Managers can rely on the carrot or the stick to reward or punish employees. Unfortunately, most managers don’t give much thought about how they reward or punish. In dozens of management development courses I have delivered, I have asked managers, what they use to motivate their employees. Most say money. When asked to think deeper about employee motivations they often realize that they have not really given much thought about what motivates employees, much less given much thought about how they as managers do it.
Few have given much thought to the fact that the wrong type of reward can in fact have the opposite effect. I always share with them the story of the top sales representative at a large pharmaceutical company where I used to work. He was the best the company had. Not only did they reward him with bonuses, but they also had many award trips that representatives could win on a quarterly, semester and yearly basis. He practically won them all! He was winning trips to exotic locations and exciting cities all over the country. I was working in a sales operations position at the time. I visited with him to learn more about his success. During our visit I was shocked when he told me how unhappy he was with the company and how he was thinking of leaving!
I soon learned why. He had a large territory and was constantly “on the road”. He also had several small children. While he realized that he had to travel to be successful, he did not appreciate the fact that almost every 3 or 4 months the company expected him to go on these fancy trips, which took him away from his family even more. He asked, why couldn’t they just give him the money or award him with prize points, rather than force him away from his family! Management had never considered if the type of rewards we were offering was really motivating those who received them. The same is true, if not more so, when it comes to punishment. When working on case studies dealing with difficult employees, attendees at my leadership development programs usually respond first by saying simply “fire them”. They also talk about putting them on “performance improvement plans” or other types of punishment. Few have given serious thought about the type of punishment or the manner in which they deliver the punishment and whether it has impact on improving behavior in promoting the desired type of organizational conduct in the future.
In a study designed to discover if the way managers deliver punishment has a positive impact on behavior within organizations, Ball, Revino and Sims showed that “punishment can positively influence subordinates’ subsequent behaviors (and prevent negative behaviors) if the punishment is conducted in a particular way” (1994, p. 314). They found that positive results occurred when punishment was perceived by the employee to be just and “matching the infraction” they committed and “consistent with what others have received” for …