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Getting Apps Done

Motivating a Development Team: Investment and Candybars

January 29, 2019

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Part 2 of 4 of our series on motivation!. Joshua and Kellen talk about team member investment, candybars and bricks? We look at what does and doesn’t make a team feel invested in the work they’re doing.

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  • 00:02 Joshua

    Welcome to Getting Apps Done, a mostly nontechnical podcast with the goal of helping you deliver software, because if you didn't ship it, it didn't happen.

  • 00:17 Joshua

    Hey folks. So last episode we started to talk about motivation and why employees in general, but specifically talking about development teams may not be motivated or, or may be motivated and why they are one way or the other and how to get them to be motivated because obviously we want to motivate a team working for us because they're going to do better work. Uh, so we wanted to carry on with that theme and start to talk about the investment somebody feels in what they're doing and how that affects the work that they do do for you.

  • 00:53 Kellen

    That sounds about right. We promised them actual, like, actual advice this time since last time that we, kind of, just, you know, intro'd the topic.

  • 01:03 Joshua

    Agreed. I think this time we're going to dig in a little bit more and start to talk about real tactics and things that you can do to help people feel like they're invested in what they're doing or talking about lack of motivation and why people have a lack of motivation, how to get them to be more motivated and one of the things I think is actually really important is feeling like you actually have a reason to want to do the job, not just to show up and get a paycheck. And well, we're not necessarily talking about your rewards after five years of being invested. It's actually how are you continually reinvesting into this and feeling like you're getting something out of it.

  • 01:45 Kellen

    Yeah, and I think that's kind of the key there is both your own effort being invested into whatever it is that you're working, but also that payoff at the end because it's got like a video game, right? You put in your time and effort and you get the little awards and the golden little shiny award badges, but it's kind of a similar concept that you do need to pay off, you have to get, your effort has to turn into something

  • 02:08 Joshua

    And it should be a continual thing. It's not just you have to invest for so much time before you get something back. It should be immediate feedback. There should be reward in what you're doing, if at all possible.

  • 02:18 Kellen

    Absolutely, and I mean that's something they teach you in like, you know, intro to management, right? You're supposed to give feedback. You're supposed to, kind of a continuous feedback loop with your employees to help them feel like they're actually getting pay off from their effort, that they are getting better, that they're, that they're moving along a path and not just kind of smashing themselves into a wall over and over again,

  • 02:41 Joshua

    And the reason you want people to feel invested, it's not just because they're going to get this payoff, but the reality is, and don't get me wrong, I think people should work hard whether they care about what they're doing or not, but the reality is people don't work that way. People will work harder if they care about something, so it's not necessarily a negative, particularly if you're giving them a reason to care about it, it's actually a huge positive because when it comes down to it, we work harder and more efficiently and you know, just downright better when we actually care about what we're doing. So if we can generate an environment that allows for that, or even promotes that, then you're building in that sort of thing into your business straight away.

  • 03:26 Joshua

    So we know we want to give people a reason to care, because obviously they're going to do a better job. They're going to be more invested, which is what we're looking for, and they're going to be more motivated. They're going to be better workers for us. So a few reasons that or a few ways that you can help people, particularly developers or designers or people who create things, creators we'll call them, money isn't always the answer here. What they're actually looking for is a challenge to looking to get ownership of something, to do something that they're really proud of in the first place.

  • 04:02 Kellen

    I would argue, you just mentioned the nonmonetary, but that's actually something I've heard a lot is that the money isn't really the key driver at all. It's definitely: Do they want to build the thing? Do they want to create the thing? Do they want to grow their own skills so it's. It's much better to motivate from a different angle than trying to pay somebody to be motivated. Like you can pay them to show up. You can't really pay them to be invested in whatever project it is that they're working on.

  • 04:29 Joshua

    Well, I imagine if they pay enough, maybe, but the reality is, I can go get money anywhere. Money can come from any source. I could go sell bricks on the sidewalk and eventually somebody is going to give me some money, but I don't care about bricks in the slightest other than they keep my house together. I like that and they keep the wind and the cold out. That's great, but in general it's not something that I really get excited about. I don't wake up in the morning and think "I love bricks! I want to go sell some bricks!" I wake up in the morning and I think I want to design, build and deliver really great applications and anybody who gives me the opportunity to do that and to build things that I'm proud of, I'm going to work harder for them because they're giving me something I care about. It has nothing to do with the money it has to do with my fulfillment in my day.

  • 05:16 Kellen

    Absolutely. And you'll see even when people who are motivated a lot by money will not be by the dollar signs by any stretch, but the goals that they're trying to achieve, kind of unrelated to your company.

