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The Carrot & Stick Policy

If you have been working or have ever worked, you would have come across the term, ‘The Carrot and Stick Policy’. This is a well-known technique in management and corporate circles that uses a mix of reward and punishment to achieve compliance or to induce certain behaviors in employees. This term has its origin in folklore where a carrot was tied to a stick and placed in front of a donkey to induce the donkey to try and move forward in a bid to reach the carrot, thus pulling the cart that was hitched to the donkey. Well - it goes without saying that the stick also meant a sharp jab or a poke if the donkey obstinately refused to move.

When it comes to employees, the Carrot and Stick Policy has been practiced from time immemorial and in various forms. A lot of things that go by the name of incentives, rewards or appreciation essentially form the carrot, which is dangled in front of employees to induce certain desirable behaviors. The boss promising his subordinates a trip to Hawaii if they achieve their annual sales target is a kind of carrot. This situation is pretty similar to another simple case where a mother promises her son an extra scoop of his favorite ice cream if he completes his homework. It is just that in a corporate scenario, carrots are quite discreet and sophisticated. However, if you took the time to ponder over the principle of inducement, it is quite the same as in the story involving the donkey.

Carrots are the more desirable and acceptable part of the Carrot and Stick Policy. The stick approach deals with the concept of penalizing undesirable behaviors. For instance, a boss who notices a couple of employees goofing off on the job and spending huge amounts of time at the canteen, could use the stick and threaten disciplinary action and censure against such employees. In many cases, the stick may not be the actual punishment but just the promise of punishment in case of non-compliance. The stick approach acts as an effective deterrent to unacceptable conduct and behavior that the company would like to keep at bay with immediate effect. This is similar to a mother threatening to complain to a boy’s father if he refuses to do his homework as a means of ensuring compliance.

The world may have progressed a lot and workplaces may have become very sophisticated and genteel places, but you can be sure that the Carrot and Stick Policy and its many varied approaches have great relevance even today and would continue to be relevant in the future too.

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