Carrots and sticks don’t help bring about change in the law department

Co-authors of a thoughtful article write that “there is plenty of evidence from both clinical research and workplace observation that change efforts based on typical incentives and threats (the carrot and the stick) rarely succeed in the long run.” David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz, in “The Neuroscience of Leadership,” Strategy + Business, Summer 2006 at 73-4 write this. Law department managers take heed that a behaviorist style – punishment and reweard – is ineffective.

In contrast, the humanist movement believes that self-esteem, emotional needs, and values are levers to change behavior. Self-actualization is the goal. But in most law departments, this sustained, one-on-one effort takes too much time and might even lead to the self-actualized person quitting!. A humanist bent also places much emphasis on persuasion and consensus, which can be difficult to achieve where there is radical change underway.

In summary, the authors write that “Neither the behaviorist perspective nor the person-centric [humanist] approach has been sophisticated enough to provide a reliable method for producing lasting behavior change in intelligent, high-functioning workers, even when it’s in their own interests.” Neuroscience gives a better answer: attention over time.

The authors state that the brain physically changes when a person attends to something over time. For example, a lawyer who practices a specialty every day quite literally thinks differently, through different neural connections, than do people who don’t practice the specialty. They have physiological differences in their brain.

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