Facts and Meaning

I frequently hear complaints about how unmotivated technical groups can be, but managers sometimes seem to miss some of the about important opportunities to create an surround in which motivation can grow.

As best I tin can tell, this is securely rooted in our backgrounds as engineers. Most IT managers kickoff out as technicians, and so we are steeped in the world of facts. We search for them. We love them. We live and dice past them. They are our boulder. But we are so enamored of the facts of our work that we sometimes forget to explicitly speak of its meaning. We assume either that the facts of our work
are
the meaning or that the connection is so cocky-evident that we never demand discuss it.

But the meaning of the work can be 1 of the most of import sources of motivation for a group.

For example, a few years ago, I attended a meeting and listened to a presentation from the CIO of UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund. He was talking almost the work his staff was doing, setting up satellite-network nodes in countries around the earth. His clarification of the facts of the grouping’s piece of work seemed rather grim. I imagined what it might be like to be office of his team.

The piece of work seemed pretty repetitive: setting up the same network equipment over and once again. The pay was probably poor, since it was through the U.N. The travel sounded relentless: People were likely on the road for weeks or months at a time, and they weren’t traveling to the garden spots of the world. In fact, many of these installations were being done in war zones, and so the work might occasionally entail existence shot at.

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The facts of this job seemed remarkably unappealing: poor pay, boring work, isolation from family unit, and dangerous conditions. Why would anyone want to practice it? Perhaps for every network node installed, 100,000 children have a chance to swallow. If that’s the answer, information technology’s worth it.

In this example, the facts and the meaning of the work are completely dissimilar things. The facts seem similar fantabulous de-motivators, while the pregnant is extraordinarily compelling.

Of course, non every project offers such rich opportunity to explore meaning. If the goal of your project is to reduce inventory costs by ane-eighth of a percentage point, don’t expect people to cry in ecstasy during the rollout. Sometimes you accept to look for motivation elsewhere.

So, how do y’all know if you’re thinking almost the facts or the meaning of your work? Hither’southward one fashion to look at it:

Facts are simple points. They’re cold and lifeless. They just prevarication on the page and limited some elementary truth.

Meaning requires a more narrative construction. There are characters — people who inhabit the narrative. There’due south activeness — things that happen to the characters, or could happen. There are settings — spaces where the action happens. And there’due south transformation, internal and external. The heroes struggle, and the villains suffer.

In the narrative course, facts come alive and are woven into the story line. They back up the larger structure and are thereby imbued with pregnant. Here, a project is no longer just a serial of tasks lying dead on a Gantt chart. Information technology’due south a heroic story with a theme and lessons.

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And so next time you wonder why your grouping seems unmotivated, ask whether people accept a sense of more than but the facts of their work. Ask what they recall it ways, and you may detect that everyone has a different idea. But just having them think and talk virtually the meaning tin can be a step toward deeper motivation and date.

Paul Glen is the founder of the GeekLeaders.com Web customs and writer of the honour-winning book
Leading Geeks: How to Manage and Lead People Who Evangelize Engineering
(Jossey-Bass, 2003). Contact him at info@paulglen.com.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.