How to proactively motivate your developers

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If your business relies on developers for its success, you are worried about losing some of your best within the next year. If you are not, you should be, the turnover rate is surprisingly high.

In an industry where anyone of your employees can become a competitor with virtually zero cash investment, to begin with, you best find a way to build loyalty.

In a previous entry, we talked about some of the things that you may be doing to demotivate your developers and how to fix it. In this entry, we will be seeing how to be more proactive in motivating your tech workforce.

Build shared purpose

In 1995, Stephen Hawkings came up with a rather colorful description of the human race.

    The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies. We are so insignificant that I can't believe the whole universe exists for our benefit. That would be like saying that you would disappear if I closed my eyes.

The universe is large and for the most part doesn’t care about us. John Truant explains the concept further on his own blog. Crucially, he highlights the fact that we have to create meaning for our own lives.

Your greatest developers are acutely aware of how short life is. They want to do something meaningful with their life. Luckily, at this moment, they are working for your business, their passion and zest is thus available to you. Your task is to continually reflect the meaning of their work to them.

Are you providing medical care to the poorest of the poor? Take some of your techies to the ground. Are you streamlining government operations? Let your techies see the appreciation of your countrymen as they get service in minutes that would have taken weeks.

Let them make and own their decisions

Command and control as a strategy is just not feasible for a tech company.

Tim Hartford in his book Adapt: Why success starts with failure puts it beautifully.

    All you need are people with good judgement in other parts of their lives who care about you and will give you their honest opinion with no strings attached

Becoming a master software engineer is hard, even getting to a decent level requires a great amount of skill and effort. If on your staff you have someone who has achieved this status, they should get bonus points for resilience, patience and self-drive. In short, all the qualities you want in a good decision maker.

By providing only the higher objectives of the product or the business and letting the team hash it out. You will be pleasantly shocked at the novel ways that will come up with.

Provide time, space and resources to grow

I find it ironic that some companies will invest in expensive gaming equipment for the office but find conference costs to be wasteful. Even worse are organizations that give a ton of lip service to growth but provide no means of making this possible.

A while ago, I tried writing out an application using one of my favorite frameworks, Laravel. Shamefully, I no longer write as much code as I used to. The last time I wrote a production level app, Laravel was in version 5.2. At the time I was trying to write out my application, Laravel was at version 5.3. This should be easy peasy, right? Wrong! The entire framework had pretty much changed. Even the underlying language, PHP, has changed from PHP5 to PHP7! The migration doc qualifies as a mini-book!

The point is that technology tools and processes change really quickly. Thankfully the change is mostly for good. You want to harness this change to serve your customers better.

You must then provide your developers with the time they need to learn new technologies. As they are learning them, you must allow them the space to experiment.

In his book Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It Ian Leslie makes the point.

    A system will learn more of it explores more possibilities. But it will be more effective if it acts on the most likely one.

You want your developers exploring as many possibilities as possible.

Exploration is no cheap endeavour. It cost USD 13.25 billion to find the Higgs Boson, arguably the greatest discovery of our time. You can afford to factor in professional development in your budget.

How do you motivate developers in your own team? Talk to me on my twitter @jchex or in the comment section below.


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Software Project Manager