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What motivates you to do your best?

By Ben Kubicek,

Today we have a guest editorial as Steve is out of the office.

I would guess many of you have heard of the stick and the carrot.  They symbolize two main ways people are motivated by others.  The stick is the threat of some sort of punishment, it could be as simple as a verbal reprimand, all the way to getting fired.  The carrot is something positive, usually praise or money or a raise/promotion.  I believe these are ways to motivate people to do work, but I doubt they help anyone do their best.

I grew up in California.  I had a volleyball coach in high school that tried to use a stick approach to motivate us as a team to play better.  We were a young team and not very good at volleyball yet.  When we messed up in practice, he would have us run sprints.  That was the stick.  You make a mistake, you run.  During a game he started to threaten us, if we didn’t play better, or if we lost we could expect more sprints.  His threats didn’t really help us play better.  If anything we made more mistakes as we were already tired from all the running we did in practice the day before.  We were afraid of running more sprints if we lost and that caused us to be even more likely to mess up.  We ended up losing the game.  It seems the stick approach often does not have the desired effect.

In Phil Factor’s Confessions of an IT Manager there is an article called “Training Your IT Manager”.  It is a good read and it displays the carrot approach quite nicely.  He talked about his experience watching a Comms team in his company enjoying good interactions with their manager.  The manager might start off being quite rough, but over time he would change into a very friendly good tempered person.  The Comms team members figured out what carrots they could use with their manager to affect his behavior in a positive way.  You can read it for yourself to get the details.  The carrot approach seems to move people in a positive direction, but I am still not sure it brings out their best.

I would guess you have seen similar stick and carrot experiences in your life and in your professional career.  We all need motivation so where does it come from?  I believe that as much as these outside motivators such as stick or carrot can get us moving forward, they never truly get us to do our best.  I believe that for someone to be motivated to do their best it must come from inside.  In essence you have to want to do your best.  You have to do your best because you know you are capable of it.  You have to care and have some pride in your work.  In the end I believe the motivation to do your best comes from you.  You choose to do your best.

I remember when I was 12 or 13 years old.  I had generally been a good student up to that point, but my motivation was starting to wane a bit.  As my grades started to drop my father had a conversation with me.  I told him I was fine getting poor marks and he called my bluff.  He said you won’t be satisfied with doing anything less than your best.  He was right.  When we don’t do our best, we know it, but often try to justify it in one way or another.  In the same way, when we do our best we can have immense satisfaction with the knowledge that we did a job well done.

So what do you think?  What motivates you to do your best?  Or do you have a good stick or carrot story?

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