Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Book Overview

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Carrots and Sticks Don't Work" by Paul Marciano. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the book Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work about? Why doesn’t motivation based on financial incentives work anymore? How can employers make employees feel motivated to do their best work?

In the book Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work, Paul Marciano argues that engagement stems from respect and that employees don’t want to feel like a cog in a chain. That’s why Marciano suggests that managers use the RESPECT model to motivate their employees.

Continue reading for an overview of Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work and the RESPECT model.

Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work

Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work decries motivation based around financial incentives, considering these programs brittle and temporary. Instead, author Marciano suggests that people are most motivated when they feel respected by their organization and feel respect for their work. This leads to a model called RESPECT:

  • Recognition: Provide positive feedback for work well done.
  • Empowerment: Give employees training, resources, and autonomy. Then get out of the way.
  • Supportive Feedback: Give corrective feedback from the perspective of a coach. Be specific, timely, and supportive.
  • Partnering: Treat your employees and colleagues like partners. Share the big picture with them and help them think like stewards of the organization.
  • Expectations: Make the expectations of an employee’s work clear, and make sure the employee understands them.
  • Consideration: Treat employees like humans, getting to know their personal lives and building rapport. They will trust you and open up about their personal issues, giving you more opportunities to help them.
  • Trust: Keep your word on promises, give credit where it’s due, don’t micromanage, admit your mistakes.

Marciano’s Suggestions

The full summary contains a wealth of actionables for each of these seven components. Here are some of the most notable recommendations:

  • Direct cash incentive programs rewarding the top performers can decrease intrinsic motivation, aren’t motivating for people in the middle or bottom of the performance stack, and destroy teamwork.
  • Employee recognition is part of a supervisor’s job. Don’t consider it a waste of time – it’s your job to motivate your team.
  • Feedback should be 80% positive, 20% negative. This raises the contrast of negative feedback. If your feedback is predominantly negative, the urgency of new negative feedback is reduced. Plus, there’s little reward for the employee to improve – she’s not even going to get thanked for improving, so what’s the point?
  • After giving constructive feedback, when you see the behavior you wanted the next time, reinforce it quickly with positive feedback. This will lock in the new behavior.
  • Deliver feedback in the moment, right after you see a problem. Don’t wait, or the employee will wonder why you waited so long.
  • Give positive feedback in the area in which the teammate has the most pride. This reinforces their identity in that area.
  • When expectations aren’t met, consider it your fault by default. Ask them what they understood the task to be, and how they understood the expectations, and why. You may realize that your instructions were terrible.
  • Pull expectations from people. Ask them to list their prioritized goals and rate how well they’re doing. Then give feedback.
  • Explain the purpose behind the goals. This gives them more context for your decisions, and it allows them to make smaller decisions in line with the overall goals of the team.
  • Give examples of the desired outcome for the person to model off of. It’s easier to meet expectations when there’s a model for what’s expected.
  • Knowing about a person’s personal life gives you chances to show consideration. Without knowing this, she won’t feel there’s enough safety to volunteer her personal problems.
  • Think about ways to benefit the employee’s family, not just the employee. A company gave Thanksgiving dinners to all staff members – this bought loyalty from not just the employees, but their family members as well.
  • Explain thoroughly when you override someone else’s decision, justifying why you did so and your reasoning. This gives a sense of procedural justice and builds trust that you won’t just unilaterally override them in the future.
Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Book Overview

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Paul Marciano's "Carrots and Sticks Don't Work" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Carrots and Sticks Don't Work summary:

  • How to motivate your employees and teammates to do a better job
  • How to know if you're a terrible manager
  • Why the carrot and stick motivation model doesn't work anymore—and what to do instead

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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