PM Articles > Carl Pritchard > A Whip, A Chair, A Carrot, A Stick, A Moment of Silence

A Whip, A Chair, A Carrot, A Stick, A Moment of Silence

By Carl Pritchard

I am living in the joy of the land of contractors. In the past month, I have dealt with all of the following in preparation for the sale of my home (so that I can move in to the house next door):

  • Construction contractor
  • Cleaning crew
  • Electrician
  • Plumber
  • Landscaper
  • Lawn crew (not the same as the landscaper)
  • Pond guy
  • Carpet installers
  • Painters
  • Interior designer
  • Shed installer (which is actually a thing now)
  • Telephone installer
  • Cable guy
  • And the kid in the neighborhood who made a quick $100 cleaning a LOT of gutters

And the award for BEST contractor goes to? The kid in the neighborhood who made a quick $100 cleaning a LOT of gutters.

As I thought through the realities of why this kid was so much more efficient, timely, effective, pleasant, engaged and RIGHT for the job, I also had to ponder why the other contractors were not so. Granted, the task was not one that required a lot of infrastructure or a massive skill set, but it was one that had some potential risks, one that seemed pretty unpleasant, and one that we hadn't found anyone else to tackle up to that point. The most interesting aspect of "Gutter Guy" was that he actually approached my wife as she had started the task and volunteered to help. No charge. He just didn't want her to strain herself on the task. He set himself apart in that moment. He had a genuine, altruistic motive behind the work he was going to do. He saw himself as a true angel. He recognized that he was going to add value, be a support system and be appreciated.

It's funny. We appreciate the new carpet, the new flooring, the phone line, the lighting, the pond, the patio, and the paint job. But only Gutter Guy really touched us with the altruism of his actions. Why? Because he began the relationship by identifying a clear need and tackling it exactly as we wanted it tackled.

At the other end of the spectrum was the phone installer. He missed the window for his scheduled visit, and began by marveling at how difficult the job was going to be and asking why we wanted a second phone line in the first place. He rationalized a dozen different reasons as to why he likely would be unable to accomplish the task, despite having years of experience, a bucket truck and an arsenal of tools and equipment that rival the most complete workbench one could imagine.

There's enormous leverage to be gained if we can infuse that sense of altruism in the people on our projects.

I thought about the reasons behind their respective motivations. Threats of punishment? (The proverbial whip and chair?) Rewards for the job (the carrot)? I believe their motivation is rooted in one simple thing -- Do they believe they will like themselves more when they finish the job? If yes, I can almost guarantee a higher level of performance. From the pond contractor (who loves his creation) to the interior designer (who believes in her vision), there's enormous leverage to be gained if we can infuse that sense in the people on our projects.

There are specific, learned steps that we can take to generate that sense in those around us. They include acknowledgment of altruism, appreciation for the skills we lack, and thoughtful reflection on meaningful accomplishment.

Acknowledgment of altruism

In our quotidian (day-to-day) existence, we all do good things. We go above and beyond. We take that one extra step to make a relationship, a deliverable, or an output just a little nicer than it otherwise might have been. Some managers believe (as one of my old bosses did) that that's just part of the job. Others take the time to recognize the acts of altruism for what they are. With genuine appreciation, we can encourage those who work with us to do repeat performances. We can solidify the notion that their special behavior is acknowledged and worthwhile. With a ready "Thank You!" we can look into the future and potentially find more team members engaging in the same, positive, behaviors.

Appreciation for the skills we lack

Part of that acknowledgment is pointing out where we are either incapable or less competent than those who are performing the skills involved. With my contractors, I have a favorite phrase when they ask if I want them to do something or if I would rather tackle that myself. My response? "I'd rather leave that in the hands of skilled professionals. And that would not be me." It's odd how infrequently we recognize and appreciate the very specific skill sets involved in tasks that might look layman-ready. While almost everyone believes that they can paint a room, very few can do it with the efficacy of a skilled painting pro.

Thoughtful reflection on meaningful accomplishment

A moment of silence for the newly painted wall, please. Ponder it. Study it. Then provide solid evidence as to why the job is well done. When team members finish a piece of work, there's often a temptation to thank in haste. Too often, it goes like this:

I got the three modules written, says the developer.

Great. Good work. When's the fourth coming? says the project manager.

A much better answer would have been:

"Can you pull up the screens? I'd really like to see what you've done. (30 seconds of silence to examine content). This looks really elegant, Pat, I particularly like the way you tackled the 3LS problem. I didn't know how you were going to get through that."

Yes, it takes a little more time in an otherwise crazy busy day. But it's a few seconds phenomenally well-invested. Earlier, I posited that real efficiency is borne out of their answer to the question: Will I like myself more when I finish the job? We drive that answer. And if we drive it to "yes," everyone comes out ahead.

Carl Pritchard hopes that his summer will no longer be the land of contractors by the time you read this. But either way (unless they cut the power and the Internet cable), he's honored to respond to your e-mails to

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