The glorious 'threat/reward' model

We have witnessed this since our childhood. Right from our homes, to our schools, colleges, and finally in our jobs. The glorious ‘threat/reward’ model! As the name suggests, it’s an approach where a certain set of actions lead (or are known to lead) to a certain reward (candy, toys, perks, H1B, and of course “that-irresistible-promotion”). On the flipside, non-compliance to a given, pre-defined set of laid-out steps, leads to ‘threats’, or a consequence of those threats (read: no candy, no perks, …and..well, you get the point.)

One may ask, well, what’s wrong with rewarding a ‘good’ employee with some form of appreciation? Furthermore, what’s wrong with ‘tightening the noose’ of a non-performing one. The issue, as Gerald M Weinberg puts it*, is that such approaches fall in the purview of are what is known as the “linear model” — a model which expects only a certain set of actions under given situations. For example: an employee at X designation or Y role has to demonstrate at least a pre-defined set of N qualities. He further indicates that while such a model might work in situations that require repetitive tasks (for example, assembly-line work), they are not the best suited for situations that need or demand free thinking. For such situations, an “organic model” is more viable.
Organic model acknowledges the disparity of human behaviour, and their ability to perform in various situations, and uses the same to churn out empowered individuals. That is to say that an organic model, as against a linear model like threat/reward, emphasizes on what could be worked out mutually, rather than wasting time and energy on what could not.

Given the fast changing face of technology and options in the IT field, and as a consequence — requirement of people to embrace disruptions, it has become incumbent for leaders to realize the importance of moving away from linear and non-evolutionary models like threat/reward, and adopt the empowering organic models. An organic approach would embrace these technical disruptions and would encourage the people (including themselves) to think beyond the conventional, usually self-imposed, limits!

The perceived challenges of the limit of organic models as being non-quantifiable are only illusionary. If we seriously think about it, an evolutionary, well-thought-about development plan is all the more quantifiable, and has far-reaching benefits for both the individual, as well as organization. The threat/reward model, on the other hand, is myopic and impulsive, and thus, even though it might appear to be working in the short-term, since it’s not growth-oriented, is not a long-term sustenance approach.

*Get his amazing book on technical leadership — it’s one for keeps!

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