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Carrot or Stick: Motivating Your Team to Train

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In our final post of the series on Being an Effective IT Training Manager, we explore the ever-present question of how to best motivate individuals to train. 

Traditionally, the answer to motivation comes down to carrot or stick.

While there are arguments to be made for both approaches, consider employing both to be an effective IT training manager.

At the heart of every individual, there is a unique motivation that is inherent to that person, and utilizing only one of the methods in the carrot vs stick approach will limit the reach of your message across a team. Rather than taking an approach that only resonates with some and not all, let’s explore how to best combine the two!

Commitment vs. Compliance
At the core of the “stick” philosophy is an understanding of repercussions. It comes down to: “If I fail to achieve a certain goal, there is a resulting action — often undesirable — that occurs”.

As a result of this negative consequence, the hope of this method is that individuals choose to accomplish the goal to avoid the stick’s wrath. The result is often nothing more than compliance. They achieved the goal to avoid repercussions. With compliance, you fail to inspire the best performance from an individual and settle for the bare minimum. A clear understanding of repercussions is not an altogether bad thing, however, so let’s not scrap it entirely.

At the other end of the spectrum is the carrot approach, which employs reward as a method to motivate people toward the goal. Because most people like rewards, this approach is often very popular; do this and you get this! We covered this in Using Rewards to Boost Your Training Habits.

The goal here is to gain someone’s commitment through incentives, but risks are present when this is the only motivator — namely that not everyone cares about rewards and in time, you run the risk of building entitlement within the culture. 

So, let’s explore effective ways to combine the two and maximize your effectiveness as an IT training manager:

1. Set clear expectations. We’ve explored this topic in other posts this week and for our purposes, clear expectations should include a clear understanding of what may happen when goals are not met, as well as when they are met. 

For example, when a goal is not met, what is the resulting impact on the company, customer, team, and individual? Most people want to do well, especially when accountability to others is involved.

Articulating these impacts will often result in someone’s buy-in to do well while you’re also doing your job as a manager by effectively outlining expectations. It might also be useful to identify bad training habits, and suggest ways to fix them.

Articulating these impacts will often result in someone’s buy-in to do well while you’re also doing your job as a manager by effectively outlining expectations.

2. Identify the WIIFM. If you have not heard this acronym, it means What’s In It For Me, or why should I be interested in this goal outside of the potential inclusion of a stick or carrot? This is a great opportunity to communicate the benefits of training for the individual, their team, the customers they support, and the company as a whole.

There’s a clear science to positive habit loops for training.

3. Tailor your rewards to the individual. General incentives will not universally resonate with your team, but identifying unique ways to tailor rewards to the person is a great way to motivate and show that you value the individuality of the person.

At CBT Nuggets, our leadership team takes time to learn unique interests for each team member and leverages this information to show personalized appreciation for accomplishments. Take a page from our playbook for your organization!

The CBT Nuggets training manager talks about this approach in Training Management Tips from Nuggets HQ.

4. Check in often and clarify understanding. We’ve discussed in-depth, effective techniques for monitoring progress and communicating results. Some team members may struggle with their performance, but simply asking those team members about their training can help clarify expectations and provide guidance as they seek to achieve their goals.

A good manager is supportive by consistently checking in and equipping team members with resources, providing accountability for their performance, and setting clear training expectations.

We hope this series has been informative in getting started as an Effective IT Training Manager and we’d like to thank you for reading!

Does your organization have an effective way to manage training and motivate employees? If so, we’d love to hear some of your favorite techniques for future blog posts. Drop us a line at!


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