How do you Motivate an Elf?

Things are getting a bit tight. It is the 22nd of December and Father Christmas and his bunch of elves are not on top of the situation. They are not even close. They have the backlog to end all backlogs:

  • Wishes have not been processed
  • Presents have not been made
  • Wrapping is at a stand still
  • Nobody has even considered rounding up the reindeer

Tempers are getting frayed, blame is being cast (what were the letter readers thinking?) and good will is categorically not being given to all men.

Fortunately Father Christmas has the answer

He knows full well how to motivate an elf… iPad Mini’s. Every elf’s dream present, after all, a standard iPad is just, well, too big.  Father Christmas “borrowed” a boat load of them in late November, he found them floating in the China Sea (now you know where they all are).

This, he figures, is exactly the time to use them. Notices are going up around the Winter Palace

Elves who exceed their daily wrapping quota for the next 2 days will receive an iPad Mini.

Job done he tells himself.  Panic over.  Solution found. Happy Christmas one and all.

Will your tree be surrounded by presents on Tuesday?

Are you feeling confident?  Will the iPads solve the problem?  Will the Elves set to and make all your wishes come true?

Let’s just think about it for a second. Father Christmas made a some assumptions about the situation, and they all need to be correct if the incentive is to work:

  • Daily wrapping quotas increase wrapping
  • The elves can meet those quotas
  • The elves won’t fiddle the figures
  • The elves have all the paper, Sellotape, scissors and string that they need
  • The elves are proficient with all that paper, Sellotape, scissors and string
  • The elves are on a go slow
  • The elves can (and need to) have extra speed coaxed out of them
  • Pushing wrapping will do no long-term damage to the elves delicate fingers
  • The elves are shallow, they really want iPads (not Kindles, those are for intellectuals)
  • The reindeer haven’t migrated south for winter
  • You can motivate an elf

If you were an elf, would it work for you?

I don’t believe in Father Christmas

Personally I have given up on Father Christmas, I think that list is at least one assumption too far.  I don’t think for one second he will be coming down my chimney with presents in 3 days time.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not saying Father Christmas doesn’t exist. Just that he couldn’t run a service operation to save his reputation.

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Unhappy Elf

The idea for this post came from The Leader’s Handbook by Peter Scholte

Image by angie M. photography


  1. Hello James

    I find myself in total agreement with you. It has so often occurred to me that there is a distinct lack of thinking in the world of business. Either that is because thinking is simply not called for in organisational life or people are not taught to think. Or it could be both.

    Put differently, it is only when we let go of platitudes and ask what would have to be true for this platitude to work out do we come face to face with thinking. Which is exactly what you have shown here!

    All the best.

    • James Lawther says:

      I think you are right Maz, much of management is a little like the practice of religion.

      We carry out rituals what we believe are right and that we have been taught are right without ever stopping to question them.



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