Tag Archives: Management

Motivation 2.0: Daniel Pink on the surprising science of motivation

The other day, a friend of mine recommended another TED-Video to me: “Daniel Pink on the surprising science of motivation” (~18 Minutes). I think everybody who’s into management and/or leadership should have seen it.

It’s clearly worth watching, because Daniel is a truly gifted speaker. Still, for the hurried reader, here are the core points as I picked them up. The main theme is

There’s a gap between what science knows and what business does.

What he’s referring to is the “candle problem“: A cognitive performance test dating back to 1945. This test and a range of other examples Daniel quotes clearly shows that “sticks and carrots” (aka incentive plans etc.) actually reduce performance in cognitive tasks.

Incentives do work for mechanical tasks (which were predominant through much of the 20th century). They do not work for cognitive tasks, which dominate the 21st century. That’s the gap Daniel is talking about, and I’d like to add that this especially applies to the business of software

While science knows for more than 60 years that a bonus plan, say, for managers, reduces effectiveness, businesses reach out to higher and higher incentives in the areas where they are known to work least. One could say: They don’t know better. How else to motivate people?

And Daniel has an answer to that question: Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery.

In the video, he goes on to explain purpose – the topic in its entirety is covered in Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

Since then, I keep asking myself: Do you create a sense of purpose in the people you are working with?


Image and Reality

La Trahision des Images
The Treachery of Images as an example for the mis-match between the actual staus and the reflection of the status.
One frequent mishap in larger organizations is exaggerated confidence in KPIs.

It is interesting to note that the literature on management, spends little to no attention on the accuracy of the measurement, while the literature on leadership barely mentions such KPIs at all. When discussing topics that are easy to measure, like manufacturing, taking the accuracy of KPI measurements for granted may make sense – however, the business of software is so far largely resisting meaningful, repeatable measurement. KPIs are so important because, often, KPIs are tied to people’s bonuses, which immediately invites, encourages … tuning of KPI actuals.
Continue reading Image and Reality


Decision Analysis III

It’s already a while ago that I presented my Influence Diagram to our sponsors (one may remember the Decision Analysis II article). The main value of the presentation was – as so often – in its preparation:

  • I’ve had my own mind clear on what I suggest and why
  • In the preparation meetings, peers and sponsors had to wrap their head around the entire topic.

So, eventually we had an engaged discussion about a situation most people had pretty well understood. While we didn’t really go through the presentation, we still arrived at – from my point of view – the right conclusions.

And a few days after the meetings, I received an email with four words: “good meeting – unlike most”.

It works.


Decision Analysis II

Getting an objective decision straight despite the Decision Analysis quote from the pervious article has kept me thinking since mid-December.
Meanwhile, I have drawn an Influence Diagram for one of the more tricky questions on the job. First and foremost, drawing the chart has significantly helped clarify my own thoughts, so even if I dump it here and now, it was attention well spent. Analyzing the ~5 decisions, ~25 random variables and ~5 goals that contribute to this one set of decisions was quite enlightening.

To my own surprise, the other day I managed to transform the diagram so that I could actually present it without major unwanted political implications. The breakthrough came when I was about to give up and draw separate diagrams reflecting the assumed preferences of my main stakeholders.
Continue reading Decision Analysis II


… and nothing is going to happen

Today, I had an interesting discussion about empowerment, especially in a weak matrix organization. Eventually, the discussion reminded me of the Obituary of Richard Neustadt, the adviser to several presidents ($) of the USA, in The Economist (November 2003). The central part is (quoted from memory):

“He’ll sit here,” he [Truman] said [about Eisenhower], drumming his fingers on the desk, “and he’ll say, “Do this! Do that! – and nothing is going to happen! – it won’t be a bit like in the army!”

Well… if this is the amount of empowerment the most powerful man on this planet can command – how could I as a project manager as a project manager ask for more?

I think that project management is a lot about convincing and only a little about “empowerment”, and this means that there are three potential problems:

  1. First, it so happens every once in a while that somebody confuses “empowerment” with “veto right”. Such cases are particularly frequent among so-called internal governance bodies. Yes, this is empowerment in a sense… but it’s “wrong-way-round”. Real empowerment is the power to make things happen, not the power to stop.
  2. Second, the power to influence or convince actually means that the project manager can build a “bridge” between the project member’s personal goals and the project goals. Clear, aligned, specific goals within the company are a fairly obvious prerequisite to make that work.
  3. Third (or actually “2b”), incompatibilities of interests between different organizations that contribute to a project obviously break the “empowerment” of the project manager.

So what?

Upon closer inspection, the so-called line managers are often not more empowered: They can’t fire (at least not in Germany), and at least now in the financial crisis, they may have only very little financial freedom like over salaries etc. Don’t tell anybody, though 🙂

Eventually, what it all boils down to is, provocatively exaggerated:

There  is no empowerment!

There is dis-empowerment.
There is an illusion of empowerment, and a good project manager knows how to sustain that.