Radically Honest Blog

How to Motivate Team by Removing Stuff

Tons of books and posts out there would tell you how to “motivate your employees.” The belief that managers must motivate is shared widely. People really believe that any company should have a motivational program and policy. This all relies on a conviction that one needs to do certain things to boost other’s extrinsic motivation.

Well, I think this approach to employee engagement is rubbish. To motivate employees, you need to not do certain things. You see, intrinsic motivation is beyond our reach, and extrinsic motivation is extremely hard to boost—but it’s really easy to kill motivation.

So I try to motivate people by not doing bullshit things.

Get rid of unskilled developers

Unskilled developers (who don’t have the intention to become skilled) rapidly reduce the motivation of the rest of the team. They are annoying the rest of the staff. Nobody likes assigning tasks to them, checking their code, or including them in a team project. Bad developers are not trusted. They destroy the work environment from within, introducing practices like “it will do for now,” “I’ll use an old skill instead of learning a new skill,” “that works on my machine,” and “I’ll fix it later.”

To keep employees motivated and employee satisfaction high, don’t hire unskilled developers who don’t want to learn. They act like wet leaves thrown into a fire: make lots of smoke but no burning.

Eliminate stupid practices

Any practice or process in a company must have a logical explanation. People need a reason to believe these practices make sense.

Say, time tracking—why do we do that? Why do we want to know exactly how long Jane was working today? What if her productivity wasn’t particularly peaking today, and she wants to leave half an hour earlier? Should she lie and log 8 hours, or honestly log 7.5 and then explain it to the manager? How will we then use this information for our motivation strategy? Does anyone feel better from the realization that Jane has worked, say, 6 hours less this month? Can this be used as an extra incentive? And so, the time-tracking practice does not pass my “bullshit test”—it reduces employee motivation.

Or take the requirement to be at work at 9 am. Why at 9? What if a staff member wakes up at 10 and only becomes productive by 11-ish? Why go against nature and make them sit and stare at the monitor for these two stupid hours? Curiously, no one really minds if John makes extra hours in the evening, huh? This asymmetry is unclear. And so, the practice of a fixed working day for developers has no logical explanation and is some bullshit for a workplace.

I could go on and on listing stupid practices that successfully exist and demotivate people in companies around the world. Most of these practices result from the following problem.

Eliminate mistrust

Nothing lowers intrinsic motivation as quickly as mistrust does. If a person isn’t trusted, then why should they be inspired to do anything? They might just pop up in the office, do some stuff, leave in the evening and not think about their work beyond working times. Normally, not thinking about their work is hard for developers. But when they’re not trusted, they’ll develop the skill of dropping complicated problems the moment they leave the office building.

Loads of experiments show that trust leads to increased motivation and productivity. When you get rid of vacation restrictions, people magically take fewer days off. Removing travel expense restrictions results in lower travel expenses. Getting rid of time tracking will most likely lead to employees working harder.

I am often asked (seriously though!) how to motivate people. You don’t need to. Just don’t demotivate them.

Yes, it’s that simple. 🖖

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