I’ve actually heard many leaders say (or maybe I should just call them people in leadership positions) you have to get people to have at least a little bit of fear in order for them to respond to you. In some cases, when I’ve asked the question “Why?”, I’ve been given the example of military and police. I was told that the whole “positive reinforcement” thing may work in classrooms (that was a hit at me being a teacher, of course) but out here in the streets, where people’s lives matter, fear is the only thing that works.
I won’t argue against that at all because if I am in a position where I need protection, I actually want the bad guy to be afraid of the good guy. But, I recently read a study by Daniel Pink where he found that giving incentives for compliance with certain laws was more effective than fines. He ran this study via a show called Crowd Control on National Geographic. In one scene, he shows drivers reactions when they were rewarded with $10 bills for driving under the speed limit. One recipient exclaimed, “They should do this more often!”
In another scene, he places flashing signs in an American city which note that people traveling under the speed limit would be eligible for a $100 cash prize. Speeding was reduced in that area by 1/3rd.
There are many studies that have been done extolling the idea that rewards work better than punitive measures. Yet, I hear from many executives and leaders that they feel a fear-based regime works best. They don’t want to have a group of “softies” that are always expecting you to feed them candy in order to do anything. So, they dock pay for coming in late. They don’t get chosen for specific programs or projects if they don’t happen to be lined up with the right person. They are not considered for bonuses or special projects if they don’t work more than a forty hour work week.
So what happens here? Do these methods really increase company/organizational results or do they simply encourage people to lie about what they are really doing? Do the people who aren’t considered for the “special projects” actually try harder or do they just figure that they are not with the IN crew and do “just enough?”
I’ve got three children and the truth is that on some level, I want them to do what I say simply because I say so. Let’s be real. It takes more effort to have them think and question and recognize WHY I want them to behave a certain way or the results that I would like to see. I have to answer more questions. I’ve got to “prove” myself sometimes. I’ve got to show that I’m “smart” and know what I’m talking about. I’ve got to admit that at some point, they may actually have an opinion. GASP! The trouble here is that when my children don’t happen to measure up to what I expect and might “punish” them for, they don’t often come asking me to teach them how to be better. They choose the option of hiding the evidence until I find out.
Is it possible this also happens in workplaces? Do people feel guilty about leaving “too early” or like they have to sneak out? Do people perform because they have bought in to the results that they can help bring? Or are they doing the minimum and just hoping to get a check? Are they giving you the real them or are they lying just to get by?
It may be time to re-visit the way that you lead your crew so that they can tell you the truth and maybe tell themselves the truth as well.