Key to Human Performance: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose vs. Carrot and Stick!

Key to Human Performance: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose vs. Carrot and Stick!

Key to Human Performance

What motivates employees? Most employers use the carrot and stick approach to motivate their employees. Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation.

According to him:

  • Extrinsic motivators do work only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances.
  • Rewards often destroy creativity and employee performance.
  • The secret to high performance isn’t reward and punishments but that unseen intrinsic drive – the drive to do things for their own sake – because they matter!

Some intrinsic motivators that really enhance human performance are:

  • Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives
  • Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters
  • Purpose: the urge to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

If you have to lead a team of highly creative, conceptual and intelligent people, give them a clear result and all the freedom to achieve their goals. Also, link organizational goals to their individual purpose.

  • Autonomy: This relates to their time, task, team and technique
  • Mastery: The urge to excel and be master of their own domain
  • Purpose: The clearer the result, the easier to achieve.

This will make a working environment healthier and help achieve higher performances.

If you’re a leader, try this out today and maybe we can change the world!

I would love to hear your experiences as a leader and how you use intrinsic motivators with your team.

Do share your thoughts on the same.

  • S

    it usually works, but then nothing fits the bill 100%, so i dont refute the comments above. however, if there are no carrots, people learn about them sooner, and then you loose them eventually.

    at the same time, consider that everything has to evolve, so as time goes by, the next set of carrots need to be juicer than the previous ones, because the community is now used to the old carrots – thus the motivation differential those could bring in will diminish.

  • Daniel Pink’s message is spot on! The most effective motivation is seldom extrinsic.

    Far more important is an employee’s relationship with her/his immediate supervisor. The Gallup Corporation’s research has shown that this relationship plays the biggest role in an employee’s “engagement” with her/his job.

    It’s also very important to consider the work environment in which this motivation is taking place. A great resource for this is “Managing and Motivating Contact Center Employees” ( To be effective, motivation needs to take place in a motivating environment!

  • Marco Monfils

    Carrot and stick work best when stick remains unused.

    Having said that, donkeys respond better to this method then humans, who will resent the stick irrelevant of its actual use

  • alice brown

    As the former chair of the IEEE Management society, Boston Section, I have seen what judicious use of the carrot can do. This requires a clear analytical mind and a personality that does not need fawning to recognize true technical competence.

    Morale is heightened when our peers are recognized for true merit and worsened when the fawners win. the good workers start looking for other jobs, even in this economy.
    The stick? No public humiliation, just more intense supervision. And training. If none of that works, you have to fire him. Too many folks are out of work to let incompetence stay on the payroll.

  • Unleashing ones passion about their work and motivating them to explore that passion are keys to success not dangling a carrot on a stick.
    Until managers and the upper management come to this realization the passion of great workers gets stifled. We need to teach managers to be leaders, to let them know that it is not only okay to let the workers have their passion but to encourage it.
    I understood the power of this type of leadership from early on and I saw my job as to buffer my people from the bureaucracy of the company and to provide them with what they needed to get the job done.
    I always found this to work very well with great results.

    To add to the carrot and the stick was that story not about getting a donkey to move?
    Something to consider.

  • If you want people to be motivated, allow a way for the project to motivate them, personally, rather than how the “company” wants them to be motivated.

  • Margaret Moon

    Encouragement and praise are much stronger forces than carrots and sticks in every learning context. To be effective, encouragement and praise needs to speak to an aspect of developmental growth for the individual i.e. a problem they have recognised and are working to address. Throw in a sense of humour and you are beginning to build a relationship of mutual respect.

  • I am 100% sure that autonomy / mastery / purpose are much better motivators for knowledge workers (of course, this is after the first rule is applied, “Pay enough so people so they are not thinking about the money, they are thinking about the work.”).

    I’ve done lots of research on performance improvement lately (both for an eBook I’ll be launching soon and a presentation I’ll be making at the WI BADD), and there are thousands of studies that confirm this conclusion (authors may use different terminology, but in essence they all say the same that was summarized by Dan Pink).

    I even included Dan’s book in the list of books I recommend for people interested in performance measurement for learning and improvement:

  • I find it doesn’t work…people tend to focus on the stick and use it more often than a carrot…for example…bonuses are usually paid yearly yet the stick gets used monthly so people get whacked a few times a year but only rewarded once

  • Being an unorthodox, I do not agree with the carrot and stick approach at all. It might be a good start but a horrible end because the carrot always stays at a distance and is never achievable – no matter how fast you run for it. It is only good for donkeys, so to speak.

    Motivation is an intrinsic drive – it comes from within. Why is it that a good weather sometimes motivates people to go out and enjoy a picnic in the park, a good song makes a person hum to its tune, and so forth.

    These are the key to any motivation eliciting behaviour. If we need to elicit a motivational response, the person needs to find meaing for him/herself in what needs to be done – only then will he/she be completely loyal to the task and see it to completion.

    The carrot and the stick will destroy a hard working person by killing his/her self esteem for what he/she is struggling for remains on a stick and never attainable.

