Motivation, not Medication

Once I got a $30,000 raise. It was the worst job I ever had.

In order to get a raise, I had to leave a good job. (More thoughts on that later.) As a single provider, the overnight increase put me in a state of near ecstasy. It was The Motivating Factor to leave that good job – and of course, I thought I was going to a great opportunity.

For the professional standpoint, I successfully delivered a multi-million dollar agile program that had C-suite visibility. We delivered on time and under budget; I had alignment with the executive sponsor, clearly identified outcomes, and a team of top performers. It was a huge win for the organization.

But the relationship I had with my manager was incredibly rocky. There was a chasm between him and I that we would never close. It was if we didn’t speak the same language, and certainly, we didn’t act as if we were on the same team. He would question my wording, he would second-guess my decisions; he would challenge me in front of my team on a daily basis. I would get defensive; I shut down; once, on the verge of crying, I left a meeting.

I felt I was at a professional all-time low. It seeped into my personal life, and people closest to me started to comment on the negative changes in me they observed.

I found myself debating every day if I needed to stay in order to learn a lesson, or if I needed to leave in order to survive.

I ended up leaving right after I delivered the program I was managing; well under a year of tenure. I left for a respectable 3% increase, but I added a 150-mile round-trip commute. As a single mother, the commute was hell. But as hard as it was, it ended up being one of the most healing experiences I’ve had professionally.

What made the difference? It was having a manager who had my back. Someone who not only spoke my language, but could challenge me professionally, and even personally. He set clear objectives with me that were inspiring and challenging but reachable. At the end of the six-month contract we extended it for a short time, even though the commute made it unsustainable in the end. It was a time of learning, healing, and experimentation.

If I am judged on expectations, it was considered a successful contract. But I was not in a position to give to others; to mentor; to coach on a level that I typically strive for. I stayed long enough that I was able to turn the corner, get a little mojo back.

In the end, I was able to package up those couple of years of incredible lows and incredible highs and take it all into the next opportunity. By then, I felt whole, motivated, and able to offer something beyond the basics. I was able to accomplish some major milestones in my personal and professional life.

Make safety a pre-requisite

As we start to explore Modern Agile concepts, we often talk about the need to make safety a pre-requisite. To some, this sounds like removing safety hazards, but it goes beyond the physical environment and expands to the psychological environment. We stress the need to build teams with motivated individuals who feel empowered to innovate and make changes. Teams that feel safe to speak up against status quo, to offer innovation outside their swim lane, to experiment, and to fail fast.

How much of safety starts and ends with leadership? As I’ve moved around in my career the saying “people don’t leave companies, they leave managers” keeps coming back to me. But, perhaps it’s not just management; everyone has a part to play in creating a safe environment.

I learned some valuable lessons about management by being on the wrong side of it. But, I also learned some valuable lessons about myself.

It turns out, I’m not motivated by money. I need it; as a single mother, it certainly helped create a more stable home environment. But in the end, that fat pay raise didn’t ease my sense of failure.

In retrospect, I could have approached my manager in the spirit of the agile values. With courage, transparency, openness, and a willingness to listen to his input. I lost an opportunity to move the needle not just in my own life, but for a team, for a division, and perhaps an organization.

Make people awesome

How do we make people awesome? This is not just fluff words. These are people’s lives. This is your life. This is my life.

Take compensation off the table.

Invest in talent by offering a competitive market rate, and then money is no longer is a factor. For me, the lack of money was a motivating factor to leave a good job, but getting it was not a motivating factor to stay in a bad one.

Listen to Dan Pink on Motivation: “extrinsic motivators are ineffective for complex work.”

Ensure you, yourself, are in a place to give, not just take.

Be willing to accept personal failures, but turn them into personal motivation. Explore your personal strengths, and then help others find theirs. James Altucher, the popular author and speaker, implies that humility without negativity (negative might be: “I’m not good enough so I will give up.”) seems to be key. He uses the phrase, “Humility with Forward Action.” Interested in more? Read my “How to create your coaching kata.”

The Gallup Strengths Finder is a quick and easy way to help people develop an understanding of how they like to work by identifying their own strengths. One of my five strengths includes ‘input.’ I work best in collaborative environments where I can provide input. Gallup confirms that I should “Identify situations in which you can share the information you have collected with other people.” It’s why I enjoy blogging, meetups, and mentoring!

Explore what motivates your team.

I’ve used Spotify’s Squad Health Check Model exercise as inspiration to create an interactive survey completed in-house by several teams. I was pleasantly surprised to find that all four groups agreed on the top two issues were the best places to start. We brainstormed on how the teams could effect change, without management. It was a great exercise to explore team autonomy and self-organization and find out what they were motivated to change.

I often turn to the Moving Motivators game from Jurgen Appelo’s material in his book Management 3.0. Using ten motivating factors in a facilitated exercise helps a team understand what it is that motivates them as individuals, and as a team. (You can find the free content online, or for a small price, buy a set of cards.) It’s worth mentioning that Appelo has a number of other exercises, like empathy mapping with new team members to understand how they like to work and what they like to do and the kind of people that they are.

In conclusion: As always, experiment!

Don’t be afraid to experiment with what works for yourself, your team, and your organization. Let us motivate others to make the world a safe place to fail, err, to learn.

~Julee Bellomo

Live your truth; hone your craft; show your thanks

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