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Management things I learned at Imgur (medium.com/gerstenzang)
437 points by jasoncartwright on June 21, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 219 comments

"It’s terribly difficult to manage unmotivated people. Make your job easier and don’t."

I want to add to this by saying, it's terribly difficult to keep yourself motivated in a team with unmotivated people. I left my last job because all the team cared about was money, job security and doing their 9-5. At my current place, we could fire half the staff and the company wouldn't miss a beat. Sadly, there is no management, leadership or clear direction. We are self managed and so it's very easy to spot the handful of proactive staff because they usually end up picking up all the tasks which eventually causes burnouts and reduced motivation etc... I've tried to motivate my team mates but how do you motivate someone who's comfortable and secure in their 9-5 and don't really care to achieve any more than mediocre? Nobody gets fired and everyone's on pretty good pay for the job they do.

So I really do agree with this point. Find people who are not satisfied with the status quo. You can't change everyone, in fact, you can't change anyone. All a manager can do is hope to keep these people accountable if they do not hold themselves responsible.

Is there really anything wrong with the fact that some people don't care to achieve anything more than what's required of them at their job? I think it's unfortunate that you're in an environment you don't enjoy, and I hope you can find other people you relate with.

I hope I don't offend you, but it feels a bit selfish to try to change them to be more motivated. For many people, a job is just something they have to get through to survive and there's nothing wrong with that. In a way you are lucky because these people will likely never enjoy their jobs as much as you do.

Don't forget that they may very well have other things besides work that inspire them, but those things might not pay the bills.

When you're managing a team, contributors can be in one of three positions: 1) they require constant monitoring and adjustment to stay on task, 2) they stay on task as long you keep handing them a task, 3) they understand what is needed for the project to succeed and take initiative beyond their own tasks. The first needs time from me, the second doesn't, the third saves me time. Being a 2 is fine, but don't expect promotions or recognition.

I like the way this is worded because it's fair and it captures the idea of good contributors actually adding value and not just "giving 110%," working extra hours or generally "wearing more than the minimum flair." [1]

That said, this is simple and eloquent, but in practice it's not always this straightforward. The question is, can the 3's expect fair and consistent promotions and recognition, and do they feel that you understand what is needed for the project to succeed? Your superstar 3 may be a single "we know you've done great work here but we just can't get you on that project/we don't have the budget for a promotion/there's no one else available to do this maintenance work right now" from becoming a middling 2 or a no-longer-works-here, and those situations may not always be in your control.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJtrLKGZZFg

VERY well said

There's nothing inherently wrong with that kind of person. The problem arises when you mix the two types of people in a demanding environment where more than the status quo is expected (e.g., at a startup). If you want to coast, stick to defense.

The problem arises when managers have unrealistic expectations. If you hire someone to do 9-5 job and you expect them to do more than that, it's your fault if that fails, not theirs. Different people have different priorities in life, some will be ready to work more to finish more tasks, others will be ready to work just 8h but will be more productive in that timeframe. Or will produce better quality of code during that time or solve harder problems. Not all tasks are the same, nor all programmers produce equal quality of code, so the number of closed tickets in a unit of time is not a very good metric and definitely shouldn't be the only one that matters for an IT company.

> If you hire someone to do 9-5 job and you expect them to do more than that, it's your fault if that fails, not theirs.

I think the biggest teller of an unmotivated person is a generally negative, problem-focussed attitude. No matter the hour of the day, "We can't do x, because..." will destroy nearby "We can do this, if...." people, eventually.

Startups can operate just fine with 9-5 workers. The real limit is startups are generally spinning there wheels on unimportant crap.

The idea that working 9-5 is ipso facto "coasting" is absurd.

If you actually need people to work long hours, then ... you aren't doing it right.

"Is there really anything wrong with the fact that some people don't care to achieve anything more than what's required of them at their job?"

It's not an issue as long as your top-tier performance is recognized and rewarded on consistent and equitable basis.

However, we don't live in such perfect world. In a world of stack-ranking and office politics, you will never get top marks year after year, and get compensation that is inline with your contribution.

Slowly, it becomes a mentally toxic environment for high achievers, which is a real shame because I think it's possible for them to co-exist happily.

Chances are though, management itself is also complacent if you have department full of 9/5 ers.

Personally, I didn't take "motivated" in the original article to mean just how many hours are worked. One person can spend an 8 hour workday taking the initiative - spotting gaps and proactively jumping in to pick up the slack, learning new concepts when needed, suggesting new product ideas, etc. Another person can spend the same 8 hours passively doing only what was assigned to them and passing the buck whenever possible.

I worked on a team at one point where someone sat on a high-priority bug for a couple weeks without saying anything. Someone finally asked if he was making any progress, and his response was just: "Well someone else wrote that code, so..." He hadn't even tried to look at it. His response after that conversation was to start emailing other people asking if they could fix it, instead of trying to learn that part of the code base. You can spend hours doing that sort of thing, but it's not time well spent.

True there are many who take a job to survive. But I think you are confusing "passion" with motivation. A motivated team member would not sit back while her teammates are passionate about the work.

Isn't that just a recipe for self-exploitation? I'm motivated to do my work. But if you discover "passion" and start putting in 80 hours a week, don't expect me to run myself into the ground alongside you.

I guess it's about doing the best you can within your comfortable time frame. For e.g last week, a colleague of mine was trying to execute a statically compiled program like an executable i.e. ./myprogram.go and then raised hell over how bad Go is and we should rewrite everything in Python. That's the kind of attitude I am talking about.

This. There's also the assumption being made that unmotivated people are just lazy or don't care about their jobs. What if they were people who used to be motivated, but burned out?

>>Is there really anything wrong with the fact that some people don't care to achieve anything more than what's required of them at their job?

If you are trying to build a company of any scale at all, yes, everything, if these are the people you hire. For those individuals, there is nothing wrong with this attitude towards work, but over the long run it will most definitely affect their job security and lifetime earnings. If that's the price they are willing to pay, then that's perfectly fine.

> If you are trying to build a company of any scale at all, yes, everything, if these are the people you hire

i take offense at this sort of attitude, because it implies that the employees are beholden to make _you/the boss_ successful. I imagine that they aren't doing more than what's required because that's what they are paid. I imagine they don't get shares of the company, nor reap the profit if it was successful (and also don't take the risk when it's not).

If a boss tries to make me do more work, but don't offer the equivalent in rewards (which, in my eyes, must be some form of equity and/or profit sharing scheme), then either i won't do it, or will just get by. Unless the company is truly doing something i believe in, or i have something personal, it's not worth it.

> [employees] also don't take the risk when it's not [successful]

This line, which always seems to come from founders, is to my mind pure and utter bullshit. Taking a job with a company that may fail soon is absolutely a big risk, particularly if it's paying below market. Even more so if this person is "passionate" and spends every waking moment thinking about that company's problems, as so many founders love to encourage employees to do. I fail to see how this is any less risky than spending someone else's money (investors) to pursue the creation of a new company. The fact that employees don't share in that reward is just a matter of who was able to get their names on the paperwork, and it has nothing to do with who takes on more risk.

>>This line, which always seems to come from founders, is to my mind pure and utter bullshit.

I'm a founder of a bootstrapped start up, and I agree with you 100%. Early employees take on a ton of risk, and high level employees take on a ton of risk as well. Both tend to be compensated additionally with stock options offering additional upside reward in the marketplace compared to other jobs available.

Regarding going above and beyond a given job description, it's not about working insane hours, nor is it about 'passion', whatever you define that as. It's about gaining a level of trust between employer and employee. At scale, top-level employees don't have time to do consider every single aspect of a job and outline it in a job description before hiring someone, and they need to be able to trust their team to step up when the unexpected occurs.

On the other hand, employers need to earn the trust of their employees that they will fairly compensate them when they do go above and beyond what is asked. Sadly, all too often this doesn't happen, or the employee doesn't stick around long enough to see the payoff. The payoff doesn't always come in terms of stock options either. Sometimes it's just a promotion or a bonus.

Either way, my point was that, as a founder, if you want to be able to grow your company, you need to surround yourself with people you can trust, and that trust is earned when dealing with the unexpected. As an employee, if you want to move up to higher levels in a company and earn more money, you need to take risks and prepare for the unexpected. If you don't trust your employer will compensate you for this, then leave and find one who you trust to do so. If you don't want to step up and help out when things go wrong in your company, don't expect the marketplace to reward you with higher pay, a bonus, or stock options.

We are not talking about asking people to do work for free. If you agree to work for some number of hours per day in exchange for a salary, then you should work those hours and not try to find ways to do less. The latter is straight up dishonest and unprofessional. If you don't think you are getting paid enough, then don't agree to work for the rate offered.

It's astonishing to me the number of people here that feel entitled to try to abuse their employer. Being motivated doesn't mean working more hours than you are paid for, it means trying to do a good job during the time you do work vs trying to do as little as possible while not being fired for poor performance.

It feels a bit selfish to do the minimum you can at a job because you too afraid to actually try for something you enjoy. Of course, if what you enjoy is doing nothing, then I guess I don't have much sympathy.

