Thoughts on Employment: Understand that People are Motivated Differently

Header Photo Credit: Lorenzo Cafaro (Creative Commons Zero License)

This posting is part of my “Thoughts on Employment” series, detailing some lessons learned and general musings from my career as a software developer on what an employer can do to provide an effective, productive and attractive work environment for highly effective software development teams. For an introduction to the series and an index of postings in the series, please read my introduction post.

The worst mistake good managers make, in my opinion, is treating each of their reportees in the same way.  As a manager, or someone in any kind of leadership position, you have to understand that everyone's different when it comes to how they like to be managed, how they communicate and and what motivates them.  There are, however, some general commonalities that can be applied based on a person's personality type.

For me, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) works well for understanding peoples preference for communication, motivation, preferred work environments, etc.  If you lead people and don't know about MBTI, or one of it's peers, stop reading this article now and spend the next week learning about MBTI.  I suggest these workbooks to help:

Introduction to Type® in Organizations Introduction to Type® and Coaching

Understanding that an INTJ (that’s me) needs to think about a question before providing an answer can help keep a health relationship.  For instance, if you’re going to discuss a particular issue or technical challenge in a meeting, send out an agenda the day before with details about the issue being discussed.  This will allow the INTJ and other types to be thinking about the solution in the background and come prepared to share their thoughts in the meeting.  If you just ask those same people for their thoughts during the meeting, you’ll likely get dead air.  On the other hand, some other types will work best with off-the-cuff conversations and will likely just ignore the agenda email altogether.  Another example: always provide an INTJ a copy of their performance evaluations ahead of time to allow them to review it before having a meeting with their manager.

For motivation, there are many, many things that motivate different people, from monetary compensation to public praise to small gifts.  The things is, what motivates some will be a de-motivator for others.  For example, I react well to public praise, but only to a point. For instance, if you ask me to stand up in front of the whole company while you read off a letter of praise, I will not like that – but if you were to just read that same letter while allowing me to sit in my chair in the back of the room, it’d go much better for me. 

Along those same lines, understand that there isn't one career path that's appropriate for everyone, especially in the technical industry.  West Monroe had this figured out, on paper at least, and had three distinct career paths once you reached more senior levels (early in your career, you really don't have enough experience to differentiate on these paths):

This is your "people manager"/"project manager" position, and what most companies consider a "manager". They focus on client service delivery.
This is someone who has deep expertise in a field.  For technical teams, this is your expert DBA or subject matter expert on object relational mapping, etc.  In Microsoft land, this is your "technical evangelist" or MVP.
This is someone who has broad expertise across a large set of fields. For technical teams, this is your typical "architect" and they oversee the technical delivery of the product.