Carrots, Not Sticks

Editor’s Note: The color orange represents change. Think sunrises, sunsets, autumn leaves, monarch butterflies. (Google it, it’s a real thing!)

Recently when I was speaking to a group of talent development professionals, someone observed that the successful leaders I spoke about had painted positive opportunities of the future—not threats—to motivate change. They used carrots, not sticks.

Great observation.

When Dan Gilbert—the owner of a small but successful brick-and-mortar mortgage lending business—felt threatened by the internet, he didn’t tell his people “The internet is going to kill us, so we must change.” No. Instead he talked about how thousands of people in 50 states would come to use what would soon be (with the help of his people) a bustling website. He painted a picture of a company that would save money through the internet and would pour that money into marketing; their little company could become famous. Today, that little company is indeed famous: It’s Rocket Mortgage from Quicken Loans.

When the leaders at Pixar needed to cut costs 10 percent to stay competitive, they didn’t talk about going out of business if the change didn’t happen; they talked about making more movies with the same number of people. They engaged their people, and their people suggested a 40 percent cut in costs instead. People wanted to make even more movies!

At Travelocity, we didn’t talk about being commoditized as the growth in online travel began to peter out; we talked about becoming the customer’s champion, about serving our customers better so they could have even more life-enriching experiences. Our customer-first differentiation strategy was not only successful, but it lasted 15 years, until the pandemic, long after we leaders were gone.

The graveyards are filled with organizations that tried to use fear to motivate change, and there’s logic to it: First, most change efforts stem from threats to our organizations, and we fear these threats as leaders. Second, sales psychologists tell us fear is a great motivator as people consider moving to a new software or service; the cost of missing out (COMO) is useful.

But we leaders are not our people. And sales is not change.

I’ll let my friends in sales where black hats and carry black sticks (black is associated with fear) if they wish to (not all of them do). I’ll keep wearing orange shoes and eating lots of carrots (another orange thing!)…I’ll keep helping leaders find positive opportunities to tie to their change efforts, beyond the threats right in front of them!

Let me know what you think. I look forward to being in touch.

Al Comeaux

Primed for Change Community

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