But if you are passionate about making a change in the world, or even just doing an amazing job at one small thing you love, then you are in the right place. Be in the right place. Don't treat others and yourself poorly by being in a job you hate.

    It feels a bit selfish to do the minimum you
    can at a job because you too afraid to actually
    try for something you enjoy.
Maybe I have other things outside of work that are far more important to me than trying to ensure that the company that I'll have a 0.025% equity stake in in four years becomes the next unicorn. Honestly: why should I care about my founder/CEO becoming a multi-millionaire? What's in it for me?

I think this is where the mission driven bit comes in. If you don't care what the company is doing and their only mission seems to be to make the founders really rich then they've probably screwed up.

If knowledge that you're changing the world is making up for inequitable financial compensation, I'd say you as a worker have screwed up.

I find that view to be a little harsh. It demeans all those people who choose to work for organisations that can't/don't generally pay as much but are driven by other purposes (eg NGOs).

You bring up a valid point. I should have stipulated that I only feel this way about normal for-profit businesses. But I think I covered myself a little with "inequitable" if we take that to mean compared to others at their organization.

I greatly respect people that work for less than they might in the case of non-profits.

Well said. I've volunteered regularly prior to having kids because I was truly giving back to society. At some point, having more money loses it's meaning.

Having the satisfaction of doing a good job ? Not everyone is working simply in order to become richer, there are some which also wants to have a meaningful impact on society.

I like when my clients says the tools I've developped are extremely useful to them, and sometimes it means sticking my neck out and not doing the bare minimum.

> Maybe I have other things outside of work that are far more important to me than trying to ensure that the company that I'll have a 0.025% equity stake in in four years becomes the next unicorn

Sadly, you're not that important to the success of the company. You can quit tomorrow and they would find a replacement in due time and continue on.

Also, it's highly unlikely that the founder and CEO is going to end up a multimillionaire even if you were a high performing software engineer.

> What's in it for me?

How about not wasting your life? I mean dude, you're spending at least 40 hours a week working. Why not find something you love doing?

    How about not wasting your life? I mean dude,
    you're spending at least 40 hours a week working.
    Why not find something you love doing?
I do. But I enjoy what I do outside of work much, much more than I do offering my employer unpaid overtime. So, I make those 40 hours count. I work extremely hard, and then I'm done.

Sure, there's the occasional night or weekend that I'll work; I'm not going to leave my project in jeopardy, or my coworkers in a lurch...But, I don't owe my employer anything more than they owe me.

Job/income stability ?

There are a lot better ways of ensuring that that than working yourself silly. Ensuring you have significant savings, skills, connections, being prepared to switch jobs, and being good at negotiations will result in far better results. All of which require time outside of work.

Theres nothing wrong fullfilling your agreed work hours, with a reasonable expected work amout and spending time with family.

What makes you think your CEO's income is a guarantee for job security?

This has nothing to do with founders making or not making money. It's simple matter of respect for the people you do business with. Consider a simple example of someone hiring you to build them a wall around their garden.

Sure, you could take their money and do the worst possible job you can. Do you think this is a good idea? The owner ends up with a crappy wall and you end up with a bad reputation.

Everyone has things outside of work, like family, that are more important than work. That's not justification for doing the minimum you can do.

> But if you are passionate about making a change in the world

For most, a job is about surviving in this world.

Who was asking for your sympathy?

"Unmotivated people" come in all shapes and sizes. A few examples:

Your coworker who is just like you, except she's now two or three or five years into her job at your company. She used to be super motivated, and wanted to do all of the same things that you do, but that's all been beaten out of her as the company and the team ignored her efforts are rewarded other behavior.

Your coworker who is super motivated by something that the company values. Assuming you're a programmer, perhaps you're motivated by building features fast, and not worrying about technical debt, whereas your coworker is motivated by going slower and making sure technical debt is kept to a minimum. The company rewards stable easy to fix code, and doesn't care about moving out features quickly, so your coworker looks like a hero to them.

You coworker who really doesn't care too much about doing more than the minimum required to keep their job. They've got lots of other things in their life that keeps things interesting, and if work is a nice steady routine that's a good thing.


There's a reason that the team is the way it is: The company values what they're providing enough to keep rewarding their current behavior. Don't project your values onto management and assume that they agree that your team's behavior is sub-optimal. If you can't figure out how to either (a) provide the same value that your coworkers do or (b) deliver your value in a way that the company recognizes and appreciates, you should consider changing companies.

This may sound weird, but you were probably the one with motivation problems in this scenario, not them.

Don't believe me? They're comfortable and secure. They're happy with their output. They're apparently paid well.

You were unhappy with your situation - you want things to be different than what they are, and it was grating on you (and may or may not have led to burnout from your description), until eventually you left.

I've been in a very similar scenario:

I joined a "corporate" that had been running an Internet site for a decade. They had not built a new system in years, and had a massive monolithic ancient app with hundreds of hardcoded rules for individual accounts, where every change required tons of effort and they maintained a QA team at least the size of the dev team. Very few of the dev team seemed interested in things like learning new technologies, trying out different development methodologies, finding ways to make the system better as opposed to the task list of feature and bug requests. (I'm not even sure it had revision control.)

Short version - I get annoyed quickly at, for example, rules about arriving at 9:00am (my train schedule meant I tended to arrive at 9:10am, or at 8:30am, and I didn't want to hang out at work...). I'm told that even though I'm being productive, I'm setting a bad example, and they don't want others to start doing that. (I'm thinking: "Why don't you just deal with bad performance, whether the person arrives on time or not?", as well as "Yeah, and I leave the office at 6pm, so I'm at the office longer than them!")

Slightly longer version - I work with my manager to get my team (also not happy with the status quo) together in a room somewhat separated from the dev team, and we pump out code for several months a lot happier, until ultimately we all got better offers.

There's a much longer story, but the point is that _I_ was the one unhappy with the situation, and this affected my motivation to the point of the occasional debilitating day of non-productivity. The original employees were happy with their situation, and many probably still work there doing the same job they were doing nearly a decade ago now.

Sounds like we worked the same place, had abou the same issues as your guys only with a limited QA team and we were starting to build up a second product brand for ourselves with new blood that basically had the same people in charge as the old. Hiring talent was a nightmare and learning selfimprovement were set very low on the list. Me being just the admin but having written code in more languages at various degrees of difficulty, topic and necessity ended up making me more mad than the people directly affected by it.

Holing myself up for a month and working towards a new job paid off and I'm now in a better place as a developer and person.

"It gets better"

Why would someone put more than 9-5 if they are not paid overtime and they don't have shares at the company? I don't get it. Also, working 9-5 absolutely doesn't mean that person is unmotivated.

Maybe it's an American thing but here in EU most people won't work for free.

Exactly. When I work a 9-5, I am motivated by money. When an employer or manager says I should be motivated by something else, it's usually because they want me to work overtime/weekends/crazy hours for no extra pay.

I actually did this in my early years and the outcome was never positive for me: I worked nights, weekends, many more hours to help the team, get this great product or project done. In the end? We were let go and upper management got a nice payout and moved onto their next company.

This has happened so many times to my friends in the tech industry, it's crazy. As a result of this behavior, I started my own company and never looked back.

""It’s terribly difficult to manage unmotivated people. Make your job easier and don’t."

But it is your job to figure out why you got unmotivated people.

* Is your hiring process borked?

* Is there something wrong inside your organisation that's regularly breaking motivated people?

… and so on …

Hear, hear.

Terrible management and/or micromanagement is one of the key reasons a dev can lose motivation. It also doesn't do anyone's morale/motivation any favors to see colleagues get fired. If a manager has had to fire people, and do so repeatedly, then the fault is not so much with those getting fired than the organization/management/hiring process.

One of the key reasons why I've seen dev lose motivation after joining a company is lack of investment on the part of the manager in the employees future goals. I've been in situations during my entry-level days when my manager always made me draw the short straw - did wonders for my motivation.

Exactly, I have seen this at a few companies where the management isn't clear about the responsibilities with the candidate at the time of hiring, only to find out later that the candidate and company has different priorities. I will also add that this is the job of the company to find out the whether the candidate is right fit and not the candidate. The hiring company should be completely transparent about the job responsibilities and work.

Also some management people have completely unrealistic expectations from a hire whose job they hardly understand and with whom they never really talked openly.

And what is this person's definition of unmotivated? Is only doing the work and not beyond what stated in your contract unmotivated? Is having a life outside of work considered unmotivated?

I would imagine that people motivated mainly by money are among the easiest to manage. There's no guesswork there. Give them clear, measurable performance goals, with dollar signs attached to each one. Done.

In my view, money also is a good fallback motivation, if you can't figure out exactly what it is that someone wants out of his job, or you can't provide it. Truly, I've probably had only one job in my life where I honestly thought "I wouldn't stay here NO MATTER WHAT they pay me!"

I'd say I'm not a money oriented person. E.g., looking at the income statistics of my city I think that my chances are >50% if I find any other job.

But I think what you say would highly motivate me anyway. People like numbers and making numbers bigger. That's why people feel bad if they don't get enough Facebook likes. So if you give people clear numbers and a path to increase the numbers they will be motivated to do it, even if they don't care what the numbers stand for.

