Robert Whiting In search of awesome

Carrots and internal motivations


This issue has been bothering me for a while, it’s about instilling motivation. I’m against both the stick and the carrot when it comes to this issue, (see Barry Schwartz “on our loss of wisdom”) and believe that intrinsic motivation is superior to both by far. I have seen too many teams fail because they were fixated on rewards, or obsessed with not being “made an example of”, instead of prioritizing the mission. But how in the world do you incept intrinsic motivation in employees, co-workers, or even superiors?

– A Serious Dan

I was recently given a book called The Four Tendencies. The premise of the book is that people are inherently motivated differently. Based on their internal and external motivational tendencies, finding out how to influence them will differ. It’s an interesting paradigm on human motivation. I’m not entirely sure I’m bought into it, but it’s worth a read.

The carrot and the stick are familiar tropes because they work, but your dislike of them is founded, I think. Using carrots and sticks is a lot closer to manipulation of behavior than winning hearts and minds. If the goal is to target desirable behaviors, then there are studies and books on the subject. But if you want a tribe of trusted individuals that can do the right thing for the business in the manager’s absence, you’ll need a lot more.

I’ve been thinking a lot about ownership.

“Buy-in” isn’t strong enough, “responsibility” isn’t encompasing enough, and “family” isn’t business enough. Ownership might not even be the right term for what I’m looking for, but it should include the other terms.

If you can get them to a place of ownership in their hearts and minds, then you’ll have the maximum intrinsic drive and trust that is possible for their character (see Dan’s prior post).

Now, how to get someone to a place where they feel ownership with their coworkers? You’re in a much more difficult place because of the more transitive nature of your work.

Trust and respect have to be at the foundation of those relationships, and it’s hard to get trust and respect from untrustworthy people. I’ve placed a lot of effort into building an environment where there is trust, respect, laughter, and professionalism. We’ve built an identity together as a family unit–we may have our issues, but we love and trust each other, and (as importanly) we’ll call each other out when we’re out of line.

Maybe I shouldn’t mix in the family analogy, because many people have very disfunctional family backgrounds, and I wouldn’t want to taint the picture of my team.

There is a definite “we” to the team, so when goals are set and expectations from management come down, we pull together, solve together, and vent together.

On the practical side: know everyone’s name, go out of your way to help them out, be generous, bring the group together for a standup/checkin before the work starts, followup with each person on the team with “how can I make your job better?” It doesn’t take a title to call a meeting or to ask questions, and someone has to plant the seed of trust, love, and respect that will bloom into a team.


You mentioned clear expectations. What do you do when clear expectations haven’t been set and that gut feel says the implicit expectations haven’t been met?