We all know how to motivate. But do we really know how it works? Do we use the right practices?

We have all had the feeling at some point of knowing how to motivate, and it seems that we find it easy at the beginning. But, when we implement our motivation plan, in the medium and long term most people lose motivation, and at that moment when we do not understand anything, we ask ourselves:  

– What happened? Why it does not work? On other occasions, we have also had the feeling that it is more difficult or impossible for us to motivate certain people, and in that situation, which we do not fully understand, we transfer the blame to others:  

– Sure! It is that anyone has no commitment or attitude. It is impossible to get employees motivated! In the end, we developed a way of managing motivation, which only has an effect on some people and almost always in the short term. But, if this is so, there are many questions to ask:  

– Why does our techniques of motivation work for some people and not for others? And is it normal for motivation to last so little? To answer this question, we propose the next example:   -THE STICK AND THE CARROT- If you have found yourself in the situations discussed above, you are surely managing motivation with a stick and a carrot, or what is the same, with punishments and rewards. This is a system that can work in some situations and with some people, but in the end, it is a perverted system.  

– “Pay your child to take out the garbage, and you will get it to never take it out again for free”   This is a clear example of conditional reward (carrot).   IF “you do this” THEN “you will get this”. We offer a reward in exchange for an action.  

– It is effective? Yes, but in the short term. This perverse system of motivation will lead us, among other situations, to dependence on reward. That is, if the reward disappears, the motivation, and therefore the performance we seek, will also disappear.  

To understand it more clearly, imagine that if I pay you the first time to take out the garbage and from there, I tell you that it will be free. What will be the result? Well, in 99% of cases I will have to either remove it myself or use my coercive power as mother/father; that is, compel and even threaten punishment. If I succeed, objective accomplished, get the trash down, but,
What effects will that forced action with opposition or that punishment have? At what level will that motivation have remained? The reality in most cases is that this type of motivation ends up being ineffective and with many negative effects in the work environment.  

Do we have any other option? Yes, in contrast, we find intrinsic motivations, which unlike extrinsic motivations (stick and carrot), borns inside people.  

Although before looking at how intrinsic motivations works, we must thoroughly understand how extrinsic motivations works, because it is also useful and effective, but you have to know when, how and with whom to use it.  

What is evident is that the “stick” (punishment) does not need any explanation, we all know where it leads us…  


So why should I not use or at least make concrete and reduced use of rewards or “carrots”?  

These are the main negative effects that the continuous use of rewards has on people:

– They create addiction. We get used to rewards and each time we need them larger, in addition to ceasing to have effect over time. Once offered the reward, it will force us to keep it to continue achieving the objective.
– They promote unwanted habits.- Rewards can, in many cases, induce us to make inadequate (or not at all noble) decisions that benefit us or to take risks that without reward we would not consider.
– Short-term thinking.- We focus on the prize and leave it aside, which does not provide us with an immediate reward. The awards provoke us an obsession with the short term and essential goals located in the medium and long term are left aside.
– Reduces cohesion and teamwork.- We tend to focus on the rewarded objectives (usually more individual) and the values ​​and good practices of teamwork suffer.
– They can reduce performance.- Rewards make us give up our autonomy and can convert the perception of performing a task from interesting to conceiving it as a burden.
– They reduce creativity and innovation.- They limit our creative and innovative approach to seek alternative solutions because we focus on the objective and the reward, leaving aside the search for alternative ways to solve problems.  

Generally, the continued use of this type of motivation is not sustained in the medium and long term, causing the appearance of unwanted consequences, such as worsening teamwork, the ability to solve situations or problems in an alternative way, focusing on the short term individual or decision-making that hurts the organization. In summary, the inappropriate use of a motivation system based on extrinsic rewards (carrots), is dangerous and can cause a contrary effect to what we want to obtain, motivating people.  

Text based on Theory of Self-Determination (STD) by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan