The old carrot-and-stick model of motivation -- rewarding wins and punishing losses -- doesn’t work any longer, especially in innovative, tech-focused companies that require creative problem-solvers.
To many startup entrepreneurs and CEOs, employee satisfaction still remains a mystery. Sure, you want your employees to be happy, but how do you really manage that?
When trampolines, sleep pods and ping-pong tables don’t cut it, look elsewhere to motivate your developers. To reach the core of motivation, you must understand what else your developers want. Daniel Pink identifies autonomy, mastery and purpose as three intrinsic motivators for employees, especially those in creative roles.
Autonomy doesn’t mean letting your employees run wild. Give them some control over when, where and how they work. Trust that they know what environment will make them most productive.
Developers need opportunities to learn, improve and master their craft instead of remaining stagnant.
Finally, purpose helps developers see beyond their monitors, connect with the company vision and recognize the value of their work.
Now that you know how developers thrive, what else can you do to motivate them?
1. Share goals, not specs.
Developers are professional problem-solvers, not just solution implementers. Bring them into the problem-solving process. Time spent debating solutions will be minuscule compared to the gains in productivity. And let’s be honest: If your developers don’t buy into a solution, your customers probably won’t, either.
2. Build in flexibility and collaboration.
Rigid requirements and fixed timelines are nightmares to developers. As they look to change tech, markets and minds, unknowns pop up regularly. Holding on to fixed deadlines amid ever-changing requirements is asking for failure.
Consider implementing systems such as Scrum or agile that allow for flexibility in requirements, and adjust project timelines accordingly. This will give you realistic projections while still holding developers accountable for delivery.
3. Don’t hand developers other people’s messes.
A developer typically hates being handed someone else’s code, then being told to fix or expand it. If only minor work is needed and the old code isn’t a nightmare, sit down with your developer and explain the business goals behind the change. He or she will be much more willing to work on a revision.
4. Give them time to invest in themselves.
Ever-spinning hamster wheels can really weaken your team’s motivation. Show team members you want them to improve: Sponsor meet ups, send them to conferences, pay for extended education or budget time for side projects.
Developers enjoy hanging out with other developers and contributing to the communities they’re invested in, so reward them for their efforts. This will show strong return on investment in a very short time.
5. Organize cross-functional teams.
If you put just one developer on a project, he or she is likely to get burned out or feel unmotivated. Build small, cross-functional teams, and watch the creativity, collaboration and output flourish.
6. Involve your developers in company strategy.
Involvement with leadership, marketing, product strategy and other departments shows developers the bigger picture -- it creates a sense of ownership. Technology is the core of modern business. It’s about time developers were made part of the discussion.
7. Encourage dabbling.
Playing off the concept of mastery, developers love testing new tools, trying new frameworks and exploring their ideas. While time away from primary work might seem counterproductive, it actually encourages better work when developers are on the job.
8. Allow them to contribute code.
Let developers personally contribute to open-source frameworks and tools. Not only will this give them a sense of ownership, but it will also build your company’s reputation as a contributor. This can help generate business, build street credibility and attract new talent.
9. Let them see the impact of their work.
Define and track success metrics in your projects, and show developers the impact they’ve had -- they’ll feel good knowing they’ve made a difference.
By rolling these strategies into your startup, you’ll not only have happier employees, but you’ll also ship products faster, improve code quality and build long-lasting collaboration among your developers and the rest of your company.