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Random thoughts from a random CTO.

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This is going to be another long post. I’ve had this and other ideas rattling around in my head for several years now, so I have a lot of ground to cover. If you’re just stopping in, you may want to check out Part 1 of this series and maybe the preamble too.

A while back, I was at a conference and the speaker referred to a management theory put forward by a psychologist named Frederick Herzberg in the 50s and 60s. His premise (called Two Factory Theory) is that in order to motivate people, an organization must consider both job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction and that the two factors are independent of each other.

In Hezberg’s words:

“The factors that lead to job satisfaction (and motivation) are separate and distinct from the factors that lead to job dissatisfaction. These two feelings are not opposites of each other. The opposite of job satisfaction is not job dissatisfaction, but, rather no job satisfaction; and similarly, the opposite of job dissatisfaction is not job satisfaction but no job dissatisfaction.”

As I was sitting in the conference, my mind was blown by this concept. After doing some more reading, it started to really mesh with my experiences and even some things that I hadn’t even consciously considered.

I had always believed that the best developers were not the ones that insisted on the highest salaries and that the best administrators and engineers were not the ones looking for the most solid retirement plan or health insurance. The best folks that I have ever worked with are the ones that are looking for more than just a salary, a title, a name on a resume.

So, if Herzberg was right (you already know my answer to that), then an organization must consider the following important factors:

How Can We Eliminate Job Dissatisfaction? (h3) I think of these things as extrinsic factors. Things like management style, company culture, amount of self determination, status etc. I don’t believe that there is a single utopian ideal of this. One person’s work paradise could potentially be another person’s nightmare. Certainly some of the factors can just be taken off the table. Salary is one of them. If you believe that you can’t afford to pay a competitive salary for technology employees, then you need to re-think your strategy. I’m not talking about shoveling money out the door, but if technology is a key part of your business, you must pay your people enough to support their families. If you disregard this advice, you will most definitely make up the difference paying for turnover.

Think about your culture and how it might affect technology employees. Is it conducive to this type of work? Can your people have silence when they need it? Can they meet together when they need to? Do they have the tools they need to be as effective as they possibly can be? It is the job of the team’s leader/manager/chieftain to facilitate, enable and block for the team as needed. They will see every day how hard you are working for them and how committed you are to making them succeed and will absolutely reciprocate.

How Can We Maximize Job Satisfaction? (h3) What does a technology worker consider satisfying? I read a very funny (funny because it’s true) post titled “How to Keep Crappy Programmers”. Most of the points he makes are extrinsic factors, but the last one is Make Them Build Crappy Software. Wanting to build something they can be proud of is a very intrinsic motivation; one that is shared by every single technology employee I have ever worked with. Technology people want to build great systems. Why would you invest so much in them and then task them with anything less? From a hard-boiled ROI standpoint, it makes no sense whatsoever. (For the record, so do the following: not buying them decent equipment, not giving them at least dual monitors, and filtering their internet access.)

How Much Value Does the Team Produce? (h3) A technology team costs a business a certain amount of money. Think of it monthly, annually, or whatever. You need to know what that number is at all times. Make sure you factor in salaries, benefits, capital and operating expenses relating to all of the things we’ve talked about so far. (Those second monitors aren’t free, you know.) Armed with that number, you must insure that whatever your team is working on produces more than that amount of value somewhere in the chain. Either reducing costs through efficiencies or directly increasing revenues, you can take your pick, but if you fail at this point, it won’t matter how great of a team you put together or how well you motivated them.

I hope this has given you some food for thought and I look forward to your comments. Next up, we’ll discuss Strategy and Support of your team.