Carrot & Stick: that doesn’t work on Programmers!

'A raise might destroy their initiative. The good old carrot and stick bonus keeps them focused.'

Carrot & Stick – by definition “a policy of offering a combination of rewards and punishment to induce behaviour”, perhaps the oldest methodology for motivation in organisations doesn’t work for tech companies. There are many reasons for that, I will discuss them later. Any engineering solution just can’t follow this kind of rigid methodology to motivate their employees. Still, I can see many software companies following it blindly.

It was a great talk – ‘The Puzzle of Motivation‘ by Dan Pink. The quotes from the talk:

There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. And what worries me, as we stand here in the rubble of the economic collapse, is that too many organizations are making their decisions, their policies about talent and people, based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined,and rooted more in folklore than in science. And if we really want to get out of this economic mess, if we really want high performance on those definitional tasks of the 21st century, the solution is not to do more of the wrong things, to entice people with a sweeter carrot, or threaten them with a sharper stick.We need a whole new approach.

There are many reasons for the fact that carrot and stick approach doesn’t work on programmers. First, Good programmers just don’t work for ‘only’ money. They work because they are passionate about developing software, self-motivated and love to do their job. Shiny paychecks don’t always fulfil all the other things they want. Second, Programming is more than a job. Programming is not a mundane routine work. It is all about solving problems, art and craftsmanship, perhaps someone’s hobby or a passion. Programmers need the proper environment to think, brilliant people to surround by and good projects to keep themselves busy. Enticing with carrots does not address these problems. After all, It’s easy to find programmers. It’s hard to find good programmers.

So, to all the employers following it – that 19th-century old absurd approach absolutely doesn’t work on us and you are doing it all wrong!