Motivation can be elusive. Thankfully, we have grown out of the dark ages of Pavlovian motivation theory, where extrinsic rewards drive all human wants and needs. Daniel H. Pink’s Drive has done a great job unpacking many of the psychological and sociological factors underlying motivation. While there is no formula, I’ve generally aligned around four principles for someone to identify as motivated. 1:1’s are a great forum to dig deeper into these areas. To jumpstart these conversations, I’ve written a handful of 1:1 Questions for Work.

#1. Relationships : Do I respect and like the people I work with?

It’s a common misconception to correlate work relationships with social activities. While non-work get togethers are an essential part of belonging, many times they revolve around alcohol, which is not inclusive. I generally find that building relationships are best accomplished with activities that people find interesting. Game nights, lunch, funny awards and other rituals can help foster understanding, belonging and respect.

I’m a big fan of pair programming, mob programming, or any form of shared problem-solving. This high-bandwidth mode of interaction sets aside personal differences and have a shared goal. Pairing also allows people to learn the intricacies in the way that other people work, which helps in tense situations or during disagreements.

There are some mechanisms frameworks such as Strengths Finder, which attempt to root out the similar levels of understanding.

#2. Growth and Mastery : The work I’m doing is helping me in my career.

Engineers love to learn. It’s even better when we are further refining skills or learning something new at work. It’s the managers job to understand what that is and how they can help. This can take many forms, but it starts with understanding where they want to go. Try asking… what do you want to do after your current job?

It’s helpful if there are projects that allow them to stretch in different directions. While not always possible, there are usually opportunities to go deeper and learn in the current frame of work.

Learning can take many forms, and is usually reinforced when there are social commitments. Lunch and learns, book clubs and collaborative coding exercises are great concrete ways to provide the space for learning. Also, explore low-cost ideas such as a 1-week learning budget. Where an individual can go deep on a topic and then present the learning to the team.

#3. Autonomy : I’m unblocked and I have the tools and latitude to do my work.

Nothing kills autonomy more than micro-management, frequent status updates and an overbearing process. It’s possible to have autonomy and accountability at the same time, and it’s 100% critical to separate out these concepts.

What about communicating status updates? It’s important for people to keep the team aware of progress, and questions they need answered. In a perfect world, these happen as a byproduct of doing work, using light weight just-in-time communication techniques. Demos and showcasing the work is even better.

Individuals with autonomy are clear about what is success looks like. They are able to own the outcome and choose how to execute towards their goals. If cross team or project dependencies exist, they know who to reach out to and feel empowered to unblock themselves.

After all this, people need sharp tools to do their job. Does CI take too long? Are development machines too slow? Is the code too entangled to make progress? Do we have solid tools to write tests? There is a ton to unpack here and look for another blog post on this subject.

#4. Meaning : Value of the work

I was talking to an old mentor about extrinsic motivation, he mentioned to me: “People don’t go work for the red cross for money”. There is a lot to unpack in the analogy, but my key take away is that the reason behind the mission, vision, and company needs to resonate. It is critical to articulate the why behind the work.

Individuals need to have a strong feedback loop and opt-in mechanism for working on projects that they feel are impactful. There isn’t a single formula here. Ownership will deteriorate without a framework for individuals to choose and influence how they can impact the teams goals.

To bring the why front and center, it helps to bring the customer in front of the team. Even if you’re not a product team there is always someone who depends on your work.

Building visions and mission statements are worthy of a longer blog post. But take a look at my Good Strategy / Bad Strategy book notes blog posts for some thoughts on what a successful vision / strategy can look like.