Wednesday, June 23, 2010

More Engagement

Are you engaged at work?  I don't mean like, engaged to be married.  I mean are you ENGAGED?

If not, why not?  Are you not paid well?  Do you not like the work?  Do you not like your coworkers?  Do you not like the management?  Do you not like your boss?  Are you bored?  Is the organization keeping you from doing your best work?  Do you feel unproductive?  Do you feel unable to contribute?  Do you feel micromanaged?  Why?

Maybe this guy can help explain it:


Maybe your organization's attempts to motivate you are actually, though accidentally, de-motivating you!  Isn't it ironic?  So what should they be doing?  What do you need to be engaged at work?  To be at your best, to be your most productive, to be happy?

According to Dan Pink, its as simple as 3 words:  Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.  This observation lines up so nicely with the observations in First, Break All The Rules too!  But the problem with these observations is that they are only observations.  They provide really useful information, but don't help your boss figure out how he should act day to day.

That's actually one of the main reasons why I think First, Break All The Rules is such an excellent book, and so much better than any other book on "management" I've ever read.  There simply is no cookie cutter, one size fits all, set of steps you can follow to create an environment in which everyone is engaged.

Now, if you're the boss you can start putting your understanding of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose to work right now.  But if you are not the boss, what good is this to you?  If you have some "direct reports," you can apply these ideas with them within your own projects.  At least that's a start.  But if you don't have "direct reports," then it looks like knowing this stuff isn't going to help you at all!

I remember the first time I read Peopleware...  On the one hand I absolutely loved it.  But on the other, it was just depressing.  And I believe that my company would actually rank very highly compared to other companies on these factors.  But it didn't matter, it was depressing!  That's because this kind of stuff seems too far out of the control or influence of a lowly programmer.  What impact can one person have on things like culture?  Or the autonomy granted to employees?  Or the purpose behind the work?  Or big-M vs. little-m methodologies?

I think the answer to these questions is, quite frankly, that on your own you can have very little impact.  BUT!  I believe a group of like minded people, with common goals, patience, and a dash of determination can get together within any organization and make a huge difference.  Those people can become engaged in the struggle to be engaged at work!  And, as cheesy as it may be, any group of people starts with just one person.  To be successful at this you have to have a broad idea of where you're heading. If all you want to do is be like 37 Signals, you're out of luck.  But if you can embrace the real kernel of truth in all the observations found in so many places these days (including what the guys from 37s are saying), and tailor that to your organization's unique goals, strategy, and personality...  Then you will be able to make your company, or your division, or even just your team one that all your friends will be jealous of.  And everyone will end up doing better work because of it.

So if you're not engaged at work, stop looking up!  Stop waiting for someone else to change!  Get out there and get started making a difference today.  Even if just a small one.  Be prepared to lose a lot of battles, but don't let one set back prevent you from continuing to work at it.  Because it is worth working at.  And you don't have to get 100% of the way there.  You don't have to end up with a ROWE to be engaged at work.  That's because lots of little improvements will add up.  And could maybe even start a steam rolling effect.

The key is to recognize that it's worth striving for, that you don't have to keep looking up waiting for someone else to make the changes, and that its ultimately a community effort.

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