’ve been rethinking the way we, as owners, look at rewards and consequences to get our employees to:

  1. Do something we want them to start doing
  2. Continue doing something we like
  3. Stop doing something that we don’t like

The tried and true method is a system of carrots and sticks. If you do well, you get a carrot. If you do badly, you get the stick.

Most times the carrot can come in the form of a bonus, a bump in pay, time off or a job promotion. At my old shop, we left you alone. That was a big carrot!

Sticks typically come in the form of verbal reprimand, a written reprimand, a suspension or termination.

Truth be told. Carrots and sticks as a reward and consequence system can and will work.

Let’s take this a little further. I’ve preached through the years that having objective standards, clear communicated goals, known and practiced policies and procedures for everyone at the company is the best path for being fair. And as people we all want to feel we’ve been treated fairly. Whether we’re getting a carrot or the stick as a reward or as a consequence.

Here’s what I typically hear from new clients when we first start working together, “I’ve got to motivate them.” And I share with them, “You can’t motivate me to do anything. What you can do is find a series of rewards and consequences that motivate me to either get onboard or to make my exit. Either way, that’s a good thing for all concerned.”

I continue with, “Let’s face it you can get anyone to climb a mountain by hitting them with a big enough stick. The problem is when you stop hitting them they’ll be flying down the mountain twice as fast as they climbed it. The goal must become to have WAY more carrots than sticks. This encourages staff to want to climb the mountain and when they’ve reached the top to anxiously await the next mountain you want to climb together.”

This does work. It worked at my company and it’s working at a load of companies I’ve worked with through the years and today.

But, I also have come to better understand that if I can teach you to provide the “Why they should want to climb and keep climbing”, things go a lot better and the results have longer-term power. The days of saying, “Do it. It’s your job” are long gone.

People today want to know that their work means something and that they’re building a future for themselves with your company. We, as people, all want to belong to something and most of all we want to belong to a winning team. Even those employees you perceive as being removed or feeling above it all and wanting to sit it out on the sidelines are just fearful of failing and being a disappointment. These people will provide you the greatest chance to be a leader. It’s your job to let them know, “Change is difficult if you’re fearful of failure. That’s why we’re going to work together to give you all the tools and training so not only will we not fail we’re all going to win.”

Speaking to next level motivation or just another way to look at motivation beyond carrots and sticks, I was watching an online video on the website TED© Talks.

The author, Simon Sinek, whose book I read awhile back called “Start with Why” © was speaking to an audience about what he felt was the fallacy of “If you do this, you get that”:

  1. It works and doesn’t work
  2. People need to know why first
  3. Sole reliance on carrots and sticks can have the adverse effect of stunting creativity when it comes to problem solving
  4. Good way to goal is simple rules, easy goal with a narrow focus

To point #4 above, it speaks to having known and practiced policies and procedures that come into play about 80% of the time and letting the 20% go.

Know that even as adults, we tend to act like kids. We want to know what good will come out of doing this and what negative consequence will result if I don’t. 

As the one running the show, it’s not often that you’re given carrots. I’ve thrown you some in my book The 7-Power Contractor.  It’ll equip you to master sales coaching in addition to six other valuable powers to run your business.


Al Levi teaches contractors how to run their businesses with less stress and more success through his book, seminars, webinars and his exclusive 1-to-1 consulting practice.

 Also check out Al’s latest business adventure as part of Zoom Franchise Company at It’s a living example of the power of manuals and more— in action.

More Ways to Become a 7-Power Contractor

The 7-Power Contractor book lays out 7 simple business powers to help you run your business with Less Stress and More Success. And now, it's available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

The Build Your Operating Manuals (BYOM) Program provides you with 90% done manual templates plus step-by-step instructions on how to edit them, roll them out, train with them.

Get Your Life Back: 7 Secrets of Super Effective Time Management will show you where you time is really going throughout the day so you can begin to get some of it back immediately.

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