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Motivating a Development Team: The Wrong Job

February 14, 2019

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Part 4 of 4 of our series on motivation! Joshua and Kellen talk about what happens when someone is simply in the wrong position. This might be due to a promotion or when they’re hired, either can have a significant impact on motivation.

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  • 00:02 Joshua

    Welcome to getting apps done, a mostly non technical 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, welcome back. Today we're going to talk about our fourth part of our series on motivation, particularly talking about dev teams, but actually a lot of these concepts apply to pretty much any role realistically. And what we wanted to talk about today is people doing the wrong job. And, I suppose it could be from any point, but actually what I was specifically thinking about when I thought of this is people who are really great at their jobs, really great developers or designers or whatever it may be, and then they get that promotion that makes them a project manager or a manager of a team or a team leader or whatever it may be. And suddenly they're not performing as well as you expected and you can't figure out why because they were really great before. Why aren't they great now? A lot of people miss the fact that it's actually just because they're doing the wrong job now.

  • 01:07 Kellen

    And that's, I mean it kind of, even just, just describing the situation, it's kind of almost obvious what the problem is, is they, they're not as skilled in that particular, this new set of skills that they have to have to be a project manager or product manager or you know, whatever that they're moving into. They just don't quite have those yet. They don't have the confidence to do that yet. They don't have the, any of the things they need to do that and they might not want to.

  • 01:31 Joshua

    I think that's the key thing because you mentioned it before the episode. I think you're absolutely right. Anybody can learn to do any job whether they want to or not is a very different story entirely. And when it comes down to it, motivation is much stronger when you're happy about something than when you're just forced to do it. Disciplined only goes so far. We can only do so much based on discipline and enforced behavior. But what if we really love doing something? Then obviously we can do lots of it and we're going to do great and we're going to experiment and we're going to learn and be happy to do so.

  • 02:08 Kellen

    Yeah, and discipline is almost, it's kind of worthless to, as a motivator. It's like, it's only, it's only really good too, as kind of like a removal of bad behaviors. It's not a good thing to add new behaviors. All you're kind of doing is just making people even more unhappy in their situation. So it's, it, they gotta be kind of self motivating at least to a point. There's gotta be a reason why they want to do the job. Whether that's because they enjoy you know, expressing that particular skill or because they enjoy maybe a whatever it is that they're, they're trying to do and create like, uh, people who work for nonprofits are always obviously really excited about these, uh, about these goals. But you know, the job itself might be awful.

  • 02:49 Joshua

    I have met people who, in fact I was talking to a guy at a dinner once, and that's exactly what he did. And the way he described the job, I thought that sounds like the worst job in the world, but the smile on that guy's face because he loved what he was doing, not because the job was great or he thought anything about that was wonderful, but the results of it were what he wanted to do. That's what made him get out of bed every day. And that's what really made him motivated to do that job. It wasn't because he had this great discipline to get up every day and go knock on doors every single day asking for money. But because he knew where that money went, in this case was children who needed the money because they have health conditions. And for him that reward was well worth it.

  • 03:34 Kellen

    Exactly. And that's, yeah. So that's kind of the, I guess back to back to the thing is you have the, these developers who are moving into the roles is do they want that as a role? I mean we talk about this being a promotion, but if they're being promoted into a position that they really aren't all that interested in, then this is probably not a reward. And you know, beyond monetary at the most. So it's...yeah.

  • 03:57 Joshua

    And I've seen that, yeah, managers with really good intentions thinking, well this guy's doing, or this woman is doing really great job for us. How can I reward them? And quite often that's the result they come to is actually, you know what? I'll promote them and make them a team lead or whatever it may be. And in their minds, there's this assumption that everybody wants to climb the ladder, but actually some people don't want to climb the ladder. They got into their career because they love design. They want to design things. That's what they want to do. You could reward them in other ways. Maybe give them some leeway to have their own projects that they dream up, that they come up with, that they develop the spec for and give them a little bit of latitude. And that, that could be a reward for that person because they're doing what they love still, but they're doing it in a different way that's rewarding in its own because they've got some freedom, some autonomy .

  • 04:53 Kellen

    And that's kind of the important part of the being the manager would cause it's, it's the job of their supervisor, their manager, their the team lead to kind of understand what they want out of their career. Like what parts do they like, what parts don't they like? Um, and I'd like for your example right there as a designer, given a project of their own own design, their own, their own entire process, they have to figure out what they want to do that and kind of dream it out from beginning to end. That's the kind of thing that actually makes them more confident. And eventually there'll be like, oh, if I only had an extra person, I could create even better projects. And they kind of naturally move into these positions of more responsibility as opposed to being kind of shoved into them. And so it's really important for the, the supervisor did kind of know what it is. These people went out of their jobs, but the, you know, what type of autonomy, what will they do with their autonomy?

