“Not possible. You can’t. There is nothing you can do to make a lazy software developer into one that is hard-working.”
This was what one of my former colleagues turned engineering leaders said when we had a discussion about motivating one of our brilliant but lazy software developers.
Actually, it was one of the most common questions he got, over and over and over again, and his answer every time was: “You just don’t hire lazy developers; you hire hard-working ones.”
Here’s some context to that heated debate. As an engineering manager, we had a team of super-smart software developers. The problem was that one of them seemed to be stuck in "power-saving" mode. Honestly, the engineer in question was brilliant (still is I hope 😂). He could create groundbreaking solutions but might often be found taking extended coffee breaks. He often came late to meetings and left earlier. It wasn't uncommon for him to delegate his tasks to other developers.
So what did we do?
We came up with a strategy that turned our tech prodigy's laziness into a superpower!
10 Ways to Motivate a Lazy Yet Brilliant Software Developer
Understand What “Laziness” Means
Before you jump to conclusions, remember that what appears as laziness can sometimes be a sign of burnout, lack of interest, or an environment that doesn't stimulate creativity. It's essential to differentiate between genuine laziness and other underlying issues.
Autonomy is Key
Brilliant developers crave autonomy. Give them space and the freedom to approach problems their own way. Setting strict guidelines might stifle their creativity and push them to the point of quitting. Instead, provide a clear end goal, and let them choose the path to get there.
A lazy genius might just be a genius who's bored. If the tasks are too easy or repetitive, they won't find them engaging. Assign them challenging projects that push the boundaries of their knowledge and skills. If they’ve been working on a feature for too long, switch things up for them.
Turn mundane tasks into a game. Introduce leaderboards, badges, or friendly competitions. The sense of achievement and a bit of healthy competition can work wonders.
Encourage Side Projects
Rather than seeing side projects as a distraction, leverage them. Encourage developers to spend a portion of their time on personal projects or learning. Google's "20% time" allowed employees to work on side projects, leading to innovations like Gmail and Google News!
Flexibility in Work Hours
Some of the most brilliant minds are night owls, while others are early birds. Allow flexible working hours so developers can work when they're most productive.
Offer Continuous Learning
Provide opportunities for your developers to attend conferences, workshops, or online courses. A continuous learning environment can be a massive motivation for tech aficionados.
Recognize and Reward
Make it a point to acknowledge their achievements, no matter how small. A simple "Well done!" can go a long way. For bigger achievements, tangible rewards or bonuses can be great motivators.
Create a Stimulating Working Environment
This doesn't mean just slapping a ping-pong table in the break room. Ensure their workspace is comfortable, has the right tools, and maybe even some inspiring tech gadgets. A developer with a shiny new monitor or state-of-the-art keyboard might just be a tad more motivated!
Ask Them What’s Up!
It sounds simple because it is. Communicate with your developers. Ask them what motivates them, what they dislike, and how they prefer to work. Glean as much info as you can in a 1:1 meeting. Tailoring your approach based on individual feedback can be incredibly effective.
Motivating brilliant yet seemingly lazy developers isn't about cracking a whip or hovering over their shoulders. It's about understanding their needs, challenging them appropriately, and providing an environment where their brilliance can shine. After all, in the words of Bill Gates: "I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it." Happy motivating! 🚀