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How Do You Get An Elephant To Move?

June 23, 2020

I was part of a team that developed training materials at Microsoft. Microsoft was all about shipping products. They coin of the realm at Microsoft was shipping. People who shipped products did well.

Microsoft awarded a Ship It award to the programming team when they shipped a product. Once you had an award, you were awarded an additional brass plate to commemorate each additional product you shipped.

Ship it awards were the stock and trade of programmers, testers and program managers. Unfortunately, those who wrote training manuals were eligable.

My training department created their own Ship It Award. It wasn’t quite as elaborate as the one the product teams got, but it was still a marble plaque and you got a new bronze plate for each additional course you shipped.

And it worked. Once a month, at a team meeting, the awards with be given out. Some people were uncomfortable being recognized in front of the group. We were a bunch of writers, after all. Others, enjoyed it. And pretty much everyone displayed theirs on a shelf in their office.

And then, one month, there were no awards. Instead we were informed that the team had implemented a new recognition program. The new recognization program was an award. Each month, one team member would be recognized and given a $50 gift certificate.

Why did we change the program?

We figured everyone already had a Ship It Award so they didn’t really mean anything anymore.

Who chooses the award winner?

The managers do.

What was do bad about the new program? After all, isn’t the chance of getting fifty bucks better than a granite slab and some bits of brass?

No, not even close. The new program was a disaster compared to the old program. Here are just a few of the reasons.

First, the old program rewarded every team member. The old idea of “we rise together, we fall together.” The new program singled out an individual. Sure, you’re happy for your teammates. . .Sure you are. . .mostly.

Also, the old program rewarded members for their work. The new program rewarded people for managers’ opinions of them.

Writing is a lonely business. Often the only people to have any idea if a tech writer is any good are the editor and the proofreader. It’s difficult for managers of other groups to understand the contribution of an individual writer.

So, who won the “managers’ award”? Exactly the wrong people. People who instead of filling their role, writer, editor, tester, in their own group spend more time working on projects that have a high profile to the managers on the team.

Money, is a terrible motivator. It’s been years: over twenty years since I worked for that team. I don’t remember if I won one of the gift cards or not. In fact, I would guess I didn’t. I wasn’t particularly well liked by the managers.

But, sitting on top of a shelf in my dining room are two Ship It awards, one for work I did on the product team, and one for courseware I’ve written.

I made millions of dollars at Microsoft, much of it never existed, except on paper. But, those dollars are long gone. Some were spent (much on adoptions.) Some was lost in the failing housing market. Still more was lost in the market downturn.

Back when I was making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, an extra $50 was not enough to even make a slight difference.

But, an award? Something that says, “Hey, you built something and we appreciate it”? That means something.

I saw guys who were worth millions, who only worked because they enjoyed the challenge, keep track of their Ship It awards. They had them proudly displayed in their offices.

People are motivated by many things. Some want power. Some want fame. Some want anonymity. Some want money. But, everyone wants recognition. And when you have enough money, enough fame, enough enough. Recognition stays with us.

How do you get an elephant to move?

You just have to find the right motivation.

Then, he wants to move.

Stay safe.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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