  • 05:28 Joshua

    Oh yeah. It might be they're going to go to Spain or whatever it is. Yeah.

  • 05:31 Kellen

    Exactly. Which, and that's, you know, and that's obviously a different motivation and you know, we talk about the motivation of investing into your job and so those are, kind of, the other types of motivation that we'll get into later, kind of the outside ones.

  • 05:45 Joshua

    Well, those outside goals are things that you can actually pick up and take advantage of as well. If you do know that your employee is a really great developer and they want to save up their money to go to Spain, help them! Send them Spain! Find a way to integrate that in what they're doing and if they're developing software for you in Spain for a month, they're going to absolutely love you. They're going to do a great job and when they come back, they're going to be refreshed. They're gonna learn new things. And that's really what we want. We want employees who are developing themselves and getting better at what they do and love us for how we support them in doing that.

  • 06:17 Kellen

    Oh, that's a great callback to our previous podcasts about working remote. That's, that is a way of being invested in your company in general. Not just the projects, but being able to work from remote locations kind of gives you a kind of a side goal. You know, you can go "here" and build these great things. So it definitely can help you. Maybe not motivated for an individual project, but motivated for the company as invested into the entirety of the company.

  • 06:43 Joshua

    Most definitely. I can tell you right now that that is probably the single largest reason I've been with the company I'm with for so long, because they allow me to work from home. They give me that flexibility. They don't give me more money. I don't necessarily care about the money. I do like money, don't get me wrong. I like money, but it's not. I use money to fuel my goals, but my biggest thing is I like to have that flexibility. I like to be able to go do things with my family. I like to, when it's a bad day, just be able to pick up, grab my camera, hop on the bike, cycle for two hours and take some nice pictures or whatever it may be. That keeps me going and helps me stay motivated and they allow for that and that builds loyalty.

  • 07:26 Kellen

    Yeah. That's kind of, one thing we didn't, that we'll probably end up mentioning throughout this thing, but there is a kind of a peak motivation, like at some point when you, when you're really motivated on a project, you dig in deep, you put on your headphones or your lock of yourself in an office or whatever your way of focusing is, and you get really into a project and you plow through it, and you can get all of this work done. But that's a lot of stress actually. That's something that requires a lot of effort on your own part. So you will find out that the more motivated somebody is, the more they're also going to need breaks. Um, and so being able to go outside and go for a cycle or a run or whatever, it is that kinda like "tunes you out" for a little bit is, is very helpful.

  • 08:05 Joshua

    I hadn't even considered that, but that one is absolutely true. I mean the reality is motivation comes in bursts. Nobody's always motivated all the time, but if you feel invested and if the company, and you feel like the company's invested in you as well and allows you to have that downtime when you need it because you just went all out for two weeks straight and delivered a whole bunch of stuff for them. The next time they say, actually we needed to go all out for two weeks straight. You're going to think, "okay, well, you know what? That's like, yeah, I can do that." It's not necessarily going to be great, but it's going to be fine. I'm going to be great because after, were they going to give me that break or give me what I need to recover from that so that I can stay in this mode regularly.

  • 08:46 Kellen

    And the absolute best way of like what you just described is preferably the, the team, the person themselves is actually the one almost volunteering for that two week stretch. Like they can see the problem. They are, uh, they have ownership of this problem so they know that it's going to require crunch time. They know that they're going to have to put in a little bit more extra effort here, but they also should be comfortable and know that you're as an employer will give them time to kind of distress after that, to know that, yeah, they're going to crunch, they're going to get it done, and then yeah, then I'm going to have to give them a day or two to chill and that's a very important part to that, that they have a bit of a bit of a stress relief time as after the crunch, but also that they chose to do the crunch themselves. No one likes to be forced to work weekends.

  • 09:30 Joshua

    Well, that's what we want out of motivation anyway is we want them to feel invested to the stage that they are kind of self managing and they're deciding these things for you. You don't have to go tell them, hey, we need you to work two weeks in a row. They immediately know, okay, we've got a gap here. Somebody needs to fill it. I can fill it. I'm going to take care of that because I'm really good at that and I can take care of that. That's exactly what we want out of all of this. We're getting them motivated because that's what we need. We want them taking advantage of these things and filling the gaps and filling needs in the company and doing these things because they feel like that's what they do. That's just what I do. I get on with this and I sorted out and then the company will take care of me later.

