As many businesses approach budget season, the truth rears its ugly head again – the business needs 15 projects completed in the next year and the team has capacity for 8. So, you get together with business leaders, you prioritize, make half the room angry, and then because you’ve committed so much, your teams have little-to-no chance of actually delivering the projects you’ve outlined. This painful process repeats itself every year.
The good news is that this isn’t unique to your business. This pattern repeats itself across nearly every IT and development organization. The frustration mounts the same way in nearly every business leader. The math simply does not work – the work exceeds the capacity.
So, we try bonus structures and tightening down the screws but none of it works for long. And of course, we want to hold off on hiring so we need a different approach.
Fortunately, there are some things you can do, so let’s get started:
1. Master Motivation
Something like 60% of all corporate employees are disengaged. No org is immune. This statistic gets cited all the time and shows up in a number of articles. Here’s one that discusses a 38% engagement rate. It’s a pervasive and hidden issue, so let’s try to make it more tangible:
An engagement rate of 38% on a team of 25 people means that 9.5 people are fully engaged.
If the engagement rate increases just 8 points (46%), it means 11.5 people are fully engaged.
That’s the equivalent of hiring 2 people!
Author, Daniel Pink wrote an incredible book on engagement titled “Drive”, that’s a must-read for every leader responsible for engineering teams. Pink’s research showed that humans aren’t motivated by money nearly as much as by having Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose in their work. When we create environments where people have autonomy, mastery, and purpose, we create environments that lead to engagement. How do we do this?
Leaders who excel at creating autonomy focus on two things: trust and courage. Trust in your team to let them make tech and product decisions in their local context, without significant oversight from you (or another leader). Then, the courage to stick through it and let them make a mistake. It’s like the first time you let your 16-year-old drive on the highway by themselves (a reality in my life right now). Autonomy takes trust and courage.
Excelling at mastery requires investment. Financial investment helps, but this one is really about time. Investing time every quarter to allow teams to develop skills (in a SAFe environment, this might be during the IP sprint). Throughout the year, encourage people to take on some new tech and then encourage pairing with someone who already knows the tech. They’ll be slower at first, but as skills develop, you’ll have two people that are masters at the new tech and the org will be twice as fast.
Why do people work for your organization? To make money for the business? Doubtful. Making money for the org just doesn’t motivate most people. To make money for themselves? Again, doubtful – you’re probably already paying your engineers more than the money required for happiness (that number is currently $95,000).
People’s deepest purpose is to help others. Purpose provides us with the good feeling of having made the world a better place.
There are two keys to driving purpose: Stories, and Frequency. We must share authentic, believable stories about how our work improves the world and then we must talk about them frequently. Stories are the currency of Purpose.
If you work at a bank, it’s tempting to talk about revenue, but it’s more motivating to talk about helping a family achieve the dream of owning a home by providing a mortgage for them.
If you work at a Consumer Goods company, it might be easy to talk about sales goals, but it’s more motivating to share stories of moms who struggled before using your product and now have a changed life because of it.
2. Become a Culture Curator
We all know that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” but if we look at the past 6 weeks and are honest with ourselves, how much effort have we put into culture? How much to strategy? We have to wonder if the focus on strategy is ruining the breakfast.
The number one job of every leader in a development organization is to create and curate a culture. Every word, every thought, every idea you have should propel the culture in a direction that helps to accomplish the goals of the organization. If the culture needs to be more entrepreneurial, then immersing yourself in the entrepreneurial culture of startup software companies and reflecting that in decisions you make must become a core part of the way you operate.
Leaders’ roles are to eat, sleep, and breathe the culture we’d like to see embodied in our organization. The more we do that, the more we’ll create that culture in our people and our companies.
3. Become a Servant-Leader
Scrum and Agile flipped the script on leadership and it makes the world a significantly better place. Leaders who serve their teams win their hearts, gain their trust, and build more committed teams. As a senior leader, this is what servant-leadership looks like:
● Asking your teams what help looks like and then doing that for them.
● Starting every meeting by asking for the room’s thoughts on what should be covered (instead of driving your own agenda)
● Coaching an employee who shows that they need it and welcomes it.
It may take some time but mastering motivation, curating culture, and becoming a servant leader are very effective ways to increase development capacity. Along the way, you’ll become a better leader and create an even more high-performing organization.