Carrots and Sticks - Why incentivizing leads to struggle.
One of the trickier parts of remote learning has been trying to keep the kids (ages 5 & 6) “on-track” with their work. The teachers upload assignments and do their best to hold them accountable and give them time during class to complete the work. It’s tough for everyone involved. Inevitably, however, a child will become distracted and fall behind. A few days will go by and the assignments can pile up.
I’ve known professionally for quite a while now that carrots and sticks don’t work (thank you, Mr. Dan Pink). Outside of remedial tasks, they don’t motivate people. However, in a few desperate moments, I still resorted to incentivizing the kids for completing their school work. I believed this to be harmless, but quickly realized how much more difficult I just made things for myself.
Offering a lollipop for a completed task got me initial success. I was proud of myself. Fast forward the next afternoon, I asked my daughter if she wanted to do a drawing for an assignment she had. I was met with resistance. Why should she do it for “free”? I instantly found myself in a negotiation and caved in the form of making her popcorn if she made it. The slippery slope continued and I found myself struggling to have them do any work. What had I done?!
I had to change my approach and I had to change it ASAP.
Now, I know that people are motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose. I also know to praise for process and not results. Flipping the script, I looked to push the “mastery” button and I began praising their concentration, effort, and creativity on the assignments they had been completing with their teachers. As soon as something was ready to submit, there were high-fives and hugs. “I love how patient you were”, “Great job using kind words”, etc. One daughter really caught on and I instantly put her effort on a pedestal and noticed my 2 other children starting to crave that attention as well.
The process of learning is now important. The pursuit of doing the right thing and participating is what they want recognition for now. Now, on most days, they will come to me with their work, beaming with pride earned from the work they’ve done. It's intrinsic and invaluable. Admittedly, the kids aren’t always jumping to do work, but I’m happy to report the new approach has been much more effective than candy. It gets better everyday.
All of this led me to reflect on how wrongly many organizations view motivation. Too much focus on the result, driven by compensation. How many people are out there, not "motivated" until they get a bigger lollipop? Chasing arbitrary metrics and loyal to the next company that pays them $1 more. Contrast that with organizations who value learning and growth- where the focus is on the process. Their teams driven to improve and innovate because that is what's celebrated.
As parents and leaders, it's important to value the process. Effort, improvement, attitude - things we can all control. Put learning on pedastal and I'm confident you'll see results.
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