  • 10:12 Kellen

    And that, yeah, that is exactly the best case scenario. So, the one thing with this style of motivation, keep in mind that they're not, your employees not necessarily going to do exactly what you tell them to do. And preferably you're not really going to tell them to do much other than general directions, general constraints on their job. Like, you know, you have to, you have to solve these problems, but how you go about it isn't that important. But that also means the employees are going to come back and they're going to have the wrong answer, they're going to have an odd answer, they're going to have unexpected answers to these solutions, to these problems and you have to be prepared for that. So that's part of the tradeoff of having a really motivated employee is that they're going to come back with kind of strange and interesting solutions to problems. I know I definitely did when I first started as a developer, but you give them chances to do it over again and they learn and they grow and they will grow much faster because of those failures than they would have otherwise. And they're not even necessarily failures. You'll just be unexpected sometimes.

  • 11:14 Joshua

    That's another way to help them feel invested as well, because if you give them time to experiment, first off, as you say, they're learning and they're growing and that's actually investment straight back into them. They know. Let's face it, not all employees are gonna stick around forever. And all employees, well maybe not all employees, but most employees, are thinking about how what they do is affecting their career possibilities because even if they do feel completely loyal to the company, I've certainly worked for companies where I felt really loyal, but at some stage of the company had to downsize or one case moved from St Louis to Anaheim and I didn't want to go to Anaheim. So there was no choice whether I like the company or not. I wasn't going to Anaheim and

  • 11:57 Kellen

    They wanted me to go to Detroit.

  • 12:00 Joshua

    I'm not sure which is worse. St Louis to Detroit.

  • 12:05 Kellen

    I'm not sure if that's an upgrade or downgrade.

  • 12:07 Joshua

    I'm probably, I'm not going to say because hopefully we have so many listeners that there are some in Detroit.

  • 12:15 Kellen

    Neither were fun to drive in was my main complaint.

  • 12:18 Joshua

    Yeah, agreed. But the reality is by letting them experiment and letting them grow and letting them do things wrong and failing, you are directly investing back in them and they recognize that. They know that they're not. We hope they're not stupid.

  • 12:36 Kellen

    Well, they won't be with practice.

  • 12:38 Joshua

    Exactly! They're growing. They're learning, they won't be stupid for long.

  • 12:42 Kellen

    Yeah. This is my actual, my preferred method of investment in any employee. My preferred motivation style is just letting people grow their own skills. To me, that's the most optimum path. They're invested to grow their skills to do better each time. They like that feedback loop, and so it's kind of a win win for everybody. It's something that they want to do. They want to get better at this, and you encourage that and so they do get better at this and it's kind of everybody's great! And it doesn't necessarily have to be skills that are... It doesn't have to be skills that are going to necessarily improve their career path. They could just be skills that they're interested in. You hear about that a lot with developers especially where they go to jobs that are using the technology that they're interested in or they're using the framework or whatever it is that they want to learn about and so they go there regardless of pay and that's, that's a good motivation.

  • 13:36 Joshua

    It is, yeah.

  • 13:39 Kellen

    When you motivate with reward, it has to be a reward that the person wants, that has to be part of their goal. So you might have a list of things that they might want, but they have to choose it. So I don't know if you remember all the way back to school, maybe when you were, you had to sell candy bars for prizes? Remember that? It didn't work unless you saw a prize that you wanted. it had to be, the goal had to be something that you wanted, that you were motivated to get. So you did the hard work and the stuff in between that you didn't actually want to do. For the reward to work, to be able to motivate somebody, it has to be something that, that person actually wants themselves, and not something that you're just pushing onto them. You can't reward somebody with something they don't want, basically.

  • 14:23 Joshua

    Yeah. It also with the candy bar example, it has to be achievable, because I remember looking through the catalog and I got to the end, saw that shiny yellow walkman, this will probably date me a little bit, and I thought "That's awesome! I want that one!" You know, I had to sell something like 12 billion candy bars to get it on the profit margin off that must have been freaking phenomenal.

  • 14:45 Kellen

    Yeah. About to say, I think the free labor was, worked out really well for them.

  • 14:50 Joshua

    I immediately took one look at that and thought, you know, that'd be great. And then I saw how many it was and I shut down. That was it. I was done for it. No, I couldn't possibly do that. And all the other prizes were horrible, so it just immediately turned me off completely. I no longer felt motivated at all in that because while there was something I was interested in, it was so difficult to achieve it. It just wasn't worth the effort.

