Misfires in Motivation

At one relatively recent job, my first project was to deploy some upgrades to our new virtual tape libraries. These additions were going to exponentially increase the capacity of these tape libraries by letting them deduplicate data in the virtual tape libraries. They were a miserable failure, so my second project, less than a year later, was to participate in the migration to the next generation of virtual tape libraries.

The same vendor sold both types of tape library; they bought a company after rolling out their implementation of someone else’s, and the one they bought was much better. We didn’t know this, but the vendor did. Angered by the problems the first ones were causing, our management forced the vendor to take the ones we couldn’t get working back as trade for the other ones, and the vendor in turn made our managers commit to a very aggressive schedule to get the old ones back to them. Why, I have no idea; it’s not like the old ones had much value to anyone.

Our immediate manager, recognizing that the deadline was aggressive, promised us that he’d take us out for a nice meal if we got the new libraries deployed on time. Speaking for myself, I told said manager not to bother. I don’t need an incentive to do my job as well as I can, even when management makes decisions or commitments I don’t agree with. (I had written up a proposal that we back away from virtual tape libraries and instead stick with tried-and-true real tapes. That proposal went nowhere.)

Said manager kept his word: as soon as we got the libraries deployed, developing some nice automation along the way to deal with sheer numbers, he started trying to arrange a team lunch at a nice steakhouse. I never accepted the invitation, and when the day came, I seized some reason why I had pressing business and had to work through lunch, but the rest of the team should go.

I was reminded of this today when my brother ranted briefly against teachers being allowed casual Fridays if they participate in some fundraising campaign. Either teachers in jeans are OK at a school, or they aren’t. Having a quid pro quo in which the teachers buy some permission just isn’t kosher. I agree with that; at least twice in my career I’ve decided against participating in some fundraiser so no one would think I was motivated by the bribe. That motivational failure is what reminded me of that lunch I skipped. I won’t accept a quid pro quo, even for something I’d happily accept in other circumstances. I’ll do my job and let the usual compensation process work itself out. I’ll give to a charity because I want to, not because someone else wants me to, and not if someone else is trying to get some credit for my participation.

If I think someone has an incentive to get 100% participation in something, I’ll consider seriously being the guy who thwarts that goal. They can try to motivate me because they believe in a cause, but don’t try to do so for your own personal gain, and don’t let anyone think I’m doing something for my own personal gain. Also, I hate almost anything that strives for 100% compliance except in cases of collective health and safety. Trying to get me to wear a seat belt or bike helmet I’ll accept, but if you try too hard to make sure my voice mail greeting, which no customer should ever hear, complies with some arbitrary standard, well, you might wish you hadn’t tried. I can be do passive-aggressive with the worst of them.

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