The missing ingredient to the carrot and stick

The missing ingredient to the carrot and stick

Inculcating a safety culture is generally done in two ways. The first is to reward appropriate safe behaviours. The second is to discipline any transgressions. While these methods seem logical and fair, are they effective?

I have never heard of a company where the safety of its people is not a top priority.

If a supervisor tells staff members that as soon as they have completed their duties, they can go home, they will generally give a renewed push to quickly wrap up.

Offering rewards is a terrific way to persuade people to work harder. Everyone wins … or so it seems. In this scenario, the extra effort was not made in order to finish the task, but to go home early. This reward therefore only created the illusion of motivation.

Confusing action with motivation is easy. True motivation is intrinsic. In this instance the supervisor was able to get action, but not motivation. Take away the offer to go home early and the energy to get the job done rapidly dwindles.

The missing ingredient to the carrot and stickAs a short-term strategy this is wonderful as the job gets done. However, the responsibility for completing the work remained with the supervisor. The workers did not give a concerted effort on their own.

Likewise, many companies have some sort of bonus, or reward system when they reach a production target or achieve a safety record. Such rewards are always appreciated by staff, but, surprisingly, do not necessarily motivate. There is nothing wrong with this approach if a company has a big cheque book. As long as managers are willing to wave the “carrot”, they can count on staff working hard.

However, leaders need to be mindful that there are some drawbacks to this approach. Instead of an internal pride and commitment towards safe production, employees work only for the reward.

The onus for high-quality, safe work still resides with the company. When the manager wants to try to improve performance, the teams often expect a bigger bonus. If for any reason the reward is not provided, employees quickly become disgruntled.

It is also not uncommon to hear of teams taking a back seat when they realise that they are not going to make the target. What was meant to be a motivator backfires and is counterproductive. The biggest downside of rewarding performance in this manner manifests when staff start to hide incidents because they do not want to lose their bonuses.

Eventually leaders become exasperated when the reward approach fails to deliver. The alternative is very attractive considering it usually attains instant results – yell, scream and threaten someone, especially with their job, and they will jump into action.

Unfortunately, this is a costly short-term win. Over time, staff will disengage. A mindset of “no matter what I do I am going to be in trouble” develops and before long a “why should I bother” attitude manifests. In fear of making a mistake, workers stop taking the initiative and wait to be told what to do. All of this culminates into deep-seated resentment and insolence towards the leader.

Just as with rewards, when it comes to using the “stick”, the leader has to drive performance. They have to keep monitoring team members and insisting on safe production. This is a tedious, frustrating and time-consuming process – for both managers and workers alike.

The missing ingredient to the carrot and stickExperience confirms that both strategies have a short and limited effect and should not be relied upon. To achieve sustainable results leaders need to find ways to tap into the internal motivation of their staff.

One of the best ways to do this is to provide a sense of ownership. From an engagement perspective, for staff there is a fundamental difference between merely completing a list of activities to having ownership of their work.

As an example, a CEO arrives on site, and the security guard respectfully askes him or her to do a breathalyser test. How the CEO responds at that moment will have a lasting impact. If he or she gladly complies, it sends a message that the security officer’s job is important. If the CEO thanks the security guard it sends another message that their diligence is appreciated.

If the CEO becomes irritated, starts ranting and raging and demands to be let in immediately, the message resounds that the security guard’s work is a sham; it is not important and safety is not a real value.

If that is the message, why should the guard be proud of their work? Not even the CEO takes it seriously…

When a staff member walks into a manager’s office with a question, instead of instantly answering, imagine if they responded with: “You are the expert; what do you think? You do this job every day and I trust you. What is your view?”

When managers answer questions without first hearing the employee’s opinion, the notion that staff work for management is reinforced. This does not evoke a sense of personal pride.

Imagine meetings where the leader merely facilitates the discussion instead of dishing out a list of instructions. I am always astounded when leaders express their annoyance that team members seldom contribute. Why should they if they are expected to simply follow orders?

If managers want staff to take more responsibility for their work (key word being their) then they ought to listen to and support their ideas, especially the ones with which they do not agree.

Lastly, one of the biggest motivation killers is when production targets, budgets and timelines are determined in the comfort of a manager’s office without getting input from the people who actually do the work and have first-hand experience of the working conditions.

At the end of the day, if they want more sustainable results, managers need to replace the “carrot” and the “stick” with tangible strategies that engage the internal motivation of the staff.

Brett Solomon is the CEO of The Kinetic Leadership Institute and is a recognised leader in combining neuroscience, change management and leadership theory to drive cultural transformation processes. Brett specialises in neuro-leadership, especially when it comes to understanding what drives human behaviour and how to influence it. He has been involved in numerous safety culture change initiatives in throughout South Africa, Australia, Canada and Saudi Arabia.

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