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The Case Against Glorifying Developers for Wrong Reasons | by Manvik Kathuria | Jun, 2022


Recognition of software teams and individuals needs a serious rethink

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It was a sunny Friday evening, and I was busy doing the admin chores of backlog and sprint planning. Then came a slack notification that read something like this.

“Shoutout to Xyz Abc for fixing the defect and rolling out the fix within 24 hours. The customer is pleased about this. #deliver #customer #fix”.

The team’s manager wrote this for someone who did an excellent job fixing a defect. I complimented them for this feat, and several others chimed in to appreciate their fantastic work. A few days later, I learned that the same person had implemented the feature that had the issue. This got me thinking about the culture of recognition in software teams.

I went back to the same slack channel and started scrolling to read all messages that called out teams and individuals, recognising them for their effort and time. A pattern emerged among the majority of those — Rewarding and recognising those who were fixing production issues, responding to incidents, squashing security vulnerabilities, implementing new technology/framework, increasing their automation coverage or simply doing what’s expected.

I had a deja vu about a similar discussion with a friend a few years back.

Me: How’s your current project going?

Friend: It’s going alright, no issues so far and no showstoppers. I’m not too fond of that.

Me: What do you mean? Your project got no issues, it’s running smoothly, and packages are getting deployed without any hiccups, What’s not to like?

Friend: See, if there are no issues, we would release and no one will recognise what we have done. If there are issues, showstoppers and you solve them, you would start getting emails of recognition and appreciation for it.

Me: ………..(thinking)…………..I hate to say this, but you are right. I think we should introduce artificial defects in the system

Going back to the original slack appreciation message, I started pondering that they were never recognised for delivering the feature but made heroes when they fixed a production issue (caused by them). Any software will have defects; the faster you come to terms with it, the better professional you become. Each software release brings new features and bug fixes that the team identifies and prioritises based on their impact and priority. Defects that are Severity 1 and have a more significant effect are mainly released as hotfixes.

Let me give you an example of a cross-skilled team that constantly delivers on their commitments, releases new features and bug fixes, and ensures their product/service is always up and running. The team collaborates well and is very proactive in solving new challenges, ensuring the customers get a smoother experience. With no hotfixes, no outage alerts at odd hours, and no high severity defects, they get on with their tasks every day. Theoretically, this reads like a great team to be working with; unfortunately, their contributions are not well highlighted because they deliver quality consistently and never have any issues, hiding them from the broader teams and senior leadership.

On the other hand, a team got a shoutout that read, “Appreciate the team for squashing over 100 security vulnerabilities in the product. Kudos to …..“. The whole company praised them for this. However, I ask why you would release a product to a market with many security vulnerabilities.

The question that arises in my mind is what is the culture of recognition we want within our organisation. Does that mean we should praise developers for fixing issues, solving incidents, resolving security issues or trying out new technologies only?

“Praise, like gold and diamonds, owes its value only to its scarcity.” — Samuel Johnson

Let me start by saying that I wholeheartedly support recognition. If you read my articles, you will notice that I have given solid weightage to recognising and rewarding teams and individuals. Appreciating your team and co-workers should be part of your company’s DNA and culture. I cannot stress highly enough the importance of recognition and its effects on the overall company morale. However, deliver it with trust and sincerity and set the bar right for the future. Recognising people with pretence or setting a low bar can be devastating for your team’s culture.

How do you set a bar for recognition, and what traits must be exhibited by a team or individual that make their action worthy of appreciation and recognition?

Honestly, there is no golden rule or framework that you can use in all instances across all teams. The onus is on leadership to highlight behaviours and actions that deem worthy of recognition. From my experience as a developer and now leading teams, these are some of the traits I have picked up over the years that I believe are worthy of recognition.

Consistency

Individuals and teams that deliver consistently and constantly are dream teams.

Excellent Problem Solvers

Challenges are part of life, and solving them requires persistence and patience. Appreciating problem-solvers, especially those who go outside their domain, exemplify the traits of trying things outside their comfort zone.

Proactive Ownership

Finding that can be improved and then making those improvements shows commitment and ownership.

Wider Impact

Actions with a broader impact showcase the attribute of thinking wide and making life easy for all.

Lifesavers

People you go to for advice when there’s an incident or an issue. They are experts, ready to offer help with humility.

Focus on Goals

Actions that focus on going a step towards the team or organisational goals.

Extra Mile

Willing to step up and do more than what is expected of them.

Coach Others

Sharing knowledge with others in a selfless manner exhibits the quality of mentorship.

Many more such traits are worthy of recognition. But what I want to point out is that you should recognise and appreciate traits that motivate others to do the same. Demeanours that align with your company and team values set the bar for sincere appreciation. Initially, when selecting the rules, you will have to make tough choices, but slowly and steadily, it will become apparent, and your teams will start exhibiting those behaviours. Once the benchmark is set, make sure to leave no stone unturned in making sincere recognition a part of your ethos.

“People work for money but go the extra mile for recognition, praise and rewards.” — Dale Carnegie



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