  I've probably had only one job in my life where I honestly thought "I wouldn't stay here NO MATTER WHAT they pay me!"
What was this job?

I've been on both sides of the fence, and as you get older you'll also probably end up on both sides at times too (No idea what age you are).

As everyone mentions sometimes there is other stuff going on in peoples lives, or they are just not that interested in building the same CRUD app for the umpteenth time that has you terribly exited because it is your first go at it and you want to prove yourself.

That being said, when on the motivated side of the fence, I want to offer you some advice that was given to me by my manager some years ago: You can't keep a good man down. Eventually management will see you put in extra effort, don't drop the ball and is constantly pulling the project out of the fire, and that will result in rewards be that promotions or freedoms or whatever. It might not always be as quick as you want, but you can't keep a good man down...

I hope that helps.

That's dangerous advise. I worked at a company for about 3 years and did some amazing things, was diligent, etc. but couldn't get ahead. In some companies you just can't: I'm not bitter, but jumping ship was a good move for me.

The same thing happened to me. I worked for a mid-sized company with a small development team. We had 2 managers and after senior developer, that was pretty much the only place to go (and get a raise).

I left 8+ years ago and last I heard, those 2 managers are in the same position.

You can't keep a good man down but like the two replies, my boss chose to ignore my effort and results to keep costs low. He's a great guy but when it comes to recognition and pay negotiation, he's a real bastard hehe.

Perhaps if we add that a "good (wo)man" will leave if that's what it takes to rise up.

if you don't mind me asking, how many hours do you work a week?

Entry-level here, and I'd say i'm the 9-5 type, but don't consider myself "don't really care to achieve any more than mediocre" is it possible to be motivated but still work at a reasonable hours? If it's not, then I'm kind of discouraged

Yes, absolutely. Everyone should be paid for the time they put in. Being motivated means being great at what you do, not working for free.

Almost 15 years here and I work 40 hours. Very rarly I'll put in 41 or 42 and that's mainly to help out the people that work under me put in only 40.

The secret is to learn how to say "no." People think it's a dirty word, but as and industry we're terrible at estimation and "no" is your most powerful way of fixing that situation.

Thanks for the reply

> we're terrible at estimation and "no" is your most powerful way of fixing that situation.

This is also my problem half the time, and that's what made me wonder if I keep realizing my estimate was off, and it's taking me more time to complete my original estimated work, does that make me a "9-5, unmotivated worker"

When I was entry level, back ten years ago, I used to do 8-10 hrs solid work being on the critical path alot and doing weekends sometimes. My manager was very supportive and gave me room to take responsibility of my work. It empowered me and brought out the best in me. I was paid peanuts but it was one of the best job I had.

Now, I try to take that attitude wherever I go. When I say 9-5, too many people took it to literally mean 9am-5pm. I do a task until it's done, a 9-5 person would do it until 4:59pm. If I'm done, I'll leave early or late, a 9-5 person would be on Facebook and leave at 4:59pm. It's pretty depressing to be in the middle of some design, be interrupted and turn around to find my colleague gone because it just passed 5pm... happened a few times...

I don't count the hours that I put in anymore. It's either getting a task done, doing something with the family or learning to improve myself or having some down time. I do take work home, wouldn't recommend it to everyone, I also take home to work. Somewhere between 20 and 30, I realised that spending 1/3 of my life just 'having a job' to survive isn't living so I seek out roles that align with my personal mission and go for it!

It used to be about money. Why do you want this job? Because I need the money to start my life, family, etc. But I've since realised that if you're hard working, frugal and sensible, moneys the last of your worries, it is more of what have you accomplished in life.

Sorry, getting a bit heavy here hehe, but having alot of key people die around me made me question what it was that I was doing.

So to bring it all back to your question, don't be discouraged by my views of work. When you're motivated, do whatever it is that interest you, forget about 'reasonable hours', just enjoy what you do.

thanks for the reply

> I don't count the hours that I put in anymore. It's either getting a task done

how do you define task? if you have a task estimated at 1 day, and by the end of the day you're not finished with it, do you finish it or count it as wrong estimation and finish it later?

For much of my career, I worked a normal 40 hours a week or so schedule - I did do coding outside of work, but on open source work or projects I wanted to do. Those outside of work activities were only when I was interested in doing so, and had no effect on work.

I became a senior frontend engineer in about 1 1/2 years.

that's pretty impressive! how do you make sure you're not getting too specialized within the company and are actually advancing your cs knowledge instead of the product knowledge?

I make sure to focus on a high level understanding of problems, and learning from my mistakes as much as possible.

I am extremely efficient at problem solving - I still have a lot more to learn I find each day though.

This is a really big problem in startup-land when a company starts hiring lots of staff before the business has actually grown. You get lots of people sitting around not doing much, and a few core people driving all the work forward. If the business never picks up, then it can turn into a caustic environment.

This true of any group of people you find yourself around for very long periods of times. Humans are social animals and have built-in mimetics. That's why its important to be around people with aspirations and goals; who believe in possibilities. I didn't believe this until much later in life, but I agree now that it's important to select for high-performance colleges for this reason alone.

It's shocking to me every time I encounter this. How do those unmotivated people expect to keep their jobs? How do they expect to get the next job, and references for the next job?

I'm less surprised by out of touch management once in a while and more surprised by individuals so confident in their demotivated lifestyle and their ability to maintain it long term with no consequences.

Depends what you mean by motivation?

I don't see anything wrong in working agreed work hours, and completing a reasonable expected work amout and that's it. I think that's just recognising you have family and other responsibilities.

A lot of companies think your not motivated if your not doing 80+ hour weeks, for little added gain. Your not a founder, or have little or no equity and so have a limited upside. I don't why companies expect founder level commitment for non founder level upside.

In this case your biggest duty is probably to your loved ones and family. And not sacrificing that over some misplaced sense of duty. I'm sure a lot companies would not do the same if the positions where reversed. They'd probably fire you pretty fast, if you had issues effecting work. Keep that in mind.

Those people become experts - they get incredibly attuned - at navigating risks when it comes to getting fired. It's like people that don't work hard consistently, and then cram as much in at the last second right before getting in trouble. They develop an almost sixth-sense like ability to know when they have to do something, and then they do just enough. A lot of times in my observation, persistently unmotivated people don't know what they want, either out of work or life in general; so it does them little good to quit and go find a job they want to do, because they have no idea what they want to do.

It's the classic rhetorical: why not just work consistently, and not have to worry about cramming? Why do people behave that way (in either school or work)? In my personal experience, I've found the only time I cram, is when I'm stuck doing something I really don't care about (happened constantly in school).

It find it out that the entire blame is put on those people.

One or two demotivated people? Well, okay, they're probably to blame.

But when you have a company full of them it's a toxic company and poor management that caused it.

The thing is that motivation is not something people compare to some known value, but rather between people. If you hear that people were unmotivated from an enthusiastic/workaholic person it doesn't mean that they really were unmotivated. Just less motivated than this person.

Some of us are happy with working at a steady pace without many external symptoms of exctitation. I even believe this is better in the long run, people don't burn out and are better-rested.

How do those unmotivated people expect to keep their jobs?

Perhaps by doing their job to a satisfactory standard and abiding by the conditions of their employment?

If that's not good enough, the contract should make it clear just what the job really entails.

Well, good money and job security is also a strong motivator.

When did it become a Universal Truth that good management requires regular scheduled 1-1s (weekly or biweekly at most)? Clearly managers should meet frequently and in depth with people on the team, but the "regular 1-on-1" thing is mantra, and I'm not sure there's research/evidence to support its efficacy.

People never look forward to them. You gotta remember everything you did that week so you can report on it (even when told the 1-1 isn't meant for status reports... it kinda always is). You gotta think of some issue to bring up to manager's attention. It interrupts your whole day. Your manager didn't yet help you on your problem from last week -- now they want to listen thoughtfully to problems this week?

From the manager's POV: You've been keeping up with the team members all week, helping out and checking in every day... now you're gonna lose one or two days with back-to-back 1-1s which leave your voice hoarse. They need a few more days to finish out whatever you discussed last week... should you cancel the 1-1 and sync up on the next week (and lose the 1-1 tempo), or have a "no-diff" meeting that you both know you coulda skipped?

> People never look forward to them.

I'm sorry, but...speak for yourself. I have nothing but respect for my manager and he respects me as well. It's there so if I have some persistent problem or concern with our project's direction, they can help. And, yes, it does provide the opportunity for you to market yourself and what you've done. Marketing is important.

I also look forward to 1 on 1s. In fact, I have to be the one to schedule and ask for them. It's a good way to build a communication channel that allows constructive feedback. Communication is always good.

If I had some persistent problem or concern I would just bring it up, I wouldn't wait for some scheduled meeting. I guess some managers might not be so easily available.

It's not just the managers. I've worked with great managers who were truly available, but due how busy I perceived everyone to be, I never felt comfortable interrupting things for what I deemed weren't critical issues.

Since we did have regular 1 on 1 meetings, I knew I had a dedicated block of time coming up to hash things out.

What if your manager is in the middle of something? Even if they allow for the interruption trying to help, their mind may still be on the other task, and they likely will try to find the quickest solution to get back to what they're doing instead of the best solution.

