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By Darryl Stewart

Promote Mastery – Not Carrots and Sticks

To get people to do things the way we want them done, the traditional approach has been to use a bunch of carrots and sticks. Carrots as rewards for doing things the way we want and an occasional slap with a stick when things go awry.  This program is proven to get things done, so why mess with it?

The problem is that people who would otherwise grow and thrive in a particular role will quickly get trained to do the bare minimum required, saving their passions and creativity for endeavours outside of this stifling environment.

So what is the alternative to carrots and sticks?

One way to create engagement and increase motivation is to help your team members to move towards mastery.  When you have identified a unique passion and aptitude in one of your team, you can use this to benefit the person and the organization in exciting ways.

Image by Nevit Dilman click for a link.
Image by Nevit Dilman click for a link.

Research shows that if you assign people more of the kind of work they enjoy and that they can see rapid improvement at doing, you will get loads of engagement.  The need for carrots and sticks will go away.

At IBEX each manager meets with each of their staff eight to nine times each year. In these one-on-one discussions, lasting up to 90 minutes, employees and managers discuss their level of engagement with their work and a path is planned out to move their work towards areas they enjoy and can see themselves improving at.  These meetings and discussions often lead to the increase in and addition of new work where the employee is or seems likely to achieve a feeling of mastery over time and the reduction or deletion of work that does not seem to fit.


  • When what a team member is asked to do exceeds their capabilities, the result is anxiety.
  • When what a team member  must do falls short of their capabilities, the result is boredom.

The key is to match work they find rewarding with their current level of skill.   A little bit of “stretch” or growth is desirable, but too much will lead to anxiety.

Sound difficult?  It is, but great leaders like you should be thinking this way about each of your team, seeking to match each person’s unique capabilities with the work at hand.  If we match the right people with the right work we will get far superior performance to treating everyone the same and using the old carrot and stick to extract the required performance out of everyone.

IBEX Payroll extends our profound respect and immeasurable gratitude to all the ancestors and keepers of the land on whose traditional territories our work takes place. We acknowledge that we are on Treaty 1 territory, the traditional gathering place of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene people and the traditional homeland of the Métis people. This land is sacred, historical, and significant. 

Every time we acknowledge this truth, we have an invitation and an opportunity to reflect on the wrongs of the past, what we do in the present, and what we can do to continually honour the people whose lands and water we benefit from today. 

This statement only acts as a first step in honouring the land we reside on and its peoples, and must be paired with education, understanding and informed action.