How To Motivate Without Really Trying

I did not realize that this message exchange would be the start of a series of events that would lead to an odd way of motivating my developers.

This was the message exchange that happened between my boss and I on Thursday night. Many months ago, a request was put in for us to do an enhancement for operations. It was still in queue to start because we were midway through another programming change that needed to finalize first. This "decision" was really a test for both myself and my boss: how can we get the guys to abandon the in-process change and fast track the request……in 2 weeks……and without them quitting ….all while dealing with the emotional fallout that will ensue.

(Developers can be delicate beasts.)

On the way back from the other office yesterday, my boss explained that now there was a bet in play. The head of operations had bet his boss that we couldn’t do it. His boss believed we could. Now there was some money in the mix.

The most delicate of all of our beasts is a software architect who scopes all of our development works and defines the solution. He does not work for me, but for my boss. Getting him to work quickly through his emotions was going to be a team effort.

And I realized this morning that the team effort was going to land on me.

I pulled him into a conference room at 7:30 am, with coffee in hand, to break the news. As I verbally laid the reality on the table, I could read his emotions on his face. He was pissed. He was upset. He thought it was a bad idea.

"And," I threw in at the end, " and the ops guy has a bet we cannot do it. Now I feel we must do it and make him pay because that fucker drives me nuts! I know it isn’t the right thing, but damn would it feel good to make him pay up whatever is owed!"

I braced myself for a response.

You could see the conflict in his eyes as he was trying to formulate a response, then he finally admitted that he had heard something about this the day before – straight from the horses mouth (aka the head of operations). He went through all that I expected him to go through, then he landed with, "Well, maybe 3-4 weeks is reasonable, but nothing more."

I grabbed the two guys who would be working on the development of this solution to talk through what we were going to do. By the time we got back to the conference room, the architect had it down to 2 weeks max.

I told the guys the plan and told them about the bet too.

"I want to add to that bet," the senior developer interrupted. "I want him to promise to park correctly in the parking lot if he loses. If we can get him to promise that, I’ll have it done in a week if I have to work overtime and on the weekend! It will be even faster if he also sends an apology to the building."

The others joined in with agreement.

I texted my boss telling him that the development had started – and they wanted the head of ops to park right in the parking lot if he loses the bet.

"Done" was his simple response.

I should explain that the head of ops continuously parks diagonally across several parking spots in the parking lot. He clearly takes "rock star parking" to a whole level. And it drives the guys CRAZY because of how arrogant and self entitled it is. I should have known this would be what they want out of the deal.

So now I have 2 developers and an architect rapidly coding the solution. Their motivation purely being that they want to win AND they want to see the head of ops park correctly in the lot.

Don’t get me wrong – my boss still has a pissed off architect.

But this shows promise that maybe we can change and evolve things as we need to – this is just the first step – a first step being motivated by a bet. Hey, whatever works!

What do you think?