Recently, a colleague of mine presented me with a problem. I’ll anonymize him and the company so as to avoid embarrassment of either. Joe is a clear expert in a specific technology that is becoming critical to the way the company will develop its software going forward, and was hired specifically based on this expertise. Walking in the door, he was one of the top three experts in the company on the technology that everyone will end up needing to learn.
Every organization has a distinct personality and way of doing business. The company in question allows teams great latitude in how they will accomplish the goals they are given. While this new technology is pivotal to the way the company will operate in the future, it has a very weak mandate. Adoption, in accordance with company personality, is based on “convincing” the team that the approach is the correct one, not mandating adoption. If the technology is truly right, we should have no trouble convincing people. If we can’t convince people, maybe it is not the right choice.
Joe expressed his frustration at not being recognized for his expertise and the fact that the project team to which he was assigned was actively ignoring his input. In this assessment, he is absolutely correct. His evaluation of his personal worth is based on his technical ability and the respect he was shown. This culminated in his statement that he is finding it challenging to motivate himself to come to work every day.
Joe comes from a different organizational culture where his position carried with it the authority of powerful sponsors. He has not had the need to earn his way to respect, it was handed to him with the positions he had over the years. Hence the frustration. His ideas are right. The team should adopt them. But they are allowed to say no, and they are doing so.
I recognize that the organization needs to adopt this strategy, but that politics dictates a more subtle approach. I am keenly aware that we, as an organization, need both the enthusiasm and the expertise of this individual. However, if things continue the way they are going, both of those needs are in jeopardy. The more the solution is pushed, the more reverse psychology will ensure that the new style is not adopted. The stronger this individual pushed for his ideas, the more he threatens his own position.
So, I took it upon myself to counsel Joe. I explained that I had been in his situation where I had strong authority, and where I had none. I pointed out that his problem with motivation stems from tying his identity and worth to the technical solution he was proposing rather than his personal skills as an architect and leader. If you come to work every day not with the goal of accomplishing a given task, but instead with the goal of improving your personal worth using the technical challenge as a vehicle, life becomes exciting. You never know what’s coming around the corner, and you have the constant interesting challenge of how to adapt yourself to whatever life throws your way. If you do your (redefined) job right, all the right things begin to happen of “their own accord” and you have all the success metrics you need to prove your value. On top of that, you no longer need to prove your value, it becomes obvious to all those around you. And even better than that – you are following your bliss every day by finding more reward in everything you do as you craft a better you.
My efforts with Joe are still a work-in-progress, and I will share what works and what does not here in this forum as we journey through this together. I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions that might help my colleague and me through this discovery process.