Trophy or Dunce cap?

dunce cap

Which inspires you more, the chance to win a trophy, or the threat of having to wear a dunce cap?

I have seen both used in the office as a means to motivate people toward a particular behavior.

For many years, I ran teams responsible for network operations. As you know, when the network goes down, everything comes to a grinding halt. Printers don’t print, files don’t load, and email doesn’t send. In my experience, the most likely cause of the biggest network outages was human error. Yes, equipment fails.  But, the impact of a single piece of equipment failing in a well-designed network is typically a minor inconvenience when compared to the breadth of what a person typing a command wrong can do to the overall system.

How to address this?  Trophy or dunce cap?

One particular team started a practice of “donut violations.”  If an individual did something that caused a network outage, that person was responsible for bringing donuts the next day as punishment. While this had an element of fun, it did not reduce the number of outages. In fact, in some cases, people started hoping someone else on the team would make a mistake so they could have donuts. Clearly not what we had intended.

We changed this model to make the donuts a reward, a trophy, for NOT causing outages. We started a 30-day clock. If the team made it to the end of 30 days without an outage, management was responsible for bringing the donuts. This had the impact of rallying the team together toward a common goal. Not only would they get donuts, but their managers had to buy them.

Are you using a dunce cap to get a particular result? Is it working? If not, is there a way you can turn that around to become a trophy instead?