How to motivate developers?

Kasia Wolska on 4 July 2017

Motivation and results management

In a short questionnaire, we asked our developers to indicate which aspects are effective motivators. The most important aspects were: learning opportunities, bonuses and the overall attractiveness of a project. The experiment aimed at finding a balance between financial and non-financial motivators which many companies consider. Therefore, finding methods that would boost engagements, build a sense of community or accountability turned out to be a very interesting subject.

Managing employees’ results is related to individual motivations and competences which are subjected to external factors and change over time. Therefore, it is vital to watch over the condition of the team and undertake appropriate corrective actions. Managing developer team’s performance starts in the recruitment stage in which candidates’ skills and ambitions should be identified. This information is an intrinsic part of their development plan. The requirements, conditions and character of the cooperation should be established at the recruitment stage in order to eliminate conflict and potential costs related to employee loss.

Generally speaking, managing employees’ performance involves identifying concrete and recognizable objectives, monitoring and correcting them. Therefore, ongoing communication, individual meetings, employee assessments and retrospective meetings are a vital element of working with a team.

Google, Spotify and Quora are all a case in point.

How do the best work?

Google realizes that the employee’s sense of comfort influences their performance, therefore it operates with a number of solutions providing suitable conditions. A vital aspect of company culture is showing trust to employees by sharing any kind of information, e.g. A strategic presentation of the board, due to which a team receives a clear picture of the direction the company has taken and the steps that will follow, as well as a sense of recognition. Another essential aspect is information transparency between team members which is realized with various tools such as questions and answers forum, knowledge sharing portals, weekly meetings, assessment questionnaires or permanent feedback from managers. Google also provides their employees with flexibility in time management and choice of interesting projects.

An interesting solution incorporated by Spotify is flattening the structure and working in autonomous self-decisive units, called squads. Due to this arrangements, processes accelerate and solutions are worked on by the entire team. The sole idea of work is based on permanent learning, carrying out A/B tests and correcting actions which enables to choose the most efficient solutions.

Self Determination Theory – triple chance of success

The above mentioned examples reflect the incorporation of Self Determination Theory – taking advantage of three aspects as motivators: competence, autonomy and tasks relevance. In the case of highly-specialized positions the carrot and stick approach is ineffective in terms of boosting motivation. In case of work that requires creativity and outside-the-box thinking, methods which provide employees with freedom have proven to be the most efficient. It’s worth checking in what way the financial motivator influences performance. Despite the fact that most employees claim that bonus schemes are a big motivating factor, in specific conditions (according to studies) it may lead to work slowdown. It’s worth consulting a TED talk presentation by Dan Pink who elaborated on this matter

What motivates developers?

Taking advantage of internal motivators to drive action – identifying internal needs to boost performance is the manager’s task. Focusing on the three most important aspects of work, the following elements should be taken care of when managing performance:

  • Identifying developer’s competence and adjusting tasks accordingly
  • clear-cut indication of requirements and performance verification methods
  • providing appropriate work conditions (friendly atmosphere, sense of support, respect)
  • promotion opportunities – identifying objectives and development
  • work – life balance – providing balance
  • competitive salaries
  • extra benefits, e.g.. private health insurance
  • learning and development opportunities – trainings, Senior Developer support
  • stimulating creativity and contributions – brainstorming sessions, hackathon participation
  • clear communication – listening to the team and feedback sessions
  • providing conditions to boost innovation e.g. time and place flexibility
  • acceptance of employee ideas and justified assertiveness
  • standardizing project information among all team members
  • being an example for the employees
  • fun opportunities

Apart from motivators, it is important to take into account the factors which discourage from work:

  • lack of trust that the developer will do their job well
  • ordering tasks which do not suit the developer’s preferences
  • lack of time and space needed to focus on writing code
  • indicating the way a task should be done by the manager
  • swamping developers with administrative and management issues
  • too frequent deadline reminders
  • lack of communication (listening, interaction)
  • not setting the objectives and requirements

The need of constant learning, frequent changes, big requirements and high specialization in companies operating in technology branches force the management to adjust their behavior to the changing situation in a very dynamic way. It is vital to ensure soft skills and that right decisions are correlated with the company’s resources and the company management strategy. Employee market forces managers to create working conditions that would stimulate them. The transfer from ‘ What can the employee offer me?’ to ‘What can I offer to the employee to make his work more effective?’ is clearly visible. This approach provides software houses with benefits related to the quality of client solutions.

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