Thursday, September 11, 2014

DeMotivators: The Hidden Costs


What are they and why does it matter to me? Demotivators (DM's) are things that are said or done usually by management. They can strip morale off a highly performing worker, as fast as a solvent removes paint from a chair. When these things happen, an exceptional dev can be reduced to a problem child in a matter of moments. Worse still, demotivators are usually not something that is needed at all. Many times they are spur of the moment comments or actions that really serve no business purpose.

More often than not your top producers are affected far more by a DM than the less effective ones. Why is this you ask? There are many different theories, but I believe it is because one thing that really sets the rock stars apart from the rest is in fact: motivation. Take that away and they become "just a guy."
Think of a farm that is has been producing great harvests; a lot was likely invested to get it that way. What would happen if you inadvertently introduced pests of one sort or another? Your crop would likely become distressed; some of the harvest might begin to wither. Still worse it won't stop there, those pests will begin to spread, and if left untreated you could lose the entire crop.

One PM I know told me that he grew tired of worrying about everyone's "happy meter."  Instead he took the attitude that he did what he did and they did what they did and neither the two shall meet. I think he missed the boat; following the happy meter aka managing moral may be a leaders most important responsibility. The morale of the troops is a critical component in battle, a demoralized unit, no matter how well trained is set up for a route. The same applies to sports. Why wouldn’t it also be true in business?

In the end that PM found himself with a team of mediocre devs in senior roles and wondered why everything they produced was buggy and unstable. That is not to say that even the best of us don’t have bugs, on the contrary, all development has bugs no matter who develops it. The difference is the time it takes to develop, maintainability, and the overall quality of the product.

During my time as a PM I worked extremely hard to avoid DM's because in the end, my performance was directly related to that of my team. It simply was not in my best interest to have my best devs, going home and working on their resume (worse yet doing it at their desk). And lets not kid ourselves, that is usually their response.

It is my opinion, that demotivators should be avoided at nearly all costs. The costs of DM's to businesses are just too high (and there rarely is any return). From missed deadlines, to loss of organizational knowledge, to high turnover (a key indicator), nothing good comes from it. I have known many leaders that ignored morale, in the end, most end up with a team of morts and new hires. Don’t let this happen to you...

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