Foundations of Motivation #1: Why Your Carrots And Sticks Aren't Working


The idiom of “carrots and sticks” has been around for more than 50 years and is widely used in many business models as the staple technique for motivation. In this week’s article, I wanted to add a new aspect to the carrot and stick that might help people implement into their teams.

To quickly recap: The carrot and stick is a principle that is based on providing the promise of rewards and praise for reaching performance indicators, and removal of these rewards or performance management for not reaching them. Maybe you know a business that uses this?

Now let’s add a level of complexity to this principle and one that I have touched on previously: Not everyone is the same, so when do you use carrots and when do you use sticks?

Carrots and sticks do not have opposing functions. In fact, they’re both used for motivating and you need to understand your people to know when to effectively use either the former or the latter.

And now for the level of complexity that I promised.

Unconsciously, we have sets of filters that determine our perception of the world around us. One of those filters is known as a “direction filter” and determines how we are motivated into action. The carrot and stick eludes to two of subsets of this filter:

Toward Motivated: These are people that are focused on the future, the possibility and will need a clear vision and belief in what they are doing. They are motivated by their desires. You will need to avoid using too many of must/need to and have-to's as toward people thrive on freedom, opportunity and potential. Motivating a toward person with a stick will result in anger.

Away Motivated: These are people that are focused on what might go wrong and what they need to avoid. Use a lot of must/need to/have-to's and urgency to motivate them into action. They are motivated by what they do not want to happen and threats. Motivating an away from person with a carrot will result in non-responsiveness.

However like most things, there are never just extremes, it is like a scale, different shades.

In addition to those listed above there are three options:

  • Toward with a little away
  • Toward and Away equally
  • Away with a little Toward

Below is an example of how you would speak to each of these filters.

Speaking to each subset

To discover the directional filter of each of your team, simply take some time to chat with them. Their language will tell you which of the above filters they are using.

If you are not communicating with the correct filter of your team member, don’t be surprised when you get the opposite reaction to which you were expecting. As managers and leaders, we must be changing our behavior to match our team. Don’t expect them to adapt to you.

Darcey Pollard

Retail Capability and Product Trainer at