If you instead talked about it in your one on one, they can spend more time on it with you.

Or some employees don't feel comfortable bringing it up.

If your manager has no idea what your value is without your marketing, you work in a shitty environment.

You're making a lot of assumptions there, and none of them are really valid.

First, good managers are busy people. Sometimes they'll be juggling a lot at once. My manager is also a team leader of a team with over thirty people. He has a general idea of how well everyone is doing, but by necessity that's not a lot in the way of details.

Second, marketing is as necessary a thing in the workplace as it is in sales. While I do wish I lived in a utopia where value-providers (whatever that means) naturally rose to the top and technically better products managed to sell themselves to the consumers, that's not the world. In the real world, those things just don't happen. So you have to market your company's products, and you have to market your own value. If I did not, I'm sure I could just go on existing in my current role pretty much forever, but that's not really my style.

A 1:1 isn't a drag or a necessary evil even if I remove the non-marketing aspects from it that I discussed in my post above. It's an opportunity to market yourself, where you have a captive audience for however long it's scheduled for. Captive audiences where you can sell are a pretty rare occurrence, so make the most of the opportunity!

Some people like to feel appreciated, so they'd talk up how well they're doing during the 1:1 each week and glow happily as their manager praises them for their good job - while yawning himself to sleep inside. Then the employee goes off feeling 'wanted' and motivated and everyone is happy.

Obviously this wouldn't be useful for everyone, but it's useful for some people. They're usually pretty easy to spot, too.

As a manager, 1-1s should not just be considered status reports. They are a way for you to build trust and communication with your staff, and to give them a chance to talk about anything: problems, work on personal development, or feedback about you as their manager.

1-1s are probably your most valuable tool. Often, you will discover problems and info you would have otherwise not known - "our lead developer seems depressed and was talking about quitting", "did you hear about that other project that started? It's in direct conflict with our plans...", "there's a conference coming up, we should present at it", and so forth.

An effective manager should, in my opinion, spend 50% or more of his time with his team. Working on the same topics, talking to them, helping to plan, fixing problems, finding resources, and doing 1-1s. It's no surprise that teams with the most problems often have a manager who is just not around enough.

For new managers, I always suggest the following resources as a great starting point:

- "Team Geek": http://shop.oreilly.com/product/0636920018025.do - "Managing Humans": http://www.amazon.com/Managing-Humans-Humorous-Software-Engi... - Manager Tools podcast: https://www.manager-tools.com

>1-1s should not just be considered status reports.

And scrum standups should only take 5 minutes. Theory is one thing. Reality is another. It's even worse when you have a team that does scrum, and also schedules regular 1:1s with the boss. I'm expected to give my status every day, and then summarize a week's worth of status at the 1:1 meeting. It's a colossal waste of time, and I don't know how to "take charge" of my 1:1 (or even if I'm supposed to take charge) in order to refocus it onto what I want it to be about.

When 1-1s become the weekly status report, your manager has failed you. Your manager should know what's up because he is around, uses the team's tools, and asks questions.

You should definitely take charge of 1-1s. Maybe try bringing a list of non-status related issues and hand them over. The problems you see, ideas you have, off-topic things. Make it clear to your boss that things aren't working.

that's just poor execution and as you point out, can suck the value out of anything

The regular 1-on-1 thing is mantra because people are notoriously bad at determining when they are actually needed, and because so many managers spend far less time actually listening to their reports than they think. They often spend lots of time with their reports, but usually talking to them or over them, or focusing entirely on tasks rather than giving attention to the person.

If 1-1s take one or two days of back to back meetings, to me that means the team is either too large for you to effectively manage without putting putting in place a team lead or more to delegate to. Or alternatively those meetings are really necessary, or you wouldn't have that much to talk about. If it leaves someones voice hoarse as a manager, it makes me think they're not listening enough.

> the team is either too large

Not really. It can be tough even at 8-10 reports, 30 minutes each (some may go over): 4-5 hours of meetings. It's hard to schedule them literally back-to-back because of everyone else's schedules, so it winds up taking up two afternoons or whatever (it won't literally take up two full days from morning to evening).

> If it leaves someones voice hoarse as a manager, it makes me think they're not listening enough.

Very cute. Maybe I don't have the stamina for non-stop talking as others do :-P

8-10 directs reports is already too large in my opinion, at least to me, exactly because of the amount of effort it takes to follow all of them up sufficiently. I've had teams with that many direct reports, and it sucks for me and it sucks for the people reporting to me if there's not then a team lead or similar exactly because it drains time. I don't see cutting the time I spend on people as viable at all.

The threshold might very well differ from person to person, but in my opinion, if you can't afford to schedule 30 minutes per person on a weekly basis (whether or not you actually end up using the full amount of time) without feeling it is too much, then you can't afford to manage that many people directly, no matter how many people we're talking. For some that might mean 10 or even more works, but in my experience as the team size grows the amount of time you need to invest per person grows as well as interpersonal issues and communications gets more complicated.

> Very cute.

Maybe, but it's not meant to be - I'm very serious on that point. When I do 1-on-1's with reports, if I'm the one doing the talking it's a sign we've spent more time than necessary and the meeting is at an end.

That might also be part of the reason why I have a different attitude to them: If a report doesn't have anything to bring up, the meeting is over in 5 minutes. But in my experience at least, there's a big difference in what comes out when you bring someone into a meeting room for 5 minutes (or on a private call), and specifically ask them in a one on one setting if there's anything they'd like to bring up, anything I could help with, what personal development they'd like doing etc..

I'm sure that for some people that's not necessary and they get people to open up without creating that setting all the time, but my experience with my own managers too is that managers in IT (probably applies elsewhere too, but I've only ever worked in tech companies) are notoriously bad at creating good environments for this. And I need to keep a very close eye on myself too, as it's not a part of the job that comes naturally to me.

That is where the ceremony comes it. It's not for the people who are great at getting everyone to talk. It's for everyone else - including a lot of people who think they're great at getting people to talk.

8-10 is a big team. That's when you should think abotu splitting up your team beyond you managing everyone because it is as you suggest hard to give everyone attention.

As for hoarseness: ask more questions and talk less. - These can help: http://jasonevanish.com/2014/05/29/101-questions-to-ask-in-1...

Clearly it's not a universal truth because at least from what you say, it sounds like you don't like them.

On the other hand, I'll have to say you're definitely wrong to say people don't look forward to them. I have yet to find a company where we have had too many 1:1s, and I usually have them weekly.

It's true that sometimes I don't have anything I really need to communicate, and what ends up happening is that the meeting takes 5 minutes and that's it. That might seem like a waste, but I like it because it makes me feel like my manager actually cares enough to hear the feedback from us underlings. If we didn't have scheduled 1:1s, I would have a really hard time bringing up anything because my manager is very often elsewhere.

I also feel like it should be beneficial from the manager's perspective because assuming people actually are comfortable talking about issues, there are usually problems which arise that the manager doesn't have to deal with and thus know about. Then, we can make sure these things get addressed.

Of course, all this is moot if you don't feel like you can trust your manager, which is unfortunately sometimes the case.

1-1s are an excellent tool to keep discussions opened that would be difficult otherwise. In other scenarios, if you need to talk about career, feedback, develop the relationship without being focused on last week's work stuff, etc... It's the opportunity to "invert" the power relationship and give the managed a clear voice (even if the manager drives it) In other cases, what's most likely to happen is that the urgent takes preference over the important. The 1-1 should be about the important. All those chats should be an ongoing discussion, not an exceptional topic to bring one day...

1-on-1's are the one dedicated block of alone-time you can get with your manager. This is the moment any questions or concerns or thoughts you have about your career, your goals, anything that might be getting in your way can come up. Also, these are moments you can celebrate with praise, etc.

Note the word "your" here. It's honestly your time with your manager, not her time with you. They're just organizing it for you as all good managers should.

I find the rhythm in 1-on-1s something to look forward to, and something I can be mentally prepared for each week.

If you're finding them useless, then do yourself and your manager a favor and make them useful. Plus never be afraid to ask hard questions, or get information about promotions or career advancement at these meetings. They're the perfect time for questions about that.

FWIW, my career took a turn for much better when I started working at a place that had regular 1 on 1's.

I think of regularly scheduled 1-on-1s as a shortcut to make employees feel like management is open to serious communication. It's a regularly-scheduled explicit opportunity to give feedback, so even if no specific feedback is usually necessary, when it is necessary the time slot is already booked.

Obviously, being open to communication is a good thing, so I'm not really critical of 1-on-1s. The fact that there isn't usually anything substance to talk about is a feature, not a bug. Sure, ideally the company culture and the individual relationships with managers would be such that everyone knows that serious discussions can be initiated any time they're necessary, but failing that, regularly-scheduled 1-on-1s are probably the next best thing.

They seem pretty useful to me. The hardest part of being a manager seems to be getting reliable information. (The higher up you are, the more disconnected you tend to be, and the more motivated people are to bullshit). So introducing a socially acceptable way for people low in the hierarchy to communicate information upwards with lower political friction seems like a good thing overall. I mean yes, you could just go directly to your management if you have a concern and not have scheduled 1:1's, but I think the action of directly approaching the manager implicitly amplifies things in ways you might not want. How pleasant and productive the meeting is depends on your manager, but I think the idea is sound.