  • Dmitrey Nadirov

    I think joint goal to reach is motivating people. The aim of the manager to transfer his/her passion for this goal to the team. During the jorney to the goal carrot and stick might be useful, but most important is the passion for the goal. Carrot and stick might be used as a tool, but not the strategy.

  • Carrots and sticks are necessary functions in any organization. They are like traffic rules and tickets in that they provide structure.

    However, real performance can only be achieved through strong leadership. Leadership is the catalyst of motivation. Only when people are internally motivated to do something will they put in a 110% effort.

    You will discover that where you provide strong leadership the value or even usefulness of carrots and sticks is greatly reduced.

    This is not to say that you can not offer those that work for you opportunity. The rewards (carrots) must be their. But a group that is inspired by their leader will do everything possible to reach the objectives and with little or no management provided the leader is empowering them to do their task well.

  • Bruce

    I have found that the carrot works the first year it is initiated but then it becomes expected.

  • Try The Orange Revolution from Adrian Gostik and Chester Elton to be released on Sept21st. They are authors of The Carrot Principle. The statement is aligned with Daniel Pink. The Orange Revolution is about creating an extraordinary team and is based in a deep research done by the authors.

  • Wayne Kehl

    Carrot and stick is short term gain for long term pain. Pure, deep engagement and intrinsic motivation are what works. Get the right people doing the right jobs; feed them a diet of everything they love doing and throw away the “carrots”. By the way, the “stick” NEVER has a positive result. The harm it does is much more impactful than any minor progress it might enforce.

  • Both the carrot and the stick can appear to work in the short term – but certainly not in the long haul.

    The problem with the carrot is that it doesn’t always accurately reflect the company’s goals. For example, companies with large customer support organizations commonly use a metric of length of call with a target number to shoot for. The theory is that this number increases the calls that can be taken and not add to headcount. Customer service reps have been know to hang up a few seconds into a call, just to keep their average call length down and recieve the carrot. Does this accomplish the company’s goals? Maybe in the short term, but certainly not the long term.

    And the stick – well when the thought process is to create fear, you will get compliance in the short run, but only until the employee finds a new job in a company that doesn’t manage by fear.

    As for the unseen intrinsic drive, I can safely say (having managed in and consulted with a number of companies for 30 years) not everyone is perfectly and cosmically already matched with their life passion. But I do believe that we can do a much better job as leaders and managers of understanding our people, knowing what makes them tick, and connecting the dots to get them to use more of their discretionary energy at work.

    Annie Bartlett |

  • In thirty years of consulting (initially on org/IC design, then on strategy/execution/culture change), I spent the first ten essentially building elegant carrot and stick approaches, and much of the last years encouraging companies to disband them. I agree with Dan Pink: in jobs that require creative, heuristic thought, about the only thing that carrot and stick approaches reward is addiction to carrot and stick approaches. Better to put detailed signals in measurement systems (not incentives), focus on what we really really really want in a way that engenders intrinsic motivation, and put in place an “approximately right” system to reward it focusing on fairness, not incentive.

  • sonya bhaka

    It may work in the short run but to sustain long term success, management must apply effective leadership style to motivate and raise morale of its workforce. I find the transformational leadership to be the MOST effective approach to motivating and inspiring employees to reach their highest potential. The U.S. military often uses autocratic approach, which seems to have worked for them based on their internal culture. Participative management style is another option that has worked quite successfully for many leading organizations. Transactional style (much like carrot and stick) is my least favorite. Men are usually more transactional leaders than women.

    To sum it up, I think the transactional/carrot & stick may work for some depending on their internal culture, nature of business (very effective for sales people), but nonetheless, presents risk of counterproductive behavior if applied across the board.

  • Margaret Moon

    Thank you Sonya. Could not agree more. Organisational capability must be modelled by the leadership team and managers must build a relationship with their team that enables them to have difficult conversations without compromise.

  • NewtralHuman

    The context for the current management paradigm seems to be profoundly rooted in Capitalism. Like anything in life human motivation undergoes ebb and flow. We want to “guarantee” profits, so we employ the paradoxical tool of financial interest in trade. How is it possible that the loan creditor must be rewarded with profit from the loan debtor when (because of seasonal ebb and flow) goods/services were not produced?
    We have embraced ideologies that produce social environments. These social environments are not sustainable without various forms of human exploitation. In this ideology and context of profits we try to engineer “techniques” to increase human *productivity*. This is called human governance in trade. Why is it separate from human governance in general? What is our ideological basis for engineering these “techniques” to increase human performance? Are we treating each other like cattle now? Why is it acceptable to lay of a 1000 employees because of financially strategic mistakes committed by management? What basis do we use in selecting a surgeon to operate on us? He’s famous? He charges a lot for his services? His knowledge/skill? His fear of committing injustice because of carelessness? His fear of who? Other humans?
    (Job based requirements of) competence and loyalty/commitment, coupled with a well balanced family life, trust and openness within and between management and co-workers, justice (in wages and in addressing worker grievance): do these influence human motivation in the work place?
    Are we any different from ants and bees?

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