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Winning At Working: Dangling Carrots Wilt
by Nan Russell

"Red tape. Infighting. Office politics. Employee morale. Can't get things done. Lack of communication. Layers of bureaucracy. Not valued. Rude, difficult people. Indecision. Lack of support. Inconsistency. No clear direction." These are sample answers from readers to a Winning at Working survey that asked about the biggest problems at work. And then we wonder, as supervisors and managers, why employees aren't motivated?

Working with a client on a consulting engagement recently, the issue came up again and again, "How can I motivate my employees?" My answer wasn't the quick-fix the client wanted. "You can't," I said. "But what you can do is more powerful and sustaining. If you want motivated employees, create an environment where people can be self-motivated."

You see, efforts to rouse, stimulate or encourage behavior are short-lived. That's not to say expectations, incentives, pay for performance or fear of consequences don't work to improve results for a time. They do. But, carrot-and-stick approaches don't solve the problems that reduce motivation, initiative and engagement. So results are often fleeting. These dangling carrots wilt when roadblocks, lack of trust, poor communication and broken promises are everyday hurdles. They wilt when bosses model behaviors inconsistent with their words, when emails communicate what should be said in person, and when feedback is as infrequent as lottery winnings. Wilted carrots can't sustain people's discretionary efforts or ignite people's talents or passions.

Leaders who practice winning at working philosophies create pockets of excellence where people can bring the best of who they are to work. They make it easier for staff to get their jobs done, not harder. They remove obstacles, enhance communication, build trust, eliminate red tape and recognize contributions. They focus on people's strengths, providing tools and support to enable others. Winning at working leaders build positive environments out of consideration, respect, integrity and openness.

These winning cultures aren't struggling with the question of how to motivate employees. They're reaping the results self-motivated people bring, where creative ideas, discretionary efforts, and personal effectiveness are freely given to accomplish company goals. They're engaging the talents and gifts of their staffs, not through carrots-and-sticks, but by creating places where people can shine.

Most people want to do a good job. Most people want to contribute and feel proud of the work they do. Most people want more than a paycheck. Motivation is not about carrots or sticks. It's about providing what's missing.

Revisit the first paragraph. What's missing in these environments? Simple processes. Cooperation. Purpose. Enthusiasm. Resources. Support. Vision. Communication. Consistency. Respect. Recognition. Consideration. If you're a team leader, supervisor or manager who wants to lead a winning team, start there. Provide what's missing in your sphere of influence and you'll discover the real secret to motivating others.

(c) 2007 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Nan Russell may be contacted at

Author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books; January 2008). Host of "Work Matters with Nan Russell" weekly on Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. Sign up to receive Nan's "Winning at Working" tips and insights at


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