Agreed, i dont do 1:1's with my team a) i have about 90 folks to deal with, so it would be near to impossible. b) all my folks know (and do) that they can grab 30 mins at any time with me if they have something on thier mind. I kinda keep track of who is not talking to me, and hit them up with a chat now and then. I also do something I call "walking the floor", where every few hours i get around everybody and just say hi and ask how everybody is doing, and what they are up to, ask if they have any problems. Show interest in what they are doing. I usualy time it when i know folks are takimg natural breaks etc so i know im not distracting them.

It seems like too much to have one person managing all 90ds. I guess this is where people either agree or disagree about the layers of middle management...for example have local leads reports to local manager, and local manager reports back to director/VP/SVP or whatever if you have people concentrated in various location.

I try to keep my org as flat as possible, but 90 people would be completely nutso.

To me it's a sign of an org that can't grow managers properly.

To put this in perspective: if he gave each of his folks just 26 minutes a week, that would be every minute of working time in a 40 hour work week :)

>I also do something I call "walking the floor"

Also known as drive-by management. Why not schedule some time instead?

Among "worst qualities of management I've ever experienced," drive-by is in the top 5. Even satirized in Office Space.

Come to think of it, "far too many direct reports" is on the same list...

90 direct reports?

What's your turnover rate with that flat an org?

Other orgs set up like that I've found have a lot of unspoken problems that lead to people leaving on a pretty regular basis.

Where do you work?

I look forward to 1-on-1s with my manager(s) and I've never used them for status reports.

Perfect time to ask questions about things not directly in my day to day domain.

Weekly seems a bit much for anyone but super-new-hires, though.

It's a venue to bring up problems that could be bottled up. Properly conducted 1-on-1's don't have to be dreadful and can end quickly if so desired.

Manager can probe with questions such as "What's the biggest obstacle you're facing right now?" and "Anything you need from me to help you out?", but there are some weeks where nothing will come up, which would end the session.

The help/harm of 1-on-1s depends on the manager's style. I've had managers whose 1:1s were helpful and motivating, and others where it felt like I was on trial each time, and I dreaded seeing that calendar notification pop up.

Some people like "reflective practice" and "supervision". (Here supervision is a jargon word that comes from healthcare or protective social services. A person has regular meetings with a more experienced team member to talk about difficult things they've had that week / month.)

The challenges that programmers face are very different to the challenges a mental health nurse faces, but they're still useful concepts. Weekly might be a bit much for programmers.

A lot of people get the wrong idea about 1 on 1s because they've only had poor ones. When a manager turns them into status updates, as you describe, they are a waste. And even if they do ask good questions in the meeting, if they don't keep their promises with what they're going to do based on the discussion, it becomes pointless as well.

That being said, in the right hands, 1 on 1s are amazing. They help managers and their team in a variety of ways:

1) Open channel of communication - Having a standard, private time to talk to your manager or report (depending on your role) is huge. Michael Wolfe has a great post on this http://www.michaelrwolfe.com/2013/10/19/do-i-really-need-to-...

2) Avoid interruptions - If people are constantly bugging you as a manager you can't get anything done nor give those problems attention. By meeting at a set time each week or two you can dive into the problem and give it your singular focus.

3) Talk about career growth - Most companies suck at this, but those that actually do talk about skill and career growth have a huge advantage. There is no other time to have this conversation besides 1 on 1s.

4) Catch problems when they're small - If you have to interrupt your boss to talk to them about something you're probably going to wait til it's a big enough deal to interrupt them, but by then it can be too late. Jason Lemkin writes well about this: http://www.saastr.com/by-the-time-you-give-them-a-raise-they...

5) Supporting the efficacy. - Is there a study out there? Well, not exactly, but Andy Grove CEO of Intel (High Output Management), and Ben Horowitz A16Z (the Hard Things about Hard Things) swear by them to the point they included them in their books, and recently Deloitte did research on them as a way to replace the hated performance review https://hbr.org/2015/04/reinventing-performance-management

There's a reason Andy Grove said the "90 minutes of your time can improve the effectiveness of your team for 2 weeks or 80+ hours". One on ones done right are that powerful.

I found so many people need this help I decided to make an app to help. If you're interested, I'd be happy to get you early access at GetLighthouse.com, just mention this thread at signup.

> People never look forward to them

100% not true. Explain and apologize.

If one considers the primary purpose of managers to be to improve the performance of those that report to them, then this list starts poorly.

It _is_ terribly difficult to manage unmotivated people, but most people only end up unmotivated because of poor management. And it's usually cheaper and ultimately better to motivate a proved achiever who has lower motivation than to find a replacement.

That's not always true. Sometimes people end up unmotivated because the organization shifts its mission in one direction while they shift their values in another, and so what starts out as great mission-alignment falls out of alignment. Sometimes people grow out of a role when the role doesn't grow with them. Sometimes peoples' life circumstances change and they don't have as much attention to devote to work. Sometimes people are just looking to collect a paycheck and don't care about the work at all.

A manager should always start by assuming that a motivation problem is something he can address, and work with the employee to figure out what the real reason is and see if they can make the necessary changes. But sometimes, the employee and organization just aren't a good fit anymore, and it's better for both of them if they part ways and find new situations that are a good fit.

Absolutely. There are many other ways people end up unmotivated, but the most common I've seen has to do with things that are within the realm of their manager - possibly with escalation to someone higher up.

I've encountered only five managers who fully exemplify this, but they had an outsize role in keeping good people who others might not have been able to keep, keeping them productive (at least enough of the time to satisfy their work commitments while they dealt with other issues), and attracting more good people (because of word of mouth from the existing good people). It seems the key here was to have the conversations when they were needed. The advice here "Make your job easier and don’t." doesn't correlate with these great managers at all. At least two of them to my knowledge have given reports the advice (and assistance) to find opportunities elsewhere.

Isn't that just management at a higher level? You can have a great direct manager, but you are still at the mercy of his/her managers, and the re-orgs, mission shifts, and everything else. I guess this is why big companies often prefer employees who are motivated by things other than the work they do (like by the paycheck, as you mention). Problem is, you can't really be very innovative with that.

The most unmotivated people I have ever had the displeasure of having to manage were people I had no ability to fire or promote. There is basically nothing you can do yet higher management still holds you responsible for the lack of results.

I've been on the receiving side of "no ability to promote", and ultimately the best thing a manager can do in that situation is to have an honest conversation about what is and isn't possible.

In addition, don't just give up. Keep talking and helping out. It could be advice on how to stay motivated or at least not demotivated, carving out space for interesting projects or developing new skills, or even helping that person find a new opportunity outside the company.

Dealing with unmotivated unproductive people you have limited ability to actually manage is beyond my experience.

It is most definitely not an experience you want. The best you can do is flow with it. The thing that gets tiring very quickly is having to do their work as well as your own because otherwise innocent people get harmed.

> In addition, don't just give up. Keep talking and helping out.

Motivation is the responsibility of the employee. As a manager, if your performance is faltering and it's because you're not motivated, I will tell you clearly my perspective, and ask if that is the case. However it's on you take corrective action. I will do everything I can to help you, but it's your responsibility, and not fair to the other team members who are motivated if

1. I am focusing my energy dealing with issues caused by your lack of motivation.

2. They're working extra to ensure success when a team member is unmotivated.

If you can't fire or promote them are you really their manager?

Union, tenure, or simply no from upper management. Sometimes people deliver the result but they may behave in a way that shows they are not motivated. That is a hard thing to use to fire someone.

Exactly. My experience is from within the university system where nobody can be fired for non-performance. You get people that are just waiting to retire and don't care about anyone other than themselves.

Even if you are in an "At-Will" employment state, it's not as simple to fire an employee. You have to have HR involved, and prepare enough documentation to satisfy the need to terminate someone.

In smaller orgs with no HR, it's probably easier, but larger companies have a specific process.

Though to your point, I would not consider myself someones manager unless I had the option to hire, fire, or promote them.

Not really, but when you are held responsible for their "productivity" (or more accurately lack of productivity) you have all the responsibility and none of the resources to manage.

> most people only end up unmotivated because of poor management I don't find this to be a self evident truth. Can you provide some argumentation around this?

Most people who leave their jobs do so and cite management.

Whether or not that has to do with their motivation is unclear.

"Fire quickly. If you don’t fire bad performers fast, you’re at risk of losing your good performers. Don’t underestimate the effect bad performers have on good performers. Your team will likely move faster even with fewer bodies." and "It’s terribly difficult to manage unmotivated people. Make your job easier and don’t." are very very important.

In the previous company I created, I had to keep an incompetent and lazy employee to appease my cofounder because he was friend with him. There's nothing worse for team motivation than having an incompetent and lazy untouchable employee... Never ever do that.

Oh and if you ever find yourself with a cofounder who wants to keep an employee because he is his friend regardless of performance, treat that as a huge red flag...

Ok, the example you gave is fine. But there is something that scares me a little.

Could a "bad performer" mean someone who just can't output as much as everyone else, even though they are trying as hard as possible? What if they exhibit strong self-motivation to learn, but have a difficult time implementing something that would otherwise be easy for someone else?...

