03 Nov 2020 19:40 IST

Motivating employees beyond the carrot and stick approach

Managers must instil a sense of purpose and remind employees of their larger role in the company, says ITC Head

Though many companies follow the carrot and stick approach for motivation, what essentially drives performance are three things — autonomy, mastery and purpose, said Raghuraman Ramakrishnan, Head-Supply Chain Strategies, ITC Ltd, quoting from the book, ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth about what Motivates us’ authored by Daniel H Pink.




Autonomy is the freedom to do what people want to do. Mastery is getting a firm grip on what one does, learning new skills, and exploring ways to expand one’s boundary. When employees are able to attach a larger purpose to the job, the work they do will no longer be drudgery.

Speaking in a webinar organised by Madras Management Association in partnership with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung on the theme, ‘Insights into Unlocking Human Potential from a Non-HR Manager,’ under the Leaders Speak series by Pond’s veterans, Raghuraman stressed on the need to motivate workers who are in the lower rungs of Maslow’s need hierarchy, driven predominantly by their physiological and safety needs.


Raghuraman Ramakrishnan, Head-Supply Chain Strategies, ITC Ltd


“If we unlock their potential, it will create economic well-being of the nation, propel us towards $5 trillion economy and support the Make in India campaign. It will also bring meaning to their lives, and in fact, it is a once-in-a-life opportunity for all our leaders,” he said, and lamented that most of the motivational programmes target only the middle and senior levels of management and leave out the workers.

He gave five lessons to unlock human potential in organisations and gave examples from his experience in Pond’s and other organisations that he served. The lessons are based on the premise that the right person must be recruited for the right job and that nobody wants to join a company for creating trouble. Due to lack of motivation, many lose steam in their jobs. Here are the five ways to keep your employees motivated and help them unleash their full potential:


The leader must envision a purpose and keep it alive. The purpose must be communicated to the employees and they must be made to feel that they are a part of the purpose. Safe operation was a purpose in Pond’s. On 16 July 2004, there was a terrible fire accident in a Kumbakonam school and 94 children lost their lives. The accident shook the entire nation.

The workers in Pond’s too were all mentally disturbed and worried about the safety of their own children. The management understood their plight and organised a safety meeting. The workers were divided into groups and each group was asked to do safety audits in the schools where their children studied. They gave their recommendations to the school managements who welcomed the initiative.

This assignment was not part of the workers’ KPI but they gained a deep understanding of their organisational role. They integrated safety in their workplace without the need for any prodding from the higher management.

Power of self-worth

Each of us wants to be worthy and valuable. Employees may not be perfect but they want to contribute. When their sense of self-worth is acknowledged by a leader, they warm up to the environment better. In a factory, one of the workers did only one thing right and that too was non-work related. He made rangolis with passion. The management identified his passion, encouraged, and motivated him to be a good performer through his rangolis.

In Pond’s, when the company decided to produce talcum powder in 20gm sachet packs, it proved to be an engineering challenge because making a line to do 20gm sachets in the midst of higher volume packaging was not viable. A team of workmen took up the challenge and came out with an engineering solution and helped the company in creating a new business segment. They demonstrated their self-worth and sense of purpose.

Human conscience, the best of HR policies

We may have many volumes of documented HR policies but the best HR policy is the human conscience.

If we look at the discipline versus autonomy matrix, when leaders start with giving high autonomy to employees while having low discipline, they don’t get the results. So they switch to high discipline and low autonomy. This too does not work and they drift to low on both autonomy and discipline. But the sweet spot is the quadrant where they have both discipline and autonomy equally high. Exception handling is also very important.

20-60-20 rule

In any organisation, 20 per cent of the people are good performers (A-listers) and another 20 per cent are poor performers. The rest 60 per cent are average performers. When leaders take over, they must begin their journey by reinforcing the a-listers through purposeful communication. This act will motivate all the others to deliver better performance.

Little acts of kindness

Instead of looking for big things, just do small things with great love. This will strengthen the worker performance. Treat the factory as a community. Organise a family day where employees and their family members can meet.

When a worker retired after putting in 40 years of sincere work, he was asked to address the organisation on the lessons that he learnt in those 40 years. He proudly shared his lessons. It not only delighted him but also greatly motivated his co-workers.

(The author is a freelance writer based in Chennai, a corporate trainer, and a visiting faculty for various B-Schools.)