What Makes People Happy

There is a great talk by Dan Ariely on TED where he talks about what motivates people to work.

The simplistic view is that motivation = money. This isn’t always the case, but it seems to be what a lot of people think. The term “You’re getting paid good money to…”

This isn’t always the case, Dan goes through several experiments with psychology students to check out the findings.

What he found is that the more meaning you have for your work, the more you will love it, and be more productive.

He also looked into other methods of motivation. How we feel if our work is not acknowledged or ignored completely. He found that ignoring work gave the worker the same amount of de-motivation as if you destroyed the work in front of them. Simply acknowledging the work, i.e. Saying “Good Job” can significantly increase a persons motivation.

At the end of the talk, Dan goes through that motivation is money, meaning, creation, challenge, ownership, identity, pride etc.

This ties in with the book “Lean Thinking, bu Womack and Jones”  Pg 65 of the first edition talks about what makes a person happy.

  • A Clear objective.
  • A need for concentration so intense that no attention is left over.
  • A lack of interruption and distractions
  • Clear and immediate feedback on progress towards an objective
  • A sense of challenge.
  • The perception that ones skills is adequate, but just adequate to cope with the task at hand.

This makes sense. Have you ever been in the “zone” while developing. Time seems to fly by, you get a lot done, but don’t know where the time went.

This is what I like about Agile. You have a plan, clear objectives that you have worked out with the product owner. Using Specifications by Example/BDD techniques, you understand what you need to accomplish. You work in a small dedicated team of professionals, any interruption is on task. you also get feedback quickly. With the short iterations of scrum, you get feedback fairly regularly and you can implement that feedback. 

Then you have the opposite, which despite best intentions, I see in traditional Command and Control organizations.

The following has been taken from a talk by John Willis and Damon Edwards from the DOES 2016 conference with my own explanations.

The recipe for burnout

  • Work Overload – Have you ever been on a death march project. Too many tasks on your plate you feel overwhemed or even just ridiculous deadlines. 
  • Lack Of Control – Having multiple bosses telling you to what to do, therefore context switching all the time. Inability to do tasks the way you want to. For example, not allowed to improve but must follow a process.
  • Insufficient Rewards – As we mentioned above from Dan’s talks, even just a simple acknowledgement can go far. But having them too few and far between can do wonders to demotivate.
  • Breakdown of Community – Basically having a non supporting work environment. You would like to try different things (but still get you work done) but no, you can’t because your boss doesn’t like it. You want to try TDD, but told “No” it doesn’t work. Sigh.
  • A sense of Fairness – Your view is consistently not taken on board, or worse still dismissed. Someone else comes up with the same thing, and then it’s implemented.
  • Value Conflcts – A mismatch between the organizations values and individuals. For example, the organization is Waterfall, but you want to try Agile.

 To put it simply, you don’t need significantly high renumeration to keep your people happy. Just give them enough challenging work and get them involved. Acknowledge what work they do do, whether used or not, so long as it’s generally relevant or with good intentions. Help them guide their own destiny. Give them the ability to explore, with full backing, but keep them on point. Give them a goal to strive towards whatever way they wish to try. There will be constraints, but removing as many constraints as possible and giving them some freedom. I like the concept from “The Toyota Way” where Toyota builds everyone up to be a leader. Not just the chosen few. 
Finally, inspire your people. Inspire your colleagues and avoid situations of burnout. It is not a badge of honor.  

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