It scares me as a (well, I consider myself, but I've been developing software for 5+ years...) junior software developer that I might be compared to seniors or "prodigy" developers. The only thing I can do is keep pushing my limits and reach those levels, and I'm lucky to be one of those self-motivated people. But the others...it sounds hopeless.

In my career so far, it's the people who at first do not know something, then after a couple weekends come in ready to tackle a problem head-on. Those are the people who get ahead in this industry.

Those are the people everyone says, "wow they're amazing." In reality, they are just hard-workers who don't take lack of knowledge in an area as an excuse.

In my experience, determination and perseverance trumps raw talent. If you really push yourself to the limit and are passionate enough about what you're doing to try to improve yourself, you're going to be a better asset in the long term for a team compared to someone who understand things easily but doesn't really try to improve himself unless he has to.

Even in term of team morale, someone who tries hard and pushes himself to the limit is motivating.

So I wouldn't worry too much about it (plus you might just have imposter syndrome and discount what you really know ;-))

Yeah I get this feeling that 90% of the people I see and hear are just running a facade...And sometimes I get a glimpse of that...and it feels really good to know I'm not a fake.

"It’s terribly difficult to manage unmotivated people. Make your job easier and don’t."

And where is the challenge if everyone is highly motivated and easy to manage? Then you can just leave the programmers alone. They don't need management in this case.

Most programmers I know (myself included) don't need managers but facilitators, people who get shit out of the way so I can do my job.

On the contrary, that is one of the primary roles of a development manager.

My point is, manager is associated with "control" whereas facilitator is associated with "providing". I.e. most developers don't need managers.

Maybe call them "development facilitator"?

Just because people are highly motivated doesn't mean they're intrinsically organized. You can leave the programmers alone, but you still need someone to decide what they're working on and how to best allocate resources. A manager ensures a team stays coordinated.

I've found that groups of individual contributors are actually very good on deciding what is important, what they should work on and when, and how to work together to get things done.

Managers can provide a useful role in setting the scene, reminding what the goals of the organisation, the department, and so forth are, and how this connects with what the team is doing. They are perhaps most useful in working with individuals who aren't working well as part of the team at the moment - giving them feedback, mentorship, building bridges, connecting them with people, training, and so forth.

In my opinion, managers hurt more than not if they override the self-organisation of teams, and this most hurts when you need two teams to work together - and one of the managers has (explicitly, perhaps) made it clear that doing things "off the plan" is not appreciated.

That strongly strongly strongly depends on the team and contributors.

I'd agree at my startup employers. I would not agree about several teams I worked with at Apple, to pick on a corporate example. Teams built from the ashes of an acquired startup at Apple, again, I'd be more inclined to agree. You can't support a broad conclusion like that anecdotally, because I can counterexample it anecdotally, implying there's more to it.

It really depends on the ICs in question. Startups are far more selective about their ICs because one person has a very big impact. With the exception of Google and a couple others, large-cap corporate throws IC quantity at problems and distinguished, autonomous, "rockstar" (sigh) ICs are far more rare. You need the cat herders there.

It does depend on the contributors, and obviously depends on the culture of the company (ie, if everyone assumes managers are supposed to do it, nobody will do it).

You can't rely on any random grouping of people to decide well on what's important to do and how to effectively break up the work. But adding a random manager to that group doesn't help specifically. Adding a more experienced IC will generally help more than a less experienced manager.


Individual Contributor.

I find it hard to believe that a complete highly motivated team would need such a guidance. Unless we are not thinking about the same thing when we use the word "motivated".

To me, a complete highly motivated team (a team without any unmotivated person) would certainly feel like they should bring up some kind of organization. They are motivated, after all, and thus they want to get their work done.

A not motivated person, however, needs to be pushed, not in a bad way, but in some way, because he/she is unmotivated (don't feel like wanting to get any job done), and thus the hierarchy comes into play.

Most people fall in this "unmotivated" category. And that is (I think) the actual true reason why management exists in the real world: to push (unmotivated) people, so they get their work done.

Note: by "push" I don't mean "being an idiot". I believe that the presence of the manager is already sufficient for most people to feel like they should work, even though they don't want to.

I look at managing difficult situations as a challenge, but I have to be certain that I believe this is the right thing for the person, team, and ultimately company--not just a way to prove how awesome of a leader I am.

I didn't get the sense the author was advocating just dumping someone on the grounds they have a lack of motivation, but rather understand that we have the ability to terminate someone and that is sometimes the best course for everyone involved--including the person who is struggling with performance.

In my experience, that still leaves 99 other things that need handling on a daily basis. Usually external factors.

As a manager, you should set yourself the goal of making yourself superflous. Just don't ever have the illusion you'll achieve it.

Human beings are way to messy and irrational for that, even the highly motivated and generally easy to manage ones.

Oh, and BTW: highly motivated and talented people tend to be very hard to manage.

There's another critical role in many organizations for your manager; defending your team against other managers. Otherwise your highly-motivated group will become less so as they are blamed for failures beyond their control, have their schedules randomly changed for 'urgent' work, etc.

management at that point becomes providing direction and helping focus priorities and helping your programmers be their best.

Hmm. Sam was only at Imgur for less than a year. That's a lot of management lessons for a limited period of time...

He writes well, but is only 2 years out of college (Stanford '13). Learning that (and noticing how he obfuscated it on his LinkedIn) made me take this piece with an even larger grain of salt than I would normally have.

He probably obfuscated that fact so people wouldn't judge him just by his age; it would seem based on some of the comments in this thread that he was right to do so.

Some of the best lessons in life can come from those who haven't been tainted by long stints doing the very thing they're commenting on.

Managing teams should be about the long term. Any understanding this guy has of the long-term effects of his management style is necessarily second-hand.

It's not about age, but experience (and honestly representing yourself in the world).

N.B. I'm not saying he shouldn't write, or that he doesn't have valuable insights to offer, just that the author's experience is fair ground for discussion.

You'd be surprised with how many lessons you can take away from even a short period of taking a new position.

For instance I had done very limited management in my past. When a new project came up the company I worked at they had made me lead the project which essentially meant developer + manager. This employer also had the habit of under staffing teams while pushing very aggressive timelines. This lead me to try to manage a team of 6 while also coding around the clock for several months. When it came to review time I was a mess; I hadn't paid enough attention to my team, I was constantly scrambling for tasks, trying to find ways to help where necessary, etc. It was an incredible trial-by-fire.

When it came to my second stint at the same position for a new project I was ready. I gave constant feedback in real-time, I was able to keep on top of tasks, my meetings were more streamlined and I was able to estimate things far better; I did a 180 and became much more effective.

It's also interesting to note that the company itself has grown from 13-55 people within that year. You'd imagine they'd have someone with a bit more experience managing the team (unless it's a team where the median age is, say, 23). Inexperienced managers are a bigger risk than inexperienced devs, and if I were at Imagur, I'd be wary of (and maybe also unmotivated by) a young manager trying to prove a point (or feature on the front page of HN).

Maybe he was a quick study?

I wanted to focus on one thing which I really liked in that list. The author stresses the need to explain the rationale for decisions (aka, why we are going to focus on x, instead of y) rather than presenting all decisions as unquestionable and infallible edicts from god.

This doesn't mean that every employee will agree with every decision taken from management - but hearing the whys, and understanding the debate that went into taking a decision helps a lot in getting buy in and getting people to go that extra mile.

I thought this was a good article. I believe most people who are worth having want to be part of something bigger themselves, want to contribute to the world and are willing to sacrifice a bit to do so. These are the people to identify and reward and it is always frustrating when this doesn't happen.

Per brobdingnagian's comment... everyone has bad days on occasion. A good manager can work around this. But a workplace is about work. Not therapy.

I guess I'm just still too young, naive, and perhaps stupid, but I disagree with this idea strongly. It certainly is true that most places (in the US at least) treat work like work and not like therapy.

Maybe you're right and work is about work and not therapy, but why not? If anything it seems like it's in the company's best interest to provide therapy if it's needed. They already provide health insurance, and it's well known that people who are happier perform better on the job than people who aren't.

Remember work for you is product for someone else.

All the things we take for granted... the lights being on, the roads being paved, the bus coming on time... all this happens because people organize, take care of their personal affairs, show up and perform their duties in a proscribed manner, even when they would rather be doing something else.

My belief is to play when it's time to play and work when it's time to work and to keep my personal life separate from work and not to turn personal problems into workplace problems. Managers aren't (generally) personal counselors nor should they be. Their function in that role is to insure something happens in accordance with organizational goals. Not to be someone's mom or life coach. And again... the function of the workplace is to provide a good or a service to someone else. Not a place for working out personal issues. Take that to the appropriate venue lest the buses stop coming on time.

I'd argue that if we didn't try to pretend people were robots at work and tried to ensure everyone was happy, things would be done even better than they are now.

It's certainly the case that people show up to work even when they would rather be doing something else. If anything I suspect that's what the majority of people working are doing, working because they have to, not because they particularly want to.

On the other hand, do you really want someone who's very unhappy driving the bus or flying the plane you're on?

