Motivation through user appreciation

Most teams I’ve ever worked with are full of individuals who are intelligent and dedicated. But sometimes there is a concern from (often senior) people outside the team that there is something lacking. That is, the team members are working fine, but there seems to be a lack of motivation and drive.

When this happens the first thing I ask is how well the team knows the end users, and how much they really understand the users’ situation.

Early in my career this “motivation” was about deadlines—the client had a deadline, and we had to work furiously to meet it. But since then I’ve come to realise it’s more about having a common understanding and deep appreciation of the life and challenges of the users.

One way to do this is to have user researchers interview users on video and play a video compilation back to the team. Seeing (edited hightlights of) users talking about how they work and the challenges they face is a powerful way for team members to put real faces, voices, and lives into their thinking. Even better is to have team members be present in user interviews and meet the people directly.

I’ve seen this work in other contexts, too. One team was delivering a sales-driven feature, and when they seemed unmotivated their manager brought in members of the sales team to speak to them. The sales people talked in detail about why this was important to the company and the customers, and about all the groundwork the sales people were doing to prepare for the feature’s release. The development team were impressed by the sales team’s hard work, which they previously hadn’t known about, and it renewed their excitement and changed their thinking about some of the details.

Another example is a data entry team whose work was—everyone admitted—not exciting, but their manager was still disappointed by their lack of application. By way of a solution he invited the data entry people into his calls with customers; these were the people who would benefit from the breadth and accuracy of the data being compiled. The data entry team were initially hesitatant—they were junior people and somewhat fearful of the impressive brands they served—but quickly saw the human side of their customers, and understood what a tangible difference their back-room work would make to them.

In theory teams can be given instructions and get on with it, but of course life’s not like that. Everyone wants to do meaningful work, and having a visceral understanding of the people who benefit from that work can be huge motivator, and enables intelligent day-to-day decision making.

Photo by loppear