I recently faced a challenging situation with my engineering team. We needed to get a ton of product features completed in a very short period of time and yet it was pretty clear we weren't going to make it. The team was working hard so effort was not the issue. I knew it was up to me, the CEO, to lead us to victory. After a couple of sleepless nights trying to think of the best way to motivate the team I didn't have a plan; I felt baffled.
For those that have not led both engineering and sales teams, the first thing to know is that, motivationally, they are very different. With a sales team I would seek to inspire folks to "believe and achieve." I might play the Pacino clip from Any Given Sunday. But I knew that with an engineering team that approach would fall flat. They already believe in Formation so showing movie clips would be considered as management wasting valuable time, time that they would rather spend coding.
I went back to the basics thinking about what motivates individuals. The problem was that the team is already highly motivated and there was little I could do to create more motivation. I tried a monetary (here is a extra bonus if we get this done) carrot and that hadn't worked either. In fact, I think we might have worked harder and delivered less.
Now totally stuck and desperate - I thought about how different individuals see both the path to success and the success itself. Like an athlete, a typical salesperson has some very simple ways to judge if they are successful, typically "Did I win the deal or not?" It's black and white. What makes a good salesperson is understanding that getting there is not a black and white process. For a salesperson, the process to win has many shades of grey; just the win itself is black and white.
My revelation was that engineers typically see the world in just the opposite way. The path or route to get from A to B is black and white (we need to create a spec, do a design, code, test, etc.) but the success of the result has many shades of grey. An engineer or engineering team achieving 95% of a feature goal might consider that a major success because it was difficult and required incredible talent just to get that far. Imagine a salesperson getting a deal 95% done, losing and then asking for sales commission because it was hard and he/she almost got there.
Two different worlds.
Armed with this newfound insight I thought about what I needed to do to inspire the team. I decided that I needed to change the perspective of my engineering team in terms of the path options. I needed get them to see shades of grey.
In part 2 I will tell you what I did.