I don't think that work is somehow special, we should care for each other no matter whether we are at work or at a coffee shop.

Of course, everyone is different and I'm glad to have heard your opinion. I just think it's a bit sad because for those who work full time, work is where the majority of their waking life goes. That being the case, I can see a situation where people might only ever interact with other people at work, and so if they need help they have nowhere else to go. But anyway, I can of course also see your point. It's just that it seems with something like depression or suicide, people don't necessarily know what they should do or act rationally even if they do know what they should do.

That's really a false dichotomy. Ideally you aren't a nice person outside of work and a jerk at work. You are just a nice person. And if you see someone struggling, you don't fire them: you help them.

Just like most of the best practices here haven't been tied to success, it's also true that helping people going through a hard time hasn't been tied to failure.

The right thing to do is really obvious here. Help them.

Well you say that but I work at a very high pressure job that requires me to be far harsher towards employees than friends.

I test as ENTP at work and INTJ at home just because success at work requires a different mindset. I don't like it, but that's how it is.

The last company I worked for was extremely high pressure, but I never encountered anyone who was harsh. They would be fired. It just isn't necessary.

Also, ENTP & INTJ all that stuff is proven to be bunk with no statistical evidence that it predicts anything.

Well at work I'm forced to give much more honest and direct feedback than I may do outside of work.

I'm also required to represent my company's interest instead of lending a sympathetic ear to a friend. Don't get me wrong: I'm honest and fair, but some avenues are simply closed in an employee / employer relationship.

I just told a guy today that he flunked an interview because he failed to convince the ED he interviewed with that he (the interviewee) would adequately represent his area on a P1 production support bridge.

I could have sugar-coated it and said "Ah, man, yeah that was unfair because I've seen you succeed in exactly that situation" but instead I coached him on how to present himself better and (hopefully) pass the interview next time.

It wasn't pleasant telling him what I had to tell him, but it was necessary.

"I don't like it, but that's how it is."

No arguing with that.

In the long run, we can hopefully select against business practices that have these kinds of human costs.

Many gems are in here.

- If you can’t fire friends, don’t hire them.

- Finally, firing for bad performance is easier than having to fire good people because you’ve run out of money, so fire the bad people before you have to fire the good people too.

- The best way to avoid politics isn’t to ignore politics, but to spend your time on it.

I'm interested in the backstory of the author too.

The tone of the list seemed to draw a line between the "manager" and the "managed".

Personally I think the best way to manage a team is to draw a line between the "team" (including management) and the "objectives".

The seemingly tough part with doing things this way is to be able to draw a line between individuals and the rest of the team if someone isn't holding up their weight.

It sounds tough, but I think it doesn't have to be as tough as it sounds. If people are given enough independence and individual responsibilities, but in a collaborative setting, it will become obvious to the entire team when individuals are not carrying their weight.

Keep in mind that once a person becomes a member of your team you're in it for the long haul. Every once in a while a team needs to rally to achieve objectives, since it's almost impossible to give perfectly equal distribution of work in a project. Every once in a while individuals need to be propped up by the rest of the team if they're having difficulties with their individual responsibilities.

It should only become a problem when the same individuals, over the course of an extended period of time, fail to meet their objectives. And even then if the company is large enough they should be given an opportunity to move laterally within the company to move to another team. If individuals fail regularly within multiple teams at that point it becomes obvious they may need to be let go.

With all that said, different projects / companies have different budgets and so they may need to cut corners. That's why it's important to be careful to select people you are in it for the long haul with, and are willing to put the time and energy into that person as an investment for the betterment of the company.

Sudden turnover is one of the worst things for morale in any company. Avoid it at just about any cost, except in extraordinary circumstances.

These 21 points make Imgur seem like an over-managed hell pit to work at.

I think that if good management were following these rules, you wouldn't even know it was happening. It'd be more like guiding and less like controlling.

> Define clear merit-based systems, which reduces confusion about what your team members need to do be recognized.

This is a great one, I wish more companies/managers did this. It's terrible when your company's advancement policy is "if your manager like you, you get promoted". It's demotivating when your bonus is based on someone's subjective feeling about how good a job you're doing, or some ridiculous self-assessment essay.

Give me clear, measurable goals, and a clear, scheduled (on the calendar) performance review.

Ship Product A or complete features B and C on time and your next raise will be X. Ship it on time and under budget and your bonus will be Y. Otherwise, Z% cost of living increase only.

What if all your time is spent cleaning up after the cowboys? Or talking to the other team members about the problems they are stuck working on? A mission critical 2-line bugfix can take months. There aren't objective measures of performance. Any metric you come up with, employees will find a way to thwart it. Shipping a product on time? Easy. Just don't mention the bugs. Surely you don't believe it's possible to create bug-free software, do you? When all the team members have their performance tied to them, they'll all collude to game metrics. Don't even get me started on SLOC. Speaking from experience here, sorry if it's too cynical / bitter.

Picking good metrics that are not game-able is not easy, but as long as they are truly aligned with the company goals, it's kind of OK for people to optimize for them. You get the behavior that you measure.

From the point of view of an employee, anything is better than "your compensation depends on the subjective assessment of your manager". Talk about a system that can be gamed!

Well, I disagree, but it's subjective so you're entitled to your opinion. That said, the decision about whether or not to use metrics in the first place is also a subjective assessment by your manager.

Nearly everything i care about in a great programmer is way less well measurable than "ship feature X on time". I like your sentiment but I think real good work (for any office job, really) is very hard to measure.

This was not only a good post, but the presentation was straight to the point: no fluff, all meat. I really appreciate that, and wish more went that route.

Good list, but what this hits on is managing down, and not much on how to manage up, or manage across.

In my experience, I've found managing a team fairly easy--I just think about all the things my great managers did, and try to emulate them.

Managing up, and managing other teams however, has been a real learning experience.

This is kind of sad to read, and certainly not a manager Id like to work with, is this even a company that is profitable? Didnt someone buy this for a stupid amount years ago?. Back on subject, an unmotivated employee is usually a symptom a problem with the company or culture, especially if he/she is an experienced hire that has many years of real world experience, why were they motivated/productive before and not now?. Perhaps the company is blind that they have a problem? Perhaps they tick many boxes on Stackoverflow check list and many employees are HN followers so it can't be a culture problem? Just food for thought..

Number 6 was the hardest for me to learn - I always wanted to give people another chance to change, but they never did. It is always hard to fire someone, but once you have reached the decision to fire do it as soon as possible.

> Give feedback frequently and directly. As a manager, it’s easier to wait and then hedge critical feedback in soft wrappers, but that’s selfish. I’d try to give feedback as soon as I could grab a conference room with the person, and not wait until the formal 1:1 days later.

I really wish if everyone could think like this. What is the point in giving feedback after 6 or 12 months during appraisal. That is also done as part of formality.

Great discussions. Having had some startup experience myself I would add that people have drastically different levels of understanding and common sense, so they will interpret what they see and read differently. There is no shortage of books/blogs on management or leadership or product management, but things don't really change and the same mistakes are being made every single day in startups.

Didn't Imgur have a total of 13 people last year?

Yea we've grown like crazy over the past year. We're now up to around 55 people.

My experience is that interesting things happen to organisations at size 20-30 (basically when the CEO and/or COO can no longer keep tabs on nearly everything themselves, no longer can maintain some relationship with all staff), and also when there are more than 33% of people with <6 months at the company. Hope this wasn't as painful as some of my experiences with just single dosages of these at a time.

Enjoying your work and working 9 to 5 on-the-dot aren't mutually exclusive.

The first point is very important. Motivate someone is quite complicated, but demotivate is extremely easy. Unfortunately, we people are weird and complex, and sometimes random stupid things can make a huge deal in terms os motivation.

When I think back on the things that had really infuriated me about works and managers, they are typically small, avoidable things; not big ones...

PD: Reading some comments on the thread, I understand this as "do not demotivate people" more than "fire unmotivated people"

I definitely agree with the importance of feedback. I think companies sometimes tend to be too polite. (Don't get me wrong -- you don't want rudeness, but directness is valuable). There's nothing more frustrating than spending a lot of time on a project and having no idea if you're creating value, or walking down a rabbit hole that is not useful.

> People need to feel like they’ve been listened to, not to make the final call. Take the time to listen (you might be wrong), make a decision and then explain the decision. Don’t offer commentary on others’ decisions until you understand why the decisions were made.

very true

"It’s terribly difficult to manage unmotivated people. Make your job easier and don’t.

Different people need different kinds of management. Be adaptable to figure out what drives each person’s best performance."

This juxtaposition is deliberate irony, right?

>> Define success clearly and don’t flip-flop on the definition without new information.

Does anyone have an example for this?

That was surprisingly on topic and good.

Management inversely proportional to adversity & diversity

I like a lot of these very much and agree. Thanks for posting.

Right off the bat you tip your hand: you are selecting against people who are depressed. Rather than try to help them, you'd rather let them wallow in misery, fail, become unemployed, schizophrenic and eventually die homeless.

That's horribly off-topic, but I'll continue being horribly off-topic, only because I had a very strong realization about this today.

