I just watched an interesting presentation from Dan Pink on The surprising science of motivation. Here he discusses the conventional ways to get productivity out of employees via carrot and stick mentality. Watch the video first (18min) so I don’t take the wind from his sails.

What I found interesting especially on refection of my earlier post Projects – Measuring success and providing boundaries, was how he related the 20th century management style to prescriptive roles. Prescriptive roles are roles where you can give very clear guidance on how to perform a task and boundaries of the role. Boundaries normally define measurable tasks with reward/punishment (carrot/stick) attached to the tasks. These can anything from simple things such as

  • If you work late the company will pay for pizza delivery
  • if the project comes in on time you get a bonus
  • if you meet your KPIs you get all of your bonus. Pessimistically viewed as: miss any of your KPIs and we will dock your pay.

However the interesting thing about prescriptive roles is that in the 21st century the game has changed. Any task that can be completed without a level of creativity, abstract thought or reasoning generally can be done:

  • cheaper by outsourced labour
  • faster by automation (mechanical or computer)

This affects the software industry massively. Outsourcing burst on to the scene at the turn of the century and appeared to be the Holy Grail for accountants across western civilisation. This also scared the hell out of any “computer guy” as how was he going to make the payments on his new sports car? Outsourcing was not all that is was cracked up to be with stories of low quality product and communication failures. Outsourcing seems to be making a small come back and I think that we will see this see-saw rock a little bit more before outsourcing becomes part of our day to day life. See the 4 hour working week for some great ideas on outsourcing your life.

Dan Pink discusses that the 20th Century style of carrot/stick management worked well with prescriptive roles. But we are in the 21st century now and I would like to think that any one reading this is not performing a prescriptive role. I would even argue that our role is to eliminate or automate what we can. Normally these things that can be eliminated or automated are prescriptive processes. Roles that add real value to any company do require creativity, problem solving, communication skills, building relationships etc. These things cannot (yet) be automated.

So moving from the production line 20th century to the service orientated 21st century we are seeing a shift from the role of management being one based around compliance (carrot/stick) to self managing, autonomous teams/employees. This is in line with what agile and lean concepts are trying to achieve. Creating a culture where

  1. autonomy
  2. mastery
  3. purpose

are values that are held dear, creates an amazing shift positivity of the team. Instead prescribing exactly what is to be done and creating a drone army (which could be replaced by outsourcing or automation), try setting clear expectations of the outcomes you want achieved and let the team go for it. This will give the team a sense of worth as you are touching on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by giving them a channel for creativity and problem solving, but probably more importantly a sense of respect and belonging. Obviously it doesn’t have to be a free-for-all, which would no doubt result in total failure, but simple things like burn down charts, daily stand-up’s can give ‘management’ visibility of progress.

So what can you do if you are not management?

I believe that people are attracted to like people. If you value and exercise principles like mastery, purpose, independence, interdependence then I think you will attract to companies where that is the culture. Easiest thing to do is trying for mastery. In the information age it is simple to learn new skills. Simple is not the same as Easy however. Finding the information on a subject is not the same as mastering it, so you have to jump in feet first and make mistakes. Ideally this is not on mission critical projects. I do a lot of mini projects at home to learn a new skill. Some companies like Google are now offering time at work to do this stuff. If your company does not offer this time, then you may want to consider your priorities and see if you can make time for self development. 30 minutes on the way to work, you can read 10 pages of a book. That should allow you around 1 book per month. If you drive/cycle to work, then maybe audio books or podcasts are for you. This is only one part of the path to mastery. You then need to distil the information you are collecting. At the end of a chapter, jot down some notes in your own words of what you just learnt. The act of distilling the information will help you understand it better. To further improve your understanding, actually do something that requires your new skill. Lastly to really see if you understand the skill, try teaching someone else the skill. This really shows you where you are weak still.

Next, start automating the prescriptive parts of your role. For C# guys this mainly done for us with tools like automated build servers and Resharper. If have not worn out our tab key then as a C# code you probably don’t use snippets/live templates enough. If you don’t have a little keyboard short cut for getting latest, building, running tests and checking in then automate it! If part of your role can’t be automated, try outsourcing it. It is amazing what people will do if you ask them nicely – “Excuse me Tony you don’t mind taking this mail to the mail room for me?”

Once you are on the track for mastery by creating some sort of self development routine*, you have automated or outsourced the prescriptive parts to your role, you can now concentrate on delivering value from your role. This is where purpose comes in. Ideally as you develop more skills, reduce drone work and start delivering more value from your role management may feel that you can have a level of autonomy. From their perspective giving you autonomy now is really just reducing their work load. If you constantly deliver value, management will naturally move away from compliance management to engagement.

S.M.A.R.T. goals

Projects – Measuring success and providing boundaries

*I try to read a minimum one book per month. I also try to keep up with my blog subscriptions but constantly have hundreds of unread post. As a guide apparently Bill Gates reads 3 books a weekend!