motivating staff with bribery instead of inspiration
An author writing a book on motivational techniques asked for my thoughts:

How do you feel about increased Personal Time Off as an incentive? Flextime? Job sharing? Work from home? Employer-sponsored socializing (BBQs, bowling, game night, etc.)? Are there any hidden drawbacks to these incentives?

If these approaches are used to “empartner” people, they can be effective. If they’re used to “motivate” or “incentivize,” those manipulative approaches can backfire. Many managers need to stop bribing and start leading. As Alfie Kohn so powerfully shows in his book, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, whenever managers say “do this, and you’ll get that,” they are moving from implicit or internal motivation to explicit or external motivation.

Bribing people to perform turns them into mercenaries. It degrades and demeans work. It sets a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle into motion — incentives, inducements, rewards, and the like leave people feeling manipulated and overly focused on what they get for complying with management’s goals and direction (tuned only to WIFM — “what’s in it for me”).

Here’s a summary of the difference between management push and leadership pull:

Manipulative Management


  • Lead with to manipulate, control, and direct behavior

Empartnering Leadership


  • Follow with to support organizational change and improvement
  • Do it to employees to push motivational buttons
  • Do it with people to meet shared goals
  • Paternalistic pats on the head
  • Participative, respectful partnerships
  • Management decides who gets rewarded and recognized for meeting their goals
  • Customer input helps leaders and partners decide who and how to reward and recognize
  • Assumes performance problems are from lazy, unmotivated, and uncaring people
  • Collaboratively aligns systems, structures, and processes to serve the servers and strengthen teamwork

Here’s three key reasons team members need to be empartnered:

  1. They’re the experts in the work within their areas and have deep insight into the effectiveness of cross-functional or organization-wide processes. Their understanding of what does and doesn’t work is better than most managers and outside experts.
  2. Empartnerment generates greater energy and engagement. Most people want more from their jobs than just a paycheck. We want to be part of an organization with a meaningful purpose, feel like our work makes a difference, and contribute to a winning team.
  3. Frontline teams have ultimate implementation power. Too often, they’re asked to execute plans they know won’t work. Some even engage in “malicious compliance” and implement what they know are irrelevant approaches. Good — even great — strategies poorly executed wastes everyone’s time, squanders money, and gives the disengagement cycle another downward spin.

Empartnerment calls for a leader shift. Good managers often empower. Great leaders empartner. Click here for a chart showing the difference. You might also want to use this 10 point checklist for a leadership checkup.