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the evenings out here - Thoughts, rants and musings about absolutely everything except photography. Or cats.

Motivation by ownership

in General Rants , Thursday, March 23, 2006

You have to be careful about what you write these days. I mean anybody can read this stuff, including the people who can decide if I remain in gainful employment. If I started going on about any sort of real world frustration or annoyance, it could get me into big trouble, as is well documented. Your life belongs to The Man. Of course, some people get away with it. Anyway, all this is to say that this post is NOT ABOUT ANYWHERE IN PARTICULAR. Any ressemblance to workplaces, large companies, and anything else whatsoever is totally coincidental. Where was I ? Oh yes: motivation. This comes up because many people in IT companies have talked to me about being unmotivated, over many years, both as peers and as people I managed. I've noticed it gets worse in large companies. Of course it could all be to do with the lack of empowerment in large companies, the politics, the "swimming in treacle" feeling you get when you actually try to accomplish something new. But in case of people involved in producing software products, I think it has more to do with something close to the heart of usability professionals: contact with users. Most people need to get a sense of value out of their daily life. After all, if you spend 8-10 hours a day sitting in front of a PC, you need to get some kind of payback above and beyond a trickle of money. You need job satisfaction. In my opinion, job satisfaction for software engineers is greatly increased when they see that the products they are working on are sold / used / valued by real end-users. I've found that just a brief exchange with a satisfied end-user brings huge encouragement and motivation to software engineers (and other team members), and the benefits to the company are quite measurable. People get fired up to improve the product, they generate new ideas, they get involved at stages which are maybe outside of their strict job description (requirements analysis, testing, usability). Basically, they build up a sense of ownership. The enthusiasm is actually sometimes a bit difficult to harness for managers, but only a very poor manager would find it a serious problem. In some organisational structures, there are so many layers of middle management squabbling over irrelevancies and jealously blocking any contact that the creative staff end up feeling so isolated that they just don't care anymore. When that starts happening, it's time to take serious note. Things move slowly in big companies, and a problem ignored today might only surface in 10 year's time. But a bit like climate change, once it starts, it is pretty hard to reverse. As I said, I'm not thinking of any particular company here (honest, really), but there is a movement towards employee empowerment, and hierarchy trimming, through mechanisms such as internal blogs, and the companies today that ignore these trends and dismiss them as "not for serious companies" may find themselves a bit further down the line in serious trouble.