My boss has been bugging me to get stuff done since there are some crazy deadlines coming up for us. I realized a few days ago that were it not for the craziness at work, I would be very lonely... I have nothing to do. And it's precisely when I have nothing to do that I start having negative or suicidal thoughts. So having a job really is a blessing for me, it gives me something to keep my mind preoccupied, and gives me an easy opportunity to socialize (walking up to someone and starting a conversation with someone is a lot easier.. when... well, you have to, because work requires that you have to :)).

Thanks for sharing. I don't think it's off topic.

"It’s terribly difficult to manage unmotivated people. Make your job easier and don’t."

It's just a really really mean thing to say, especially coming from someone who is a manager / mentor.

I understand trying to be humane to everyone, but you cannot just decide to not fire anyone, ever. If someone does not want to be at a job, it is not an act of charity to keep them at that job. If they really do not want to be there, they can cause a lot more grief to themselves or others. It's cruel to be kind.

You're not Schindler. Firing people is not a death sentence. If you fear for their mental health, fire them and direct them to services that can help. Hell, companies even do this routinely in a fashion: it's called outplacement.

> You're not Schindler. Firing people is not a death sentence. If you fear for their mental health, fire them and direct them to services that can help.

You just admitted to somethingthat is illegal in many countries.

When someone has a mental illness you keep them at their job; you provide time and space for them to get treatment (for most people this will be an hour a week; for some people it might be more; for a small number of people it will be a hospital stay now and then). The reason you keep them in their job is because you have already invested time and money in them - the recruitment process; training; the knowledge they've gained of your product. It's also better for them - work protects mental health.

Try substituting "cancer" for "mental health". Dos that make you feel differently? "If you think someone has cancer just fire them and direct them to an oncology service".

This is terrible advice, even in Canada it is not legal to fire someone due to mental health issues or a drug abuse issue unless it is impeding their job, you have offered them help, and they refuse it.

If you fire someone who is having serious mental health issues you make their life worse. Even if they have access to health care.

Firing someone is a big deal even if they do not have mental health issues. I fired someone once. It still weighs on my mind if I did the right thing or not.

> If you fear for their mental health, fire them and direct them to services that can help.

If we're talking about Americans, their health insurance is almost certainly tied to their job. So firing them will force them to choose to either pay out the nose for COBRA or individual health insurance -- which means more stress, on top of the stress of losing their job -- or to give up access to the vast majority of those "services that can help" altogether.

> If we're talking about Americans,

Oops, sorry, I forgot. I'm in Canada.

I guess it is inhumane to fire people in the US, then.

I wonder if it's illegal to fire someone for being depressed per the American Disabilities Act, since it protects those with "mental impairments": http://www2.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Helpline1&template...

It's a complex topic, but the way you phrase it, the answer is "yes". You cannot fire someone because they have depression (assuming a real diagnosis, etc) The real question is can you fire someone who performs poorly because of their depression

The real question is not "can you?" but "should you?"

For most people with a mental illness, even one that interferes with their work, the answer is probably no.

You've invested in that person and you lose that if you fire them. You also have the costs of the new hire. You have no guarantee that the new hire isn't going to have a mental illness. (The ageist culture of hiring in SF tech firms selects strongly for people who are at about the right age to have their first episode of psychosis - 14 to 35.)

Firing that one person for their mental illness related performance is very visible. The effect is to make other people with mental illness hide it from you. As a manager which do you prefer - Ann who has a predictable 2 hours for therapy per week over a 14 week period, arranged in advance; or Bob who just takes ad-hoc days off sick?

And, really, the role of a manager is to help workers perform better. This includes people whose performance has dropped as a result of a mental illness. Since work-related strss is very common any manager that doesn't understand mental health is just an unprepared - probably bad - manager.

I think this is a little glib.

It's probably not reasonable to expect a manager to correct performance deficits that are a fundamental attribute of a serious mental disorder. There are coherent, reasonable, intelligent people who have disorders that are beyond even the awesome powers of the modern software team manager. Beyond, in fact, even their ability to make assessments.

I think it's a little dangerous to suggest that a manager should be freelancing as a therapist --- which is what you're expecting them to do when you say that a manager should be able to help workers who are impaired by mental illness perform better.

Finally, from a legal perspective, post-ADAAA, it's pretty important for managers to keep a laser focus on actual job performance, and not to casually involve themselves in employee mental health. An overt suggestion that an underperforming team member might have a mood disorder apparently has some liability/obligation implications.

Managers shouldn't be trying to fix mental illness - what did I say that made you think that?

Managers need to understand mental illness so they don't fire people who have mental illness (suggested a few times in this thread and often on HN) or so they can do manager stuff like offer reasonable adjustments (or whatever those are called in the US).

I don't think you believe managers should be trying to fix severe mood disorders. I do think you may accidentally be asking them to try, though, when you suggest that they get involved with employees to help them overcome their mood-related performance deficits.

Managers should be especially careful about trying to discern mood disorders in employees who have not informed them of a diagnoses, as, again, doing so can create legal issues.

Employees suffering from mental disorders should work with their therapists to come up with a plan for maintaining work performance, and, if that plan requires accommodation from employers, the employee should request the needed changes. Employers, on the other hand, should be careful about making their own suggestions: for one thing, it can be unlawful for an employer to demand changes from specific employees based on a belief that mental illness requires it. But the better reason is simpler: managers are not mental health professionals.

Mostly, though, the subtext of my comment is that I think people may underestimate severe mental, emotional, and mood disorders. There are high-functioning clinical depression sufferers, and there are people who are authentically crippled by it. No amount of coaching and accommodation from managers recovers the performance of the latter group.

I hope it goes without saying that I don't believe companies should fire employees believed to have mood disorders.

I agree that's a shitty thing. Also, sadly, it is a norm to think in this bleakly capitalistic way. By and large, you will not see normal people viewing the providing job/no job thing as something moral.

Not to be heartless, but why would it be a businesses concern if someone was depressed or not?

Let's do a reductio-style thought experiment: what if everyone was depressed? That's obviously a business concern.

The standard argument for socialism follows from the same reductio: what if everyone was happy? That would be GREAT for business.

The second one is not true. Utopia of happiness would result in vast stagnation.

Agitation, annoyance, something needing fixed, imperfection, desire for more / self-improvement, etc. is a critical root of invention and creativity.

Ideally not everyone is perfectly happy all at the same time. And it should be noted that is not the same as saying that everyone should never be happy. Rather, that it's incredibly valuable to have dissatisfied people in society - they're often the ones that break with the status quo and push humanity forward.


You've completely misread the post you're replying to, which is asking for managers to be compassionate to their staff.

You've also done so in a very aggressive way, which violates the HN guidelines. Please don't do that.

When a person says "Not to be x, but", being x is exactly what they are doing. It's wilful self-delusion. Either fully own and accept your decision or, if that's problematic, consider that maybe it's not a good decision and consider an alternative course of action.

If a CEO/hiring manager decides employees that become depressed, get sick, are involved in an accident, whatever are to be shown the door rather than offered help or assistance, fine, that is their prerogative. But don't pretend it's not a shitty way to treat a person.

And employers wonder why so many people absolutely despise their jobs. Treating a person like a piece of equipment that can and should be replaced immediately if a part malfunctions or it isn't performing optimally is an excellent way to ensure an oppressive and hostile work environment. But then you get to crack the whip and scare some "motivation" into the workforce, and maybe that's exactly what you wanted to do. Just don't expect a grateful and productive staff.

Depression in the workforce causes reduced productivity and substantial amounts of money on a national level. The CDC estimations that it causes 200 million lost workdays each year which costs employers between $17 to $44 billion alone. It's in an organization's interest to have healthy employees; both mentally and physically.

Pfffft...come on, what's this socialist obsession with facts and logic? Just fire some people already. And do something about that bleeding heart!

Employers have a duty of care to protect their staff from harm in the workplace, and this includes work-induced stress and depression. At least, this is the case in England, and there have been legal cases that support this principle.

There are some elements of "contagion" around workplace stress. Obviously there aren't "stress germs" being passed around, but one stressed member of a team can cause stress and poor peformance in other members of the team.

Depression causes schizophrenia?

I wouldn't say causes - but the statistics speak volumes. A quarter of homeless people are schizophrenic.

That's because the schizophrenics were basically evicted from the psychiatric hospitals. With nowhere to go and no one to care for them, they ended up homeless.


Also, how did you manage to relate this at all to TFA?

You see higher rates of schizophrenia amoung homeless people in countries that have free health care and enough in-patient mental health beds. EG England, where mental health care is generally okay.

That accounts for some of the homeless schizophrenics.

"Also, how did you manage to relate this at all to TFA?"

Just what exactly do you think the real world implications of this attitude / policy are more generally?

"It’s terribly difficult to manage unmotivated people. Make your job easier and don’t."

He is saying: don't try to manage them. Fire them.

Depression and psychotic illnesses are very different.

You probably have your causal link backwards: mental illness creates homelessness and vulnerably housed situations.

The homelessness and vulnerably housed situations don't help people with a psychotic illness (contributing to medication non-compliance); and there is probably some situational depression there too.

But it's probably wrong to say that homelessness cuses schizophrenia.

Correlation does not imply causation.

Have enough heart to acknowledge what's going on in front of you.

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