Beyond momentary oscillations in motivational direction (which are largely unpredictable), team members in most cases will demonstrate a built-in bias towards certain categories of “big picture” personal goals. This is a great benefit to everyone when those goals are tightly aligned with your business needs. This can be a problem when the goals being pursued are not aligned with your needs. Economists call such situations “divergent interests", which arise more often than you may think. Identifying intrinsic biases and mitigating any resulting divergence is a good strategy for management. Here are some archetypes that I have seen:
The Engineer: Wants to build things. This is a powerful motivation, and what you hire your engineering folks for. The rub comes when engineers follow this motivation and push to build interesting things your company does not need, or when they emphasize the engineering process in ways that don’t fully serve the company. I have had engineers that always want to write perfect code, even for systems that are not critical. This means time drastically out of proportion to the value of the task at hand, and a poor use of resources.
The MBA: Wants to manage things. The rub comes when MBAs manage for the “sake of management” and the pursuit of the reward of leaving their mark on the business. Sometimes MBA personalities want to leave their scent on otherwise perfectly good operations in a company. This can often be demotivating to teams and damaging to operations.
The Designer: Wants to create something beautiful. This is a powerful motivation, and something that you seek out designers to do. The rub comes when designers move to put together designs that are beautiful, but not optimal for your needs as a company. The fact is that pure beauty is not usually actually what you want in the consumer products and software worlds. Company goals are usually “products that people want, and that end up being easy to understand.” This will almost never end up being the most beautiful design choice. Managing designers gives them room to create beauty and guides them towards efficient product results.
The Accountant: Many company executives have accounting backgrounds, which likely means that they will have a strong bias towards watching and improving the core metrics of their businesses. Managing core metrics is a good business goal, and probably why they were hired as executives. The rub comes when accountants are so number-focused that they lose sight of true value-creating activities in the company and may find it hard to recognize the value of individual employees. Simple levers in the form of cutbacks and layoffs are attractive options for accounting-biased managers because they have an immediate effect on moving the numbers (unlike value creation, which has uncertainty and time-lag built in). The management challenge with accountants is to help them connect the numbers with the full value-creating chain within the business: From employees and ideas through execution and strategic planning.
The Lawyer: Wants to be bulletproof. This is why you hire good lawyers--to be protected. The rub comes when the lawyer’s personal objective of covering every contingency and driving home every advantage goes too far. In this way, the lawyer’s personal bias can be at odds with the company’s actual interests. Negotiating legal agreements too hard can lose you deals, and it can take much more time and money than is appropriate. The management challenge is to get your lawyers to home in on “the right level of bulletproof” in a deal or in a contract, even when they know that more coverage and more concessions from the other party could be gained.
The Hourly Worker: Often wants to get it over with so he can go home. 5:00 cannot come soon enough. They will (usually) show up and do what you ask. The rub is that if “working to get to quitting time” is what they want most, their productivity and work quality will not likely be what it could be. The management challenge: Make work interesting and aligned with the employee’s self interest beyond the paycheck.Give responsibility. Lay out a pathway for promotion. Build a psychological contract with such employees to get them in a place where they actually care about the substance of what they do. You know you are at least part way there when your employees are thinking about their job and coming up with ideas when they are not in the office. That's a win for everybody.
In conclusion: Recognizing these motivational patterns, the key is to intervene when necessary and to (gently) set your errant team member back on the right path. Cognizant of their needs and those of the company, reconcile both with clear communication, tact, and humor. That formula works for me, and it will work for you too.
Kevin Ready is a serial entrepreneur, web business executive, and author of the book Startup: An Insider’s Guide to Launching and Running a Business.