  • 15:11 Kellen

    Exactly. And that's actually a kind of an oddity. We've made video games in the past and that's how video games are balanced, that's a real challenge in that industry is balancing the reward to effort ratio. That's not something that's easy to do, so that's something that, as an employer, would take a lot of practice to actually get good at offering a reward, the correct amount of reward for the right amount of effort and balancing that and getting people invested in it is a challenge, and it's almost harder than just kind of letting your employee go and grow the way that they want to.

  • 15:44 Joshua

    Absolutely, and that's why so many companies do it so wrong, because they will find a reward that works for one person, usually the manager, and then they tried to dole that out to everybody and everybody else just doesn't care, or it's too difficult for them to get to it, or whatever it may be. It's not motivating. It's actually kind of demotivating in a lot of cases because it doesn't match with what the person finds value in or a value that they feel is appropriate for the amount of work they're doing.

  • 16:14 Kellen

    Yeah, and it's always kind of demotivating when you're rewarded for, you know, you're rewarded for one project really, really well, but that project was like 10 minutes of your time, and then you're not rewarded at all for something that you spent months on, that has real value for the company, but no one really cares, because, for whatever reason, no one noticed or cares above you. That sort of thing. I know I've definitely had that in the past where I worked really hard on a project that had a lot of value for the company. We ended up rewriting a chunk of software and it was a big deal. We got it all out. We got it all done. Customers were really excited, but it wasn't necessarily something that people were complaining about. It drove sales, but it wasn't a very obvious driver and so there wasn't a lot of reward for that. On the other hand, I created this little demo software for a sales guy on kind of a weekend project, and that got me a huge bonus for no apparent, no apparent business reason. It was really demotivating to have that disparity between effort and reward and the actual value and reward even, because it is okay to reward based off the value of input and not effort, but it still needs to be valid. Same thing, you know, you, they input value and it has to be actually an accurate measurement of that value,

  • 17:31 Joshua

    Which is why direct rewards are so difficult and why it's actually really beneficial to have employee driven rewards. Allowing them to learn the things they want to learn. One that I actually like a lot is having maybe 20 percent of the person's time set aside for hacking at things. It can even be business related things, but allowing them to do it the way they want to do it with no oversight and just letting them own it and do it the way they want to because they're then picking their rewards. It might still benefit the company, which is great for you, but they've chosen this. They know that they're getting what they want out of it. They might be learning a new framework or library or learning how to design something or they might go crazy and want to learn some marketing. Why would a developer want to do that, but whatever it may be, they've chosen that. That's the reward and they're getting what they want. You don't have to think about it at all.

  • 18:25 Kellen

    Yeah. That's actually something I implemented in my last company. It worked really well. We ended up having to, arguing with the upper management, of course, to actually have a hack day is always a challenge because those are days you could be working on something. But we ended up implementing it pretty simply. We just added the space. Any, any leeway at the end of a sprint became hack days. And so it was pretty, pretty regularly. We had at the end of each week or the end of every other week, a full day or so of work on whatever you want and a lot of value came out of that. Longstanding, outstanding projects, got finished, new new ideas for products appeared, just all kinds of good things and, you know, sometimes people hacked at a framework for a day and kind of slacked off a bit, but most of the time they came back with a lot of good stuff and even on those days when they slacked off, they probably needed it.

  • 19:16 Joshua

    Well at that and they were learning things. That's a really good way to do it as well because then if, for whatever reason, the business does have a need to fill that gap because that sprint was particularly bad or things went wrong or something unexpected came up. You've got some time in there you can override the hack day and take that time if you need it, but it allows you to factor that into what you're doing. It also leads us kind of into what I'd like to talk about in our next episode, which is allowing for an environment that supports failure. One of the biggest demotivators I've ever seen in this sort of, in fact really in any sort of business, is the fear and employees who are scared to challenge you, scared to try new things, scared to experiment, it's not going to leave them feeling invested.

  • 20:08 Joshua

    They're not going to feel motivated, they're just gonna do what they need to do to survive when it comes down to it. And I think that's a whole topic on its own that we can talk about our next episode.

  • 20:19 Kellen

    I think we've got a lot to say on that subject.

  • 20:20 Joshua

    I know you for a fact have a lot to say about that subject, so I'm quite looking forward to that. In the meantime, we will toss some transcripts up at for this episode. Be sure to check out my website at to learn a little bit more about me. Absolutely check out Kellen's website as well at Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast and check out our website. If you happen to know some great ways to reward people or have had some experiences with handing out direct rewards in particular that worked really, really, really well for a large group of people, we would love to hear about that because that is a really challenging thing and we'd love to learn from you. In the meantime. Thanks for listening.

  • 21:07 Kellen