The foundational factors are the pilings on which the motivators rest; when they are damaged or undermined, there is no stable foundation, but in themselves they do not motivate.

Herzberg’s pioneering work paved the way to better understanding worker motivation. The theory remains relevant and provides a solid foundation for motivating your staff.
Motivational Factors as Applied to Programmers
To try to bring a more software-centric view to Herzberg’s factors, we have modified his categories and rated them as our experience dictates. These adapted Herzberg factors are shown in Figure 7.5.

Motivational Factors
Fig. 7.5

We believe these motivational factors, while not determined by means of formalized research and polling, are more representative of the motivational factors that actually matter based upon our many years of managing and working with programmers.
We were also intrigued when we noticed, after debating the rankings and arriving at the final set shown in Figure 7.5, that these top motivational factors largely correspond to the factors that make up most successful startup environments.

The stark contrast between factors that motivate and those that demotivate was what struck Ron with his own “aha” moment when he first read Herzberg’s article  in the Harvard Business Review. “Whenever I had sat in management meetings up until that time to talk about motivating our teams, the conversation had always been one-dimensional. The realization that we needed to focus first on ensuring that our people were satisfied with a basic set of factors in order to be able to motivate them with a different set was a true epiphany. It changed the conversation.”

Common management practice is to throw money at the motivational problem by posting performance bonuses tied to project completion. But our experience matches Herzberg’s evidence that money’s not a motivator and risks being a demotivator. That conclusion was substantiated by Daniel Pink in his popular book “Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.”

Pink cites repeated studies that show that, in fact, contingent rewards—for example, the promise of bonuses for finishing faster—for the most part cause projects to take longer than they would have without the promise of a reward. The studies show that rewards narrow focus, which is just fine for motivating manual piece work, but  are counterproductive for creative work— the essence of our programming craft. Furthermore, rewards can become addictive (“I won’t give extra effort unless you offer me a bonus”) and can foster counterproductive short-term thinking (“Who cares how many bugs—I’m going for the bonus!”).

“When people use rewards to motivate,” Pink says, “that’s when they’re most demotivating.”

He does not propose dropping salaries. On the contrary, he says, “One reason fair and adequate pay is so essential is that it takes the issue of money off the table so that [people] can focus on the work itself.”

Pink concludes what we have seen many times over the years: “Intrinsically motivated people usually achieve more than their reward-seeking counterparts.”

About Mickey W. Mantle and Ron Lichty