the dangling carrot

Consider a goal. Imagine the goal was able to be completed in the desired amount of time. Or maybe, the completion date would be ahead of schedule and this would be much needed “r&r” time. How does that feel? Good right? The idea of success in this picture probably makes you want to achieve the imaged goal. The reciprocal, however, would be that the goal was nowhere near completion and no definite items on the action list completed. You may be cancelling a vacation to make a deadline or putting in longer hours that you are used to. Some may the light at the end of the tunnel as a hope, or a “carrot.”

Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick have even written a book, entitled, “The Carrot Principle.” Now, that book examines more about reward systems and engages talent. The contrary would be Alfie Kohn‘s, “Punished by Rewards.” The opposite is stated in this book. From my initial readings A+’s, Stickers, Star’s etc do more harm than good. We put the focus on getting the grade, or being number 1 vs. what it means to actually do it. We, as a geo-culture (there are exceptions),  focus more on the finishing line than the extended training to get there. However, this is really an age old battle of the science. Skinner or Pavlov? Do we shock them to results or build a system to reward them for results with expectations from both sides? My opinion is that we need to look at it as a business decision. We want to set goals, where we can. For example, let us say that you have a production workshop where you make those great items Peeps. (I could have picked anything but secretly I have a fascination / curiosity with how they are made – yucky cute sugared dipped marshmallows.) In this magical Peep Production there are two shifts, 1st and 2nd. This week you have received word that your customer is shorting orders. “INCREASE THE PRODUCTION!” Shouts the production plant planning teams. Let’s explore a couple of scenarios.

 As we explore there are a couple of terms that many people will not know.

  • Lean is the process of removing tangible and intangible waste in a process. How to work faster, smarter, with the same results. 
  • Efficiency is how well you are operating or doing, as compared to how you could be doing. If my machine is capable of making 100 Peeps per hour, and I only make 50, then I have a 50% efficiency. This number does not reflect the cost of making it, only machine capability. Cost would be linked, considering now that it is taking you twice as long to complete the task.

 Scenario 1: The demand is there – we need production. As the foreman (or supervisor, manager, boss etc.) you instruct your crews that we are in a grave crisis situation and need all the Peeps that are possible. The shifts start. Production continues to go on, and on, and on… Every case made is one that was needed. There is no end in sight. The crews are getting tired. They enjoy the pay check but never the time to spend it. The numbers are average, about 70-75% efficiency barring any real issues.

 Scenario 2: The demand is there – we need production. As the foreman (or supervisor, manager, boss etc.) you instruct your crews that we are in a grave crisis situation and need all the Peeps that are possible. So the schedules are placed with a 6 day work week with 500 cases per day, or 250 per shift if we were looking at it from a lean perspective 500 cases is enough to fill orders and create a safety stock.  The efficiencies are running higher than normal. The shifts are averaging 80-90% efficiency. Each shift looks at the schedule and runs half.

 Granted, in this example we are assuming the repeat-ability of the process. We are assuming predictability and sustainability. In your life, your business, or your home, you will need to make “what works best” work for you. Human form requires hope. Look at your current process or situation. Is there any incentive to continue the daily grind? This does not have to be the monthly office award for the “most (fill in the blank) completed.” That will simply single out one person, annoy the rest, and actually hinder your desired goals. The annoyed will soon become numb to the incentive program and only a few will continue to get that once sought after prize. Look at the scenarios above. A simple change in the thought process allowed for everyone to partake. The schedules were attainable in less than a full shift without the risk of quality.  The employees would produce the same quality of product (reference to lean) in less time and feel good about it.

Sometimes the grind and a paycheck are not enough to sustain a “quality of life.” Consider the bigger picture when you dangle the carrot or the employees will hunger for something else or the very rewards you are going for may be a hindrance. Humans need the light at the end of the tunnel – even if not meant as a reward. They need to know that if they give it their all, sweat relentlessly for extended periods of time – they can enjoy moments away from the normal.

Originally published 12/31/09

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