  • 05:42 Joshua

    Agreed, and I can see that working the other way around as well. I've seen people who actually weren't the best developers or designers, but really had a passion behind it and actually turned out to be really good advocates for the people who were really great designers or developers and putting them in a management position, actually it was a really great move because suddenly they started out in the job that wasn't the right job for them and you shifted them into one that's better for them and they can really become a driving force behind the team that way.

  • 06:11 Kellen

    it does kind of, you know, the old joke that you get promoted to your level of incompetence. But there is actually some truth in there. There are people who are, that is kind of their specialty is the, the guiding something to paying attention. There's a skill there. Obviously there's a skill you have to learn to be able to manage people and some people are really good at it and that's kinda how they end up in those gigs. So it's kind of a terrible stereotype, but there is history through it, there's a reason why like people kind of skip that. Like you said, like they weren't the greatest developers, but they really understood the concepts. They understood why these people were really good at their jobs and because of that we're able to kind of better guide them when they were moved up.

  • 06:49 Joshua

    Yeah. Or they had other complimenting skills. Maybe they're just really good people, people or they are really good at understanding what a business person needs for their role or whatever it may be to help them guide the development team in what's being built. Uh, it could actually be that they become a product owner or they could be a project manager because they're really good at organizing the team. Even if they're not the best developer ever, they might be really good at organizing the work and making sure that priorities are set and that things are done in the right order.

  • 07:21 Kellen

    Exactly. That kind of bounces back to one of our old episodes about having a, a variety of people in your team of just having different skillsets Kinda can help fill a lot of those gaps. And it's, it's useful to have those types of people.

  • 07:33 Joshua

    Absolutely. And not only is it useful, but it's rewarding to everybody. And that's, I think the key here is that when people are put into a position where they're doing something that isn't a right fit for them, they're going to struggle and it's going to be hard for them and they're never going to be fully motivated to work really well because it's just going to seem like a lot of effort is going to feel like a lot of pain. There's a lot of embarrassment involved and a lot of organizations aren't set up to identify that in the first place, let alone then doing something about it to improve that situation, whether it's to move them into a different position or to find a way for them to work with the team better or whatever it may be a kind of have this set in stone, you get a, you work a up to be, he worked be up to see if that's just the way it's got to go every single time and that's not always the best way. Sometimes you've got to pull in a D and move them up to Q or whatever it may be.

  • 08:30 Kellen

    Stretching the alphabet. But like I would say the, I mean and what you just described almost puts a lot of the pressure on these folks to move up that that's the expectation that they move into these new roles that they teach themselves how to do that and I don't really agree with that either. Like that's part of moving one of these persons into the new role is to kind of have this expectation that they're going to mess up. They're learning new skills and that's fine. They shouldn't be the embarrassment side of this thing really shouldn't exist. Like you're gonna mess it up. It's okay. That's, that's why you're supposed to have mentors. You're supposed to have another person above you, helps catch the slack and checks you to make sure you're not doing something silly while also encouraging you to try new things and to learn on your own, grow on yourself. So like that. That's kind of the other half of this is it might be the right role. They're just terrified of it.

  • 09:22 Joshua

    Which we did talk about someone the last episode, but this is a slightly different sort of terrified actually because it's not somebody who is existing in the team necessarily. Somebody new is and allowing them to grow into the role that you've put them in is really important because again, they're not going to be motivated if they constantly feel, if they feel like they're doing the wrong job, even if they're doing the right one, if you're making them feel like they're doing the wrong thing or they're not doing it right or whatever it may be, again, it can have the same effect. They're not going to feel like they're in the right place. And that's damaging to them and is damaging to the team.

  • 10:01 Kellen

    And those are, I mean that's something I've seen definitely in the workplace is someone who was just kind of constantly afraid that they were messing up, even though they were doing fine and people would try to encourage them and say, no, no, no, you're doing great. But like they weren't really encouraging. Like there was, was still way too many repercussions if they messed up. There was all this just kind of like negative, negative energy. And it caused, it caused problems over time and eventually these people either quit or got laid off because they couldn't, you know, they just kind of like a slowly growing terror of messing up until finally they actually did mess up and the pressure and they have to leave.

  • 10:36 Joshua

    Or in some cases they just carry on as is and they're miserable. They're not producing the sort of work that the team needs and it becomes a drag on everybody, which just isn't fair to anybody. That means the rest of the team is working harder to make up for them. This person feels like they're causing all this harm to the team. It caused a rift in the team and it's not working out for anybody. And it's really down to good management and it doesn't necessarily need to be a manager. It could be somebody on the team who's identifying this and saying, Hey, you know what? I think this person isn't really doing the best job with this. But you know, every time we bring somebody new in there, the first person to chime in and say, yeah, I'll take them on and show them how to do these things. Maybe we should specifically put them in a role where they are developing our onboarding process because that's a really valuable part of any team. It's not necessarily that you need to move into management or into a completely different position it's finding a way that works for them and a way that benefits the team as a home.

  • 11:35 Kellen

    I am a big proponent of having roles for people. So you know, find out what they're good at and creating a role that matches them to it to the best of your company can allow it. Cause I mean obviously there's, it's kind of limits on how flexible you can have. If you know this one person's horrible about testing but you don't have anybody else to do testing low, then the horrible person is probably going to have to be doing it. But it is important to like, like what you just described, someone who's really good at training. Well then yeah, absolutely. Kind of like make that part of their role or at least the part of their, uh, their responsibility. They're the ones who are in charge of training and making sure that these people get trained because they're good at that. And so they might not actually end up doing the training themselves, but they'll, they might give advice to the person who does end up training, which kind of increases their own confidence, their own, their own skillset.

  • 12:22 Joshua

    I think it can help them with the rest of the role. In the case where we were talking about somebody who actually doesn't do a bad job but they constantly think they're doing a bad job by giving them something that they own and they feel really confident in, you're actually encouraging them in the other side of the role as well. They start to see that actually I provide value to the team. Even if I'm not the best at refactoring, I can do some refactoring and I do this one thing really, really well, this is my thing that nobody else does. And that provides a lot of value as well. Just building people up by giving them a role that's theirs something that they can be proud of. It makes a huge difference to the team.

  • 12:58 Kellen

    The biggest, the biggest difference I've seen between like people who are identified are like rock stars or the, you know, the highly motivated people. It's always, it's always a confidence vs. Fear kind of a equation. Like the, these are the people who are confident in their roles that they can get the thing done and that's, I mean confidence is just kind of the other side of being really good at something.

  • 13:18 Joshua

    I would agree with that. Yeah. I it's either because they've got that confidence built in for whatever reason or because your team is set up in such a way that the moment they came in, they felt that they were part of the team and they were contributing because they just happened to know something or whatever it may be, it built that confidence early on. Not everybody's that way. Some people, you've got to help them build that confidence because they can't do it themselves or they weren't lucky and just happen to know the one thing that you really needed when you hired them that made them off the bat immediately feel like they were contributing.

  • 13:49 Kellen

    Exactly. And I mean it's such an easy thing to do though, to help build that confidence when it's basically just remove fear of failure to remove concept, to remove the consequences of failure, which may require a good bit of effort on your part to make sure that they're not taking riskier thing, you know, trying to do things that are too risky that are going to end up resulting in massive fires or buildings burning down. But you know, that's, that's part of what you can do as a manager is to set them up for success and if they do fail, just set them up to retry.

  • 14:18 Joshua

    Yeah. I think that's the real thing there is it's having empathy for your team as a manager and understanding them and not just managing them but actually being a part of the team. I've seen that a lot as well. Managers just don't understand the team because they feel like they should be above them. That's just completely wrong. You're a part of the team too, and you should know who your developers are. Your designers are, your copywriters are whoever it may be that you should all be working as one cohesive unit. And if you're not, you're not doing your job. They might actually be doing their job just fine. You are one failing.

  • 14:52 Kellen

    Exactly. Yeah. And that's, I mean it's something kind of really vaguely defined for managers. There's really not like a good one, one description of what a manager is supposed to do or be like, but so it's, it's a bit of empathy. You have to kind of learn it on your own. You have to learn how to fit your team to figure out what the gaps are in your team and to learn how to motivate and, you know, not scare them to death every day.

  • 15:15 Joshua

    Well, I think you're the glue as a manager. You're the one who's supposed to be keeping the team together and finding a way for them to work well together and be efficient and be a team when it comes down to it. And that depends on every team is different. Some will need more leeway than others, some will need more guidance than others. But it's figuring out what your team is and how you can become that piece that makes it all fit and work.

  • 15:42 Kellen

    Yeah, I like, I really do like the, the, the coach analogy for a manager cause I think that's actually a pretty, pretty close. Like if you can imagine being coaching a team of anybody, anything that you're like a little bit better at it, maybe it's just a team of children playing soccer because you wouldn't be able to be able to coach anybody older than you playing soccer. But you know that that mindset is kind of the appropriate one of what can I do to help them do this on their own because I can't do it for them, but how can I make it easier for them? What advice can I give to, to make it better in the future?

  • 16:13 Joshua

    Absolutely. All right, well I think we've covered a lot of motivation in the past few episodes. Hopefully some of these ideas help you and give you some ideas for how to better manage and motivate your team because it's not always things that you think about straight away and sometimes it's hard to recognize what your position is to help your team. Whether you're a manager or a team member or somebody who is struggling, there are things that you can do to help build up and motivate yourself or other team members without causing fear, without demotivating them and all these other things. There are a lot of really great ways that you can boost the team and promote the team and hopefully we've covered at least a couple of them.

  • 17:01 Joshua

    All right, I will put some transcripts up on Please be sure to check out my website at and Kellen's website at Also be sure to subscribe to the podcast, so you know when we're rambling on about something else. If you've got some more ideas for how to promote and motivate teams, please let us know. We would absolutely love to hear from you. Until next time, thanks for listening.

  • 17:29 Kellen