Beyond the carrot-on-a-stick approach

Engaging climate & collaborative structure

“Financial rewards provide motivation, especially to earn more money,” says Professor Koen Dewettinck. But there is more to motivating people than paying them money. How can you make them go the extra mile to realise your organisation’s objectives? Dewettinck argues the answer lies in the ability to cultivate an engaging work climate. How employees experience their jobs makes all the difference.

“You’re not paid to think – just do what’s on the job sheet” [Workshop foreman to worker]

Dewettinck: “A sense of meaningfulness motivates people to do a better job. There’s this glass recycling factory that organises group visits to its customers’ premises. Listening to people talk with passion about what they do with the recycled glass helps the factory’s conveyor belt workers to understand why the quality of the glass is so important. It makes their job of sorting bottles much more meaningful all of a sudden.”

“Suggestions take years to be considered and when they eventually are, they’re no longer your suggestions” [Team leader]

“If you want your employees to come up with ideas, you better take them seriously. That’s why a well-known major retailer promises to give feedback on any employee suggestion within 14 days; otherwise, it will be implemented anyway. Employees appreciate being given the autonomy to make suggestions and decisions. As a result, they’ll take responsibility in seeking solutions, which in turn enhances their skills and expertise. This statement also illustrates how important it is for employees to feel they have an impact.”

“45% of performance management systems focus on objectives rather than development” [Vlerick study]

“Managers have the best intentions to just tell their team what to do, not how to do it. Surprisingly enough, our research found that employees prefer a more balanced approach. The more you focus on the development side, i.e. how to do things, the more you can challenge people with regard to objectives, i.e. what to do. The best systems are those that strike a balance between development and objectives.”

“How should I show my appreciation for excellent work? Would a gift voucher be a good idea?” [Line manager]

“It’s important for people to feel they have an impact. Spontaneous recognition by their superiors reinforces that feeling. Should you introduce a formal reward system? Quite often formalising it will actually kill it. Sometimes a simple, heartfelt thank-you is enough to show you’ve noticed and appreciate what someone’s done.”

“Making mistakes is only human. I would just ask you to always tell me, so I can defend you.” [Manager to new employee]

“Fear has an adverse effect on performance. This manager has clearly understood the importance of creating a climate in which employees aren’t too afraid to admit mistakes. He’s even willing to defend his team, rather than shift the blame as some do. I suppose this manager is also prepared to admit his own mistakes, which is the best way to ensure his staff do too.”


Professor Dewettinck’s research analyses how employees experience their jobs, the systems developed by HR to influence behaviour and the effect these systems have on employee experience. This article is a taster of an in-depth discussion of how to create an engaging work climate in the forthcoming book he has co-authored: “Managing for Performance Excellence – Vlerick on High-Performing Organisations” (available in the book store beginning of May).

Beyond the carrot-on-a-stick approach

& Rankings

Equis Association of MBAs AACSB Financial Times